When’s the last time you cried?
I cried this morning. I thought about how many people were relying on me to make the right decisions and how much those decisions had the potential to hurt the people I know and love if they went wrong. If I had a nickel for every night I fell asleep scared stiff about failure, I could fund my next five businesses.
Unfortunately, being an entrepreneur comes with an unrealistic expectation for bravado: We think a thriving entrepreneur must over-represent the positives, overlook the negatives and maintain grit. We believe insecurity, fear, and shame need to be pushed aside in order to inspire confidence in our friends, employees and investors. With 70 percent of upstart tech companies failing, it’s no surprise we overcompensate for the lows and exaggerate the highs in the public light.
When your identity, finances and relationships are all intertwined with a company, the stakes tend to be high, the bumps in the road frequent. According to a recent study, 30 percent of entrepreneurs experience depression, while many others deal with ADHD (29 percent) and anxiety problems (27 percent). That’s a much higher rate than CEOs across all sectors combined who experience depression (14 percent). Additionally, it’s four times more than U.S. population at large (7 percent).
The truth is, entrepreneurship is an incredibly emotional career. It’s intrinsically tied to the human condition. We are faced with extremely high levels of stress and pressure while in the trenches of launching and growing a company. Those who are resilient enough to handle it often crumble under the weight because they neglected to find a way to process the emotions.
I rarely see a fellow entrepreneur open up about it, either. We watch interviews from the Bill Gates and Yvon Chouinards of the world and listen to the trials and tribulations it took to reach success. It seems like we are only able to talk about our difficulties when we have already reached prosperity. What if we were as expressive about what we are going through as what we went through?
Here’s the hard truth: When you bottle up your emotions, you’re putting your business and your people at risk. Conversely, the sky’s the limit for your company if you develop and share healthy rituals for acknowledging, managing and embracing emotions.
Bad leaders have low emotional IQ.
Think about the worst boss you ever had. Was the boss tone deaf? Did she fail to understand what was really going on the office? Or maybe, it always felt like he was turning the knife a bit when he gave you feedback.
It’s probably not because he or she was a terrible person. Instead, your boss likely had a low emotional IQ, the effects of which were felt acutely across his or her teams.
So much of great leadership is emotional intelligence — the ability to recognize, understand and manage the often invisible, human element in every business situation. In order to perceive others’ emotions, you have to learn how to perceive your own. That’s a hard trick to pull off if you’re hellbent on not allowing yourself to feel anything.
Countless studies show that suppressing emotions leads to decreased social functioning: less social support, weakened team trust and overall lower social satisfaction. That sounds like the perfect recipe for destroying a good company culturebefore you even hire your tenth employee.
Instead of ignoring emotions, consider how you can use them to your advantage. On the front end, emotions can be used to prioritize: make tradeoffs, focus energy, follow through on promises, make tough decisions and learn from failure. On the back end, they can be used to motivate and inspire: build trust, strengthen relationships and get people moving.
Bottled emotions kill productivity.
Small business owners work around 53 hours per week — that’s 63 percent longer than the average worker. For entrepreneurs, the number can easily hit 90 hours a week. We flip rapidly through the long days to grind out as much as we can, juggling multiple roles and spreading ourselves thin.
To make those 60, 70 or 80 hours as efficient as possible, entrepreneurs have to fine-tune their schedules in order to manage and process large amounts of input. Productivity hacks, apps and strategies can help your business become a functioning machine, but once your system is tuned, the only place left to make productivity gains is between your ears.
Finding the perfect formula to optimize your schedule requires mindfulness. When feeling stressed, pause to identify the trigger instead of barreling through the discomfort. Actively holding back our emotions is hard work and taxing to the body. It’s distracting, and reduces focus and clarity. Our gears start grinding together and slowing down our process.
Being tuned in to your emotional state is also incredibly helpful for what we like to call “gut instinct.” Sometimes emotions can even identify red flags before your logical mind can. If you’ve ever felt reluctant about an idea without a clear rationale, you’ve experienced your emotions performing a gut-check. This intuition is invaluable, and can save both time and energy, but it’s also near impossible without emotional honesty.
For your emotional response system to keep unlocking what your conscious, reasoning mind misses, you need to open the door to feeling. It’s no coincidence that the most emotional animals on earth are also the smartest.
It’s gonna suck. Don’t make it worse.
For entrepreneurs, challenges are constantly compounding: long work hours, pressures from competitors, demands from investors taking a bet on your fledgling startup, uncertainty in decisions, constant judgment and responsibility for people’s livelihood.
Elon Musk has said, “Running a startup is like chewing glass and staring into the abyss. After a while, you stop staring, but the glass chewing never ends”
But, many of us have a calling that we can’t ignore. It’s as much a curse as a blessing.
Sometimes that calling is going to suck. The lows are so unbelievably low, and they always find ways to sink a little deeper as time goes on. The odds are stacked against you from the start, and your competitors have all the advantages they need to bury you. And yes, you’re likely to fail.
So, don’t put your business at additional risk just because you are unwilling to break from social norms. The climb is already too steep to increase the incline another two degrees.
But, there’s any easy way to improve your odds. Next time you’re staring into the abyss, wondering what you did wrong, ask yourself this simple question: When’s the last time I cried?