At times we can be our own worst enemy. The challenge is to minimize those times.
We often hear choosing to become an entrepreneur – and the life that accompanies it – is not for the faint of heart. This is absolutely true. But for the longest time I didn’t really understand what it meant. Or moreover, I didn’t fully respect the ramifications of the simple choice of taking my entrepreneurial leap.
Yet now being on the other side of this experience, I understand on a deeper level what entrepreneurship all about, and how to best navigate through it the rest of my life. As I describe some of my thoughts and observations, I hope they might resonate with you as well and help you through whatever your situation you might be in currently.
Entrepreneurs, by default, are high performers. And high performers, by default, are hard on themselves when times get tough. Combine those two and you could get a deadly combination.
Entrepreneurs hold themselves to higher standards than others and often are disappointed when things don’t necessarily end up as great as they had thought when they initially set out. But you know what? Entrepreneurship never ends up like you initially thought. It’s messier than anyone ever imagines and more extreme than anyone ever describes.
After I experienced a failed startup I dropped into what I now can identify as a depression. I was not – and am not – depressed as in the clinical sense, but it was more like what you would think when people refer to the last economic depression we recently survived. It was temporary and externally triggered. Things weren’t right and I was responding to them certainly in a negative and self deprecating way.
It was painful. It felt troubling. It sucked because I wasn’t supposed to be there. Or so I thought.
What I discovered was I denied myself some truths I should have admitted at the time. I wasn’t admitting things like: 1) I really didn’t know what I was doing, and neither does anyone else. 2) The business was not working the way we had positioned it. 2) Startups actually do fail! 3) It’s okay to walk away rather than being so committed to a project you drive yourself into the ground. 4) Your personal value is more than just your company’s success.
I did not admit those things and the result was just that – nose dive right into the ground. Being a friend or family member you probably wouldn’t have known it by being around me. I am a damn good actor. I do a great job of burying the issue and grabbing another beer to selflessly talk about your challenges and issues.
Yet deep down inside was some of the worst self talk anyone could imagine. I was not my biggest cheerleader, supporter, believer and best friend. If you are wondering, negative self talk is not the path to success.
It took a few years to pull myself out of it. It took me accepting the fact that although I knew I could be a great founder at some point in my life, now was not the time. It took me putting my ego aside and accepting positions with other startups and companies where I could add value and learn more about building companies.
It seems elementary now, but letting go of the founder dream and using my skills in an another company was the farthest thing from my mind at the time. It took me admitting I did not know it all and I need to place myself somewhere to both earn a living and learn more about the world of technology and growing a business around it.
This type of wisdom and perspective is almost impossible when you think you are worthless. And that is exactly what people think when their startup fails. They think since they could not make their own company work – one where they pretty much put every ounce of effort they possibly could into making it work – what’s their value anywhere else? This and other similar thinking is obviously incorrect and ill applied. Yet, I am telling you this is exactly what I and other founders find themselves thinking.
I have since pulled myself back together, landed a great position with another company here in Seattle and on the path to learning and earning!
The resulting mental and emotional clarity is refreshing. It has allowed me to stabilize my life and opened up space for other projects like Founders RAW, Coinme, and getting back to writing. It has allowed me to establish myself as a mentor and advisor to other entrepreneurs, here and elsewhere in the world. It has allowed me to embrace and fully enjoy a meaningful relationship for the first time in a long time.
The lesson here is not that you can do things to avoid the founder depression. More than likely it’s inevitable for you, me and every other entrepreneur. The lesson is in identifying the oncoming founder depression, quickly observing its symptoms, and then finding mitigation strategies you can deploy to keep you afloat – and happy.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. But it is for the wise and honest.