“A negitive emotional impact on the body has been proven to contribute to both heart disease and heart attacks”
“Heart: A Healthy History” by Sandeeo Jauhar
As an entrepreneur, “emotional impacts” occur almost daily. Stress is something that will kill you if you are not careful. It will also make you do some really weird shit. How many of you startup people have heard someone close to you at one time or another say, “What the fuck where you thinking”? I have heard it more times than I care to remember.
Stress is part of life and it is part of creation. I think what most people looking in from the outside don’t realize is that on some level, us founders actually create stress out of thin air. We have to. We have to break shit, piss off people and cause chaos at times to effectuate the change we are after in the world.
What is stress though? Each of us process stress differently. Each of us is used to certain norms. If you have been homeless, being homeless again is less stressful than the first time. If you achieve success and then lose it, the same doesn’t apply. Let me explain; if you have nothing, and are working toward something, the idea that you will not gain that something is less stressful then if you achieved success and are about to lose it. I spent time basically homeless but that was in the beginning. Now, it would freak me out given it would mean I lost so much and for me, the idea of loss is way more terrifying than not having it in the first place. It is what keeps me from never giving up.
I am back in capital raise mode for my company for several reasons. We launched so many clients this year, we actually need a lot more infrastructure to support them then I expected. A high-quality problem to have, but when you combine many client launches with opening two new businesses in other countries, you find yourself looking at capital as something that is really needed and anytime you “need” something, it becomes that much harder to get.
This company is the first one where I did not raise institutional funds (VC). I did it alone to start then rounded up friends. Notice, I did not say ‘family and friends”. My family does not have any money. I grew up quite lower middle class poor and my siblings never really attained what you would call wealth. Much like the book above, it seems my siblings took a more stressful route that ended with them being unhealthy. One brother died via a drug problem, one sister has had a stroke and other issues and another brother is straight up an alcoholic. My oldest brother did make it and is doing well. Funny how the oldest and youngest made it “out”.
Back to my company; we have over 100 individual investors now, which is a lot to manage. If I had to do it all over, I would have raised institutional funds. It’s too distracting to deal with all them quarterly, but alas, I would do a lot of things differently. My goal is always to learn and not “regret”.
So, back to “stress”. Raising capital as I discussed in a previous post, is quite stressful. Paying and leading employees is quite stressful. As anyone knows, raising kids is stressful. Running a business, while exciting, is quite stressful. Now, you add in the intangibles of life and the stress keeps layering. The concept of being responsible for others is likely the most stressful and I believe until you are responsible for others, you do not fully grasp the magnitude of how stressful.
So, how do we deal with stress? If Sandeeo is right in his conclusions that based on research, stress and emotional distress can actually kill you, then what? How do we remove stress from our daily lives? I think, for the most part, it’s impossible.
“Once these things calm down, life will be less stressful.”
I hear that a lot. I have heard it for years. It usually comes from a romantic partner, well one that actually gives a shit about what you are doing on a daily basis. It’s not true. What most people don’t get is that stress is part of your life, much like eating, if you are trying to create something. You cannot remove it, per se, as so much “manage it”.
If we then have a situation where stress and emotional distress are a constant in the life of a founder and in turn we know that the presence of that same distress can actually kill you, what do we do? Is that the reason there is a rise in the deaths of founders by taking their own lives? I personally knew three founders that have taken their own lives in the past four years. I tell you, for those that have not lived it, it can get to the point where you actually lose yourself. You don’t even know who you are anymore. You can get to a place that is so dark, it feels like the only light ahead of you is an oncoming train.
Last year, I found myself in three time zones in one day and had no idea where I was when I woke up the day after. I am certain that my workload is a lot less heavy than some mainly because my business is mature, but it is still there.
So, back to the statement around stress lessening when “this patch is over”. Across the table this morning, the voice said to no one in particular, “We need to figure out how to reduce your stress”. I laughed and said, that’s impossible. It will likely never happen because I keep adding to it. We all do. Founders are driven. We keep going, adding layers to our lives and trying like hell to make a difference. We keep reaching for that “next” thing.
