It was the Fourth of July and my team decided to head over to a friend's pool to work on our startup Vayable, a platform to request, design and book unique travel experiences. Whether on laptops or splashing around with cocktails in hand, it didn't matter: Everyone was together and celebrating our journey. Moments like this is what makes being part of a startup so special.
I, the founder of the company, missed that moment. As our team piled into cars to unwind and enjoy the holiday, I stepped into the passenger seat of my mom's Honda CRV to head to the emergency room. I clutched my abdomen with tears dripping down my face in pain. This was my second time at the hospital in the past 24 hours.
After hours of tests, doctors revealed the culprit of my physical pain: stress. The pain was possibly an ulcer. I felt embarrassed and guilty for wasting medical resources, my mother's time and missing a day of team bonding because of an ailment of my own making. But I wasn't surprised it had come to this.
Two years earlier, before we had users, a product, a team or investors, Vayable had one asset: me, a "wantrepreneur" with an idea. Vayable wouldn’t stand a chance if I didn't maintain a high level of energy, enthusiasm and sharpness. I went on daily runs, meditated and lived almost entirely on homemade green smoothies and dinners of salads and cooked vegetables. Feeling strong and energized, Vayable and I set sail.
Within a few months, I had a growing user base, a product, team and capital from outside investors. As our assets multiplied, my health slowly moved to the back burner. I've watched the same thing happen to other founders.
We founders fall prey to viewing ourselves as martyred heroes who slave away at our startups to change the world. However, we’re the only participants in this romanticizing of martyrdom. We provoke one another with stories about how we haven't slept for two days or forgot to eat until 10 p.m. We wear our health sacrifices like a badge. We tell these stories with a feigned disdain and silent pride.
Are we really proud of this kind of behavior? Can we honestly say that this way of living makes us more successful and helps the growth of our companies? I can't.
Lying in the hospital bed last month, I realized that in trying to be strong and selfless, I had done the opposite. When I put my health on the back burner, I was weak and selfish. For Vayable to succeed, I still need to be just as sharp, energetic and enthusiastic as I was on day zero, if not more so.
As a founder, you may be experiencing similar anxiety that comes along with building a startup. Here are signs you may need a self-intervention.
Did starting your company feel like fertilizer for grays on your head? I call these founder grays.
When anxiety arises, it's time to let loose. Getting into a state of child-like play not only relieves tension but also lends itself to creativity, which could result in new, innovative solutions to problems. If you want to learn more, check out this inspiring talk on the topic by Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist who studies perception.
Forgetting to eat or sleep
I find this is surprisingly common among my founder friends. It's so basic, yet so hard to correct once you've established a pattern. If you are having trouble catching up on z's or your stomach is constantly grumbling, try:
- Scheduling team lunches where laptops aren't allowed and the focus is on enjoying lunch and sharing life updates.
- Keep your kitchen at work and home stocked with food.
- Make dinner plans outside the office, as it provides a welcome evening break.
- Meditate for 10 minutes before going to bed, which can help transform your quality of sleep.
- If you find your mind racing, don't beat yourself up. Try counting your breaths up to 10 and repeat until your thoughts quiet.
How have you overcome the stresses of running a startup? Let us know in the comments below.