I was chatting with a friend who is a CEO in New York, she shared with me, “It’s one thing when you’re starting out, and you’re investing your own time and energy into creating something. But as things start rolling, it becomes another pressure all together once you have angel investors and start hiring a few employees. This whole project is no longer just about ME. Now, other people are depending upon the company surviving. The pressure ramps up. As founders, we get sucked into trying to do a million things at once. And taking care of ourselves often gets cast aside.”
This is a common refrain among entrepreneurs. Out of passion for our vision and a sense of responsibility to our constituents (employees, investors, board members), we place the burden of the world onto our shoulders accept the role of the selfless hero who sacrifices everything for the good of the company.
While this may be a seductive comic-book storyline, this is an immature and, ultimately, short-sighted attitude.
The Wise Builder
Entrepreneurship is the ultimate marathon. When we sign up for this job, we should understand that even in the absolute best of circumstances, we’re signing up for years of intense work and adversity which will require sustained creativity and wise decision making to navigate and survive. It’s not if the storms will come, but rather when the storms will come.
Whether designing a skyscraper or an enterprise, a wise builder understands these inevitable and impersonal stormy cycles of nature and plans accordingly.
As entrepreneurs, we’re essentially building something from nothing. Or, more accurately, we’re taking a vision in our mind and a passion in our heart and attempting to transmute that into a physical reality.
We dream of building a paradigm-shifting product, satisfying millions of gleeful customers, and ultimately leaving a legacy of positive change on the world. But, it’s important to understand that the source and foundation of our success or failure is essentially within ourselves.
“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” – Winston Churchill
If we compulsively stretch ourselves too thin in a desire to fix everything, we quickly lose our mental and emotional balance. Anxiety sabotages focus and pulls us compulsively from task to task, without clear insight as to which tasks are actually productive. We lose sleep and skip the gym. We order convenient, low nutritional food, and neglect our outside relationships. Our emotional juice begins to wane, and we become more reactive to situations. We start getting annoyed with our co-founder and become less available to junior employees. We feel a sense of isolation and loneliness. Simple life activities begin to feel overwhelming. Our mind races, and we feel as if we’re going crazy…..
Here’s a question.
If your mind and emotions are out of balance, what hope is there for anything you create to be balanced, high-quality, and sustainable?
What the Pros are Saying
By far the most difficult skill for me to learn as CEO was the ability to manage my own psychology. Organizational design, process design, metrics, hiring and firing were all relatively straightforward skills to master compared to keeping my mind in check. – Ben Horowitz , a16z Blog
If you want to maintain your obsession about what you’re doing, the way to maintain that obsession is to make sure you have an appropriate level of energy over a long period of time…To operate at peak performance, you have to rest. The thing that crushes most athletes at the top of their game is overtraining, not undertraining. I think that’s the same with entrepreneurs. – Brad Feld, TechStars and Foundry Group co-founder
The optimal amount of rest and rejuvenation is highly personal for everyone, but taking time for oneself each day is vital to maintaining sustained energy and drive over the long run. What’s most invigorating for you? Whether it’s yoga, running, rock climbing, or creative writing (or even an afternoon nap), time invested in emotionally rejuvenating activities is a vital component of any business athlete’s holistic working regime.
In fact, these activities can be the key to new insights and dynamic problem-solving. Most artists and musicians will tell you their most creative ideas typically come outside of their structured time for “doing work.” When we diversify our activity, we stimulate our mind and energy in new ways which foster novel connections and innovative ideas.
Wellbeing as an Investment
Obsessive passion is part of what defines us as entrepreneurs. It’s what makes us crazy enough to think we can change the world. But if this passion for our vision isn’t balanced with a system to sustain and nurture our own wellbeing, then we’re in the fast lane on the highway to burnout and apathy.
Questions to consider:
In what ways do I deplete myself and run myself into the ground?
Where am I running from and where to?
Do I feel a sense of guilt or shame around taking time to invest in myself? Why? Are these beliefs and emotions serving my best interest?
What’s one tangible action I can take this week to invest in my wellbeing?
Taking care of ourselves is not frivolous, nor is it selfish. It’s a fundamental responsibility to ourselves, our company, and everyone we touch. Life is a long game. Wellbeing is the fundamental secret sauce in a successful gameplan and an investment which will pay generous dividends for the rest of your life.
By Alex Blanton