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?

The Trait That Ruins Entrepreneurs

file4911265967621I don’t believe there is one single trait that, absent all others, can deliver success for entrepreneurs. It’s really a unique blend of traits and talents within each individual – as well as many outside factors – all converging at the right time in the right way. If it were as simple as a specific trait, then those individuals possessing that trait would be successful every time – and that is certainly not the case. Many a successful entrepreneur has gone on to live through colossal failures. And while there are just as many reasons for a startup’s failure as for its success, I do believe that there is one trait that, if given room to grow, will ruin an entrepreneur. When an entrepreneur stops being willing to be coached, their days are numbered – and understanding the underlying root of this resistance is vital, because the solution often depends on what is causing us to shut out the advice of others.

There was a phase early in my own journey as the founder of a startup that I was far too resistant to the feedback and ideas of those around me, and for me, it was my inexperience that was getting in my way. I had clarity on our ‘big idea’ and knew it was my job to protect our focus so that we, as a company, didn’t end up chasing every shiny thing and every dollar that looked like a possibility. But in my very worthy goal to protect my team from being pulled to and fro by contrary paths and indecision, I become implacable. Thankfully, I had the good fortune to survive those growing pains without losing momentum, and I’m grateful that the experience helped me become much more willing to hear the cautionary words of others and to entertain opposing views. I’ve learned that while it’s right to protect the goals and vision of a company, a founder must also be open to advice and correction from others and synthesize that feedback into a more refined path forward.

Entrepreneurs can also become uncoachable simply because we are so afraid of taking the step we’re being prodded to take. We can easily confuse fear with intuition and believe that our inaction is actually being wise. Intuition tells us the truth when we are missing warning signs that something is not right, but fear is a liar and operates from our weaker selves. As entrepreneurs, fear is often the thing we experience right before a breakthrough. When we start rejecting advice that is pushing us past our comfort zone, we become paralyzed by inaction and ruin our chances for success.

But when being uncoachable is driven by hubris, that is really the most destructive reason of all. Hubris is defined as excessive pride or self confidence. Hubris turns almost any trait’s value into a detriment. It changes confidence into cockiness, single-mindedness into disdain. When that happens, the very traits that initially resulted in early progress become the very traits that lead to failure. It is the difference between someone forging ahead into the unknown and choosing the road less traveled and the individual who drives over a cliff, despite the multitude of warnings and cautions along the way.

While an entrepreneur absolutely must possess thick skin and the ability to filter through doubts, fears and bad advice, there better be an understanding that in the midst of the cacophony of feedback, there may be invaluable insights and guidance that could make the difference between failure and success. When we are coachable and receptive, we increase our chances of success.

Perhaps a good test is this: if you think everyone around you is an idiot, and everyone