The Skill of Chewing Glass: What Entrepreneurial Lawyers Can Learn

A friend of mine said running a start-up is like chewing glass

and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring,

but the glass chewing never ends.

—Elon Musk


This quote from noted entrepreneur (and forward-thinker) Elon Musk is worth “chewing on” in its own right. Essentially, the analogy refers to how entrepreneurs must go through a seemingly endless litany of doing mundane tasks and putting out fires (the “chewing glass” part) with the constant threat of utter failure looming ahead of them (the “abyss” part).

Here’s what it might look like from a small business perspective:

  • You spend weeks courting venture capitalists who seem favorable to your company, only to find them putting you off another three months to “study” your progress. Meanwhile, you needed the money yesterday.
  • The day after you finally declare your office is fully staffed and trained with a team of great people, your top sales rep quits.
  • After working tirelessly to implement a new sales strategy, you see results with three great new clients in the first week. The following week, two of your biggest standing clients walk away.

Chewing glass—the abyss yawning in front of you.

Perhaps this scenario sounds nihilistic and depressing, but honestly it’s more like a reality check. After all, good entrepreneurs know what they’re in for when they start a company, and they go into it with eyes open, staring willingly into the abyss. They know they’re going to have to do their share of “glass chewing” with no guarantees of success.

But they do it anyway because the prospect of success makes the glass chewing worth it to them. They’re neither discouraged nor depressed (although we admittedly all have our moments); in fact, they’re ultimately energized by these challenges.

For better or worse, if you’re a lawyer running your firm, you’re not just an attorney—you’re an entrepreneur, which means you’re going to do your share of chewing glass. What can we as entrepreneurial attorneys learn from this picture? What’s the secret to successful glass chewing, if there is such a thing?

One word: Perseverance.

Just keep chewing. (Ouch!)

Remember the second half of the quote: “After a while, you stop staring.”

The longer you stare down the threat of failure without succumbing to it, the less scary and formidable the abyss becomes.

After a while, the very act of sticking with it means you’re overcoming failure, which becomes its own success. And when the real markers of success start coming your way, all the discomfort and apprehension become a price worth paying.

You’ll probably never stop having to chew glass, but keep at it. If Elon Musk can do it, so can you.

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