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Entrepreneurs: Float like a Butterfly, Sting like a...Cactus?

I hate the desert.

It's Hot. Dry. Flat. Dusty.

To be clear - that’s hyperbolic-writer’s talk for: I barely dislike it, but you wouldn’t listen to me saying I barely dislike something.

I do have a naturally strong affinity for the cactus though - a plant that perplexes and excites me simultaneously. The name, apparently, comes from Greek kaktos, or spiny plant.

Spiny indeed!

The cactus is such a prime example of what it means to be successful in my eyes. Success is different for everyone, but I think a cactus represents some of the top items for me.

Survival is the Play

The plant itself is resilient, strong and adaptable. There are over 2,000 species of cactus in the world, and because it’s so recognizable, you’ll see it depicted in restaurant logos, cartoons, and tequila ads. The cactus is composed of spines, which act like a tree’s leaves normally would, catching and storing water.

Inside each of the spines, air is trapped so water doesn’t evaporate, and it’s there that the magic lies, allowing them to handle long spells without water.

Whatever your business or venture is, you’ve got lots of challenges, and probably little water (funding, time, etc.). You’ve got to adapt your holding capabilities, or you’ll crash.

The cactus is a champion of surviving tough conditions and droughts. If we all took a lesson from the cactus, it would be to see survival as the primary objective and the priority. Stay lean. Learn to hold your resources, to be patient, and to stay resilient through the dry spells.

Go for the Long Term

The regal and strong Saguaro cactus, which you’ll see a lot in the American Southwest, is known for being a leading presence in the desert - but you’d be shocked at how hard it is to actually thrive in their game. It takes about eight years to grow just 2-3 centimeters. That’s a long time to grow, and if you think of what it takes in entrepreneurship, it’s a fitting example of what it takes to be successful.

To my surprise, the cactus will actually produce flowers - but not until 35 years. What are you committed to making happen, and would you be willing to wait decades for such minor progress if by 35 years of work you finally got flowers? Not many are. Thankfully we’ve got a great example in our prickly friends.

Once the cactus reaches about 50-70 years old, the speed of growth increases, but think about that journey it took to get there. We see a tall cactus, and think it happened instantly, just as we see celebrities or billionaires. The real magic of this incredible growth is the consistent focus and commitment to the long term.

Embrace the Heat

Cacti have adapted to holding water and withstanding the desert heat year round. They thrive in dry climates and, because they have to, can carry serious weight in the water reserves. They also have double-use spines, which provide a bit of diffraction in the sun’s rays, cooling the surface of the plant just enough to help it manage in the burning sun.

It’s wild to think about - they don’t just survive in the desert heat. They thrive there.

I’m sure that we can all imagine being on a stage in front of judges - especially in a culture that likes to watch competition shows for huge opportunities at fame and fortune - but imagine being on a stage in the heat all day every day. Could you handle that kind of pressure? Some may think the cactus is merely weathering harsh conditions, but 25 million years and 2,000 species later, I'd say the cactus is thriving!

Not everyone is cut out for the pressure of entrepreneurship, but if you are passionate about impacting mission-driven change in the world, realizing a vision from idea to implementation, and fighting the good fight because it feels good now, not later, then embrace the heat. This is your stage.

Support Others

A cactus provides homes for many desert creatures. This includes a variety of birds including the woodpecker, flicker, and owl. It’s deeply inspiring to me to know that while this plant is going through it’s own growth and survival, it provides shelter and support for others.

Who do you support beyond yourself? What can you provide for others without any real loss to your own survival and integrity? Regardless of your level of success, it’s my belief that we not only have the capacity to support others that are experiencing what we don’t have to worry about, but it’s our responsibility to do so. In fact, when done skillfully, it actually improves our own lives in the process. Same with the cactus.

If more of us took on this approach, gently allowing those in the desert to be protected and sheltered during the storms, without provoking or attacking, what a different world we would live in.

Defend, Don’t Attack

A cactus is a tremendous defender, but calm enough to confidently stand without any aggressive action. Think of this when you imagine success. I certainly do. I don’t imagine having to attack unless provoked.

I imagine having this air of confidence where I’m respected, known for being capable of tremendous defense, and still. Cross my boundaries, and you’ll regret it. This is a powerful edge in business, life, and love. Being a person of integrity, I let honest business and the right intention guide me to the right opportunities. There are those in business that certainly play by different rules, but I feel no need to attack. I simply focus on what’s best for me, my business and my team.

We don’t go running and charging at a cactus - we know it would hurt and leave us pulling out spines for days. If the world saw me as a cactus, I have a feeling I’d have some bright days ahead.

Don’t feel compelled to attack, when defense may be your best offense. It’s not true in all cases, but your reputation can create the spines you need to make attackers second guess their strategy. There are many areas as an entrepreneur that you’ll need to defend - your team, your decisions, your business model, your intention, and maybe even your clients. You’ll also need to defend your time, your relationships, your values. Do so with clarity.

Your thirst for growth and success will be very lonely if you don’t defend the things you care about.


Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Neither is the desert. And although the desert may work hard to prevent it, the cactus still blooms.

Embrace the heat. Build resilience. Take the long view. And support others while they support you. The bloom will happen. It just may not be when or how you planned it would.


Aaron Velky is the CEO & Co-Founder of Ortus Academy

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