Your heart is pounding and your brain won’t shut up. Falling asleep is out of the question. What a horrible feeling. I distinctly remember the first time feeling this, when the first person I ever hired decided to quit, which oddly felt like being dumped. I wish that wasn’t a part of the startup package.
I consider myself lucky to never have experienced real anxiety before 30. And then I decided to start a startup.
What makes startups fun is that there are so many huge challenges to overcome. It never gets boring. But the biggest challenge is not an easy one -- managing your own psyche.
It took me a long time to understand the importance of taking care of my psyche, and that it is a never-ending endeavor. From there I discovered a few practical tools for the job.
Body and Mind
I recently heard someone say “You can’t fix your mind with your mind”. I’m consistently amazed how 3 minutes of meditation can completely change your mindset for a day or two. If you want your mind to be healthy you need to keep your body healthy and use it to your advantage.
The things that work for me are eating healthy, exercising, getting 8 hours of sleep, being outside first thing in the morning, and meditation. Being consistent and doing these every single day is the secret (and the hard part).
Stressed about a recent crisis at work? Take a break and do something with your body.
Default to Action
If it can be solved, get busy, and if it can't be solved, worry is of no use. One of the beauties of startups is that there are no rules or boundaries, meaning that almost always you can get busy and solve the problem.
An employee just left you? Talk to them and see if it’s reversible. If not then start hiring, it’s probably for the best anyway.
Have a Life
No one in the world is less qualified than me to give this advice.
Your startup is not your life, it’s a part of it. Even if you're working 90% of the time, you should invest in your family, a hobby, friends, or a blog that nobody reads. This is why I write this blog, and why I will always prioritize my wife over my startup.
Finished your day worse than you started off? Enjoy time with your family, friends or go read a book.
Make Your Role Enjoyable
Self-driven people are attracted to startups. They put the company ahead of themselves meaning that they will gladly work on things that they don’t enjoy if that’s what’s needed.
This is fine until taken to the extreme. If you don’t enjoy what you do then you won’t be world-class at it and eventually, you’ll stop. No matter how crazy a day is, I always find the time to do a bit of writing, reading, or coding, which are enjoyable to me.
The first question that anxiety surfaces is “What’s the point of all of this?” If you can’t answer this question anxiety will gain ground. Here’s my test for a true sense of purpose: do you truly believe that if everything utterly fails, it would’ve still been worth the effort, and a few of your best years?
It is much harder to endure when the answer is no. Which is probably a good thing.
Some people give you energy and some drain your energy. If you work with people who energize you, inspire you, and are fun to be around, they will bring you up when you’re down. I find this to be the most important trait of a co-founder. Don’t settle.
A meaningful purpose is always hard to fulfill. A memorable journey will always have its low points. You will never eliminate anxiety but you can be the one in charge.
These tools are not perfect and are highly subjective. It’s important to experiment and figure out what works for you
Thanks to Rami Amar for reading drafts of this post and for being a good friend
How do you handle your startup anxiety? I would love to hear from you