Granted, the statement was made while this person was looking at me. I was drained. I had not slept again, was tired and for some insane reason was joining her in a seven day “cleanse” which in day 3 seemed like a terrible idea, but hey, let’s add more stress. The statement was made out of concern, which I am eternally grateful for.
That is how I deal with stress. I deal with it by trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, staying incredibly active and fit and trying like hell to have someone in my life that cares. It is not easy. Let me explain why.
At any given time, I am usually exhausted. I am mentally spent, physically drained because I usually had just finished a workout session or I am emotionally drained dealing with the daily grind of life or the business is pulling on every string I have. Hard to show it though, so you swallow it all and move forward with a slick fucking smile on your face trying to break more shit and help people, most who don’t deserve it.
Here’s the thing; it’s always been that way. Don’t feel sorry for me or people like me, just the opposite. All of this is a choice. That is the key; the way I deal with stress and emotional distress is remembering I made the choice to live this life. That small element of taking control over the “stress” and making it my choice is all I need to become less stressed.
So, how do you deal with stress when stress is just as much part of your life as putting on clothes? It’s simple:
- Understand that you chose to live this way. This is true for anyone.
- I have good people in my life who care about my well being. All you really need is one person in this category to make things much better. I love hearing “how was your day?” I think if my dog could talk, she would ask me all about my day, but sadly, she can only speak with her eyes and I know what they are saying. “Can I have another treat?”
- Remember that the only one who can change your life is you. This is a hard one. It’s easy to get caught up where you feel you are a victim stuck in a situation, but you have to fight it. You have to change and keep changing until you become the person you want to be, the person you know you are and start attracting the people you need to help you on that path (see second bullet above).
Reading Sandeeo’s book reinforced what I had already experienced; that stress can kill me if I am not careful. I recall going through several difficult times when I got sick, brought entirely on by stress. One was when I was involved in a changeover in CEO at one of my companies. I had to find a new CEO as part of a funding commitment for a company related to receipt ads I started because the brilliant brain trust of the Angel Group putting in the money thought it a good idea to have a more experienced CEO. That CEO not only drove the company into the ground, but she also screwed over a lot of hard-working people in the process. It was not entirely her fault though, much like an animal with unlimited food, she ate as much as was left there for her by the board. It was the board and specifically the chairman’s fault. How many times have investors come in and swapped out a founder for a “more experienced” CEO only to have them fail? It amazes me each time I see the story unfold.
The other time was when I was in a non-professional relationship with someone who was abusive. It’s funny how now so many people I come across that knew us then have told me just how abusive this person was to me. I didn’t see it until I was so sick I could not get off the couch.
Both of these situations are lessons for me and I bet others. Founders are under a lot of stress and we sometimes turn to others for help when those others have none of our best interests in mind. It is then perhaps when stress gets inside you in such a deep place, it is hard to eradicate.
Stress while trying to grow a startup can do really weird things to you. Experiencing it first hand for many years, I realized that there has got to be a way to manage it. Experiencing it also made me realize that when you give your heart to someone or something, they or it has the actual power to end your life if you let it happen. They or it has the ability to break your heart and that, as he says in the book, has been proven to lead to conditions that will kill you eventually.
As a founder, I am the only one who can prop me up, make me feel good and keep me on a positive path. As a founder, I am the only one who can manage my stress and I am the only one who can make me happy. I learned this the hard way by letting the actions of others create and foster pain within me that left unchecked would have killed me. It is like asking someone who has not seen you in three months, “hey, do you think I look thinner?” They can tell because it’s been some time since they saw you. You can’t as you see yourself every day and it’s hard to see incremental change, good or bad. This is the reason we do quarterly reports and yearly reports in our business, to see our progress or lack thereof. I suspect it is also the reason people see therapists, to see their progress or lack thereof.
That’s the funny part about life; people can make you sad, hurt, sick and angry, but you are the only one that can make “you” truly happy.
It’s the little things now that make me happy. My dog, a smile from someone I care about, being active and kicking ass with my company. Today, I flew a long way to make an investor presentation and you know what? I fucking nailed it. Stress-free for at least one evening!