Startups are full of stressful moments with plenty of ups and downs. When founders are riding the crazy entrepreneurial rollercoaster, it can feel like the whole world is on a founder's shoulders. And often times, it is. Everything from fundraising to scaling to hiring can fall on an entrepreneur's back, creating a lot of tension. I am no different.
After starting several businesses, I founded Academia.edu, a platform for academics to share research papers. While I have seen some success – it has grown to more than seven million academics and I have raised almost $18 million – it was no walk in the park. There have been plenty of tough periods along the way, but I have learned to manage those stressful times by following a few techniques.
Revalidate the decision. When in a stressful moment, it’s often useful to zoom out and say, "I knew entrepreneurship would have ups and downs, and that is part of what I enjoy about it." When you take a step back, you may remember why you choose the entrepreneurial path. Ask yourself: Would I still choose the same path knowing what I know now? If the answer is yes, the stress of the current moment doesn't feel so bad. You’ll see the stressful moment as part of a narrative that you committed to and realize it will pass.
Work on something important. There is a great quote by Abraham Lincoln: “My great concern is not whether you have failed but whether you are content with your failure.” It makes a great difference to be able to think that you are working on something worthwhile to society. Then, even if you fail, you’ll be proud to have worked on the problem and have devoted time to it.
Need a little bit more encouragement? Elon Musk often said that when he started SpaceX, the most likely outcome was failure. But it was an important problem, so he gave it a shot anyway.
Remember that the journey is the reward. I have friends who have exited and are now worth millions of dollars. Yet, I have noticed they are no happier now than they were when they were running their company. My perception is that often they were happiest when riding the wave of their startup: They seemed most in their element when navigating the ups and downs of creating something meaningful.
When you dealing with your own peaks and valleys, it’s helpful to remind yourself these are not rigors you are going through to get to a promised land. This journey of ups and downs is the promised land. The benefits of a land of bounty are largely illusory, and real fulfillment comes from engaging with the various kinds of problems that emerge on life's journey.
For all of us, one of the goals is to acquire wisdom, or good judgement. Good judgement comes from having seen a lot of life and having a lot of experiences. Those are the experiences that you draw on when forming your own view of how people work and how the world works. You can read and learn about other people's journeys, which is great, but you learn a lot more by having your own experiences.
So when you’re going through a tough spot in the journey, remember you are learning while your skin is getting thicker. And this should feel good. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, once said, “Once you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, other hurdles become less daunting.”