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Stress and the Entrepreneur

Stress and the Entrepreneur
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“If it wasn’t for the stress, I’d never get anything done!”

Every entrepreneur gets a bucket of stress, but they handle it differently. The fellow I quoted above used stress as a motivational tool, dealing quickly with business issues to alleviate stress in his life (the most stressful issues got addressed first, which likely isn’t a great prioritization strategy). Others find creative ways of dealing with stress. Stress has killed a few folks along the way. 

Related: 4 TED Talks to Help You Deal With Stress and Anxiety

Since stress is part of your entrepreneurial life, you would do well to cope with it sooner rather than later. A good part of my book "Tough Things First" hinges on what I learned as the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, and how I dealt with pressure when I launched my semiconductor business over 37 years ago.

What is this thing called stress?

The definition of stress involves both cause and effect. Stress is “the action on a body … whereby strain or deformation results.” From a physiology perspective it is “a specific response by the body to a stimulus, as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” I once knew a mainframe systems administrator whose job came with a lot of external stress (when a couple of billion dollars of revenue and thousands of employees depend on your computer staying alive, you receive unsolicited stress). This external stress caused him ulcers. Cause and effect.

Stress comes from many places, both inside your company and from beyond the office walls. Stress from one source can leak into the other. Too many entrepreneurs bring their business stress home with them, which has a bad influence on their marriage, children and overall quality of life. Likewise, bringing family and social stress into the workplace creates barriers to getting good work done and reaching your business goals.

Business itself offers more than enough potential stress points. Partners, co-founders, board members, investors, customers, suppliers, competitors, government agencies, even macroeconomic fluctuations can defocus a leader. The bad news is that none of these stressors are escapable – they will hunt you down. How you deal with stress determines how well you and your business do.

Related: How Successful People Manage Stress

Double dealing against stress.

Great entrepreneurs (which should include you) don’t suffer from stress because they invite it.

This sounds odd, but the things that cause mental stress to other people are just wonderful new puzzles to an entrepreneur. Problems become another fascinating aspect of creating their vision, another piece in the jigsaw picture of corporate achievement. It doesn’t matter if it is a monumental engineering design problem, an aggressive new competitor, a disruptive new technology or an IRS audit – puzzle-solving entrepreneurs take each as a challenge, a project, a fun thing to decipher.

Related: How Getting up at 5 a.m. Has Improved My Health and Productivity

But this willingness in and of itself is insufficient. Many stress points come from people and personalities, not mechanical issues. Here are the personality traits good entrepreneurs have and how they help turn negative stress into positive action:

  • Optimism: Entrepreneurs are optimists by nature. Stay focused, stay positive, and know that by being smart and proactive, your odds of success stay high.
  • Courage: This is the quality of mind that enables you to face difficulty without fear. Fear commonly comes from the unknown, and you are a learning machine. Banish the unknown and you become fearless.
  • People person: Genuinely connecting with people puts them at ease and allows you to understand their needs, concerns and desires. You achieve through your people, so know them.
  • Cash: No business failed from having too much cash on hand. Manage cash, avoid debt, and be frugal. This eliminates the deadliest of startup dysfunctions – the perpetual funding hunt.
  • Good employees: Hire as you would pick a spouse. Employment is a long-term relationship, and should be treated as such.
  • Good customers: You can pick your customers and your markets. It is better to serve a smaller set of customers very well and make them insanely happy than it is to serve a lot of unrelated customers poorly and annoy them equally.
  • Vigilance: This involves keenly watching everything, and early detection of danger. This is not paranoia, it is being mindful that things change and you need to be aware of these changes.
  • Determination and persistence: Never give up. The moment you consider the option of giving in, then doubt has won. Optimism begins with the notion that you won’t quit.