On Anger and Thriving in the Startup Pressure Cooker

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As the founder of a tech startup, I’ve certainly had my share of experiences where the choice to let go of anger has been the only way I could maintain the emotional and mental resources needed to weather the extreme highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Anyone who has been involved in a startup understands that the pressure to deliver on a vision with limited or nonexistent funds, personnel or supplies brings out the best – and worst – in each of us.

We say things we don’t mean. We say things we absolutely mean but might have had the wisdom to keep to ourselves under other conditions. We do things we regret. And, at some point or another, we end up on the receiving of those same experiences.

Sometimes the blame for the fractures in our relationships lies squarely on our own shoulders, and when it does, feeling angry is wasted emotion. It’s far more productive to serve ourselves a slice of humble pie and offer up an apology.  When it comes from an honest place, an apology opens the way back to peace. Building a startup is emotionally draining, even in good times, and making sure we aren’t weighted down by unresolved issues – especially when we hold the power to make amends – is vital. But it is the wounds which are result of others’ betrayal or wrong behavior, the ones which we cannot repair, which often disrupt our peace, cloud our judgment, and distract us from our goals.

One of the most important traits we need as an entrepreneur is the inner calm to persevere amidst the intense emotions of the startup pressure cooker, especially if our journey is made more difficult by the actions of another.

If the damage to our reputation or company rises to the level of needing to take action against it, then we shouldn’t waste our energy on anger. Immediately consulting a lawyer will clarify the available options, but the decision to take legal action is a serious one. While it may feel empowering to fight back, there is a high financial and emotional cost attached to public court battles, and every moment spent on resolving conflict through the courts is time not spent growing the startup or supporting our team. Sometimes legal recourse is the right course of action, but it is a decision that should only be made after very careful consideration to all factors involved.

But, by and large, most of the difficulties we experience with others do not rise to this level. That in no way changes the amount of pain and anger we experience. Whatever the conflict, whatever the cause of the anger, if we hold onto it, we will be the loser, because anger drags us down, changes our perspective, diminishes our drive and energy, depletes our hope for the future. If we allow it to grow, anger will eventually cloud our own vision and destroy our ability to lead our team forward to success.

So just let it go. Every single time anger once again surges to the surface, make the conscious decision to just let it go. We can choose to focus on the future, on the positive and not allow our painful experiences along our journey to cloud our own vision. We owe it to ourselves and to everyone else on our team to preserve the emotional resources needed to achieve success.

And when we make the choices that allow us to preserve our inner peace, the reward is that the sweet savor of success isn’t marred with the bitter aftertaste that comes with lingering anger. And isn’t that why we began this journey of entrepreneurship in the first place?

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Why a Childhood Scolding Turned Out to be Such Good Advice

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I was recently asked to contribute the essay below as part of a series for HuffPost Icon Next, entitled ‘The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Received For Achieving My Career Goals.’ You can read the essay here.

Wouldn’t it be nice when something significant was about to be said, if a bright sign would appear alerting us to this fact? As close as I’ve ever come to this actually happening was in college. In the middle of a mind-numbingly boring lecture, my professor would change the cadence and volume of his voice and announce, “Now write this down. It will be on the exam.” I would scribble whatever came out of his mouth next and then wander back in my mind to some place more exciting than my current surroundings. Thanks to his early-warning system, I managed to pass the class with a B despite retaining very little of the content he shared in class.

When I was recently asked what the most important advice was that I’d ever received, I was hard pressed to come up with a single answer. How does one start with a question like that? Nary a day goes by without some form of advice being shared, so how does one choose that one thing that rises above all the rest as being the most pivotal, valuable words of wisdom?

It’s likely a lot easier to recall the worst advice – especially when there are scars to remind us of our foolhardy decisions. Most of my Worst-of-All-Time Hall-of-Famers begin with phrases like They won’t be mad; you should do it or It won’t hurt. Really. Nothing good ever happened when I opted to believe advice that began with that kind of logic.

And some advice, as inane and obvious as it sounds, pays off every single time. For example, the advice to use my manners – that’s been pretty useful. Seriously. It has resulted in many a positive result and has helped me inspire colleagues to try a proposed course of action which places them far outside their comfort zone. When I was told that please and thank you are magic words, it was good advice. They hold incredible power to change the attitudes, minds, opinions, and decisions of those around us.

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But when I consider what it is that I come back to time and again when I am in the midst of a struggle, whether it is in my personal or professional life, it would have to be the words of my great-grandmother, Zelma Carder. She was a larger-than-life figure of my childhood who walked straight out of a Zane Grey Western novel and into my life. She’d lived this incredibly difficult but exciting life. She homesteaded in the barren, windswept prairies of northern New Mexico in the 1800’s, survived the Dust Bowl years despite losing almost everything she owned except for a grand piano (which now sits in our living room). She traveled in a Conestoga wagon (with her grand piano in tow) to live as a migrant worker, picking cotton alongside her husband and children to survive the desperate years after the Great Depression. She learned to carry the heartbreak of burying several of her family, including her own child, during a flu epidemic in the early 1900’s. She crocheted rugs out of bread bags and turned butter tubs into the most wonderful doll beds filled with satin beds hand stitched from old night gowns and covered with colorful crocheted skirts. She was a true pioneer of sustainability, the ultimate conservationist. The stories she told me were the things of grand novels, and she was, by far, the strongest, bravest, fiercest, most stubborn woman I’ve ever known.

While visiting her when I was maybe six or seven years old, she scolded me for crying after losing a game to her. I had no idea at the time that her words would ring in my ears every time I faced a situation where I felt I was being treated unfairly or had an uphill battle to reach my goal. As I sat in my chair across from her, trying to swallow my tears, she said, “No one in this life is going to feel sorry for you. If you sit there feeling sorry for yourself, you just decided to give up on yourself. And then you’re the loser, not because of anyone else, but because of yourself. If you’re going to play, do it because you love the game. And then when you win, you can celebrate, but even when you lose, you’ll still be the winner because you got to play the game you love.”

Especially now as I serve as CEO of a startup, her words spur me to grow, be courageous and focus on the vision of the future I know is possible. While our team deploys and refines our technology that is impacting the lives of others and has the potential of impacting lives across the globe, I know I’m in this game because I love it. But on the hard days, when everything goes wrong, my great-grandmother’s words remind me that it’s up to me to dig deep, toughen up and find the courage to brush off the disappointment and push forward to the next pinnacle where the view of the future is clearly visible once again.