How do I leave my Startup Stress at Work?

"Is there any way to put my startup stress on "pause" just for a minute so I can get a flipping minute of respite? I love my startup, but it's starting to strangle me. How do I leave this stress at work so I can enjoy the rest of my life? Is that even possible?"

July 8th, 2020   |    By: Wil Schroter

Decoupling startup stress from our "regular life" is one of the biggest challenges we deal with as Founders. Running a startup isn't like working at a job. The startup is a part of who we are, so our stress feels like it's imprinted into our very DNA.

Yet, at the same time, if we can't decouple our startup stress and our home lives, we risk destroying both. What we need is an actual strategy for freeing up our minds so that we can actually enjoy both sides of our lives.

Isolate and Attack the Problem

As Founders, we are awesome at attacking problems all day long at our startups. So why is it that we never isolate the problem of our "take-home stress" and attack it with the same intensity?

The first step is to isolate the problem as an actual problem. "I can't be effective at my startup until I can decouple my work stress from the rest of my life." Let's put it up on the top of our To-Do list and track it until we have some relief. I've found that until I isolate the problem and put it "up in lights" I just keep ignoring it.

Conversely, when I attack it like a work problem, I get freakishly attached to solving the problem versus ignoring it. It's amazing at how important the distinction is. I leave every work day thinking "OK, now I have to solve this stress problem!"

Identify the Stress

Any affliction that isn't acutely diagnosed can't be remedied. Addressing our startup stress is no different. We can't just say "I'm stressed" because that's too broad of a diagnosis. We have to identify the stress so that we can manage it.

"I'm stressed that if we don't raise more money I won't be able to pay my bills in August." That's a more acute stress. When we identify and isolate our stress, it allows us to develop mechanisms for coping with it, and where possible, creating a way to put it on the shelf for a minute.

Sometimes isolating the stress also creates its own time box to our advantage. Knowing that we can't do anything about our situation until we receive a response from a customer or until the new week starts gives us a chance to say "This particular stress just can't be addressed right now."

Seek out Active Distraction

For many of us, the problem we run into is that we don't seek active distraction. If you're like me, "sitting on a beach" is torture because all you can think about is work. Any activity that doesn't actively draw our mind away from work is unlikely to help ease our stress. Our brains are just too hard-wired, so we have to game it.

In my case, I got into carpentry. Like, way into it. I built out a whole Bob Villa workshop and just get covered in sawdust for hours on end. What I find is that when I'm building something, my mind is totally disconnected from anything else. Which is great, because I'm usually standing in front of sharp blades spinning really fast next to my hands.

That's why for a lot of us, some sort of engaging hobby is a must. It doesn't really matter what it is, so long as it definitively pulls our mind somewhere else.

Our startup stress isn't just something we have to live with. It's something we have to manage. The more attention we give the problem, the better we become at addressing it.

In Case You Missed It

The emotional cost of being a startup Founder. (podcast) Wil and Ryan discuss how to start having a more open conversation about what it really costs to be a startup Founder.

5 Things Founders Don’t Talk About. As Founders, it’s hard to talk about personal feelings, especially when they relate to failing. But these conversations need to happen.

Start Faster by Starting Smaller. Building a startup is a game of tiny wins over and over and over. The big wins come as a result of the micro victories. The key is how you pick your battles.

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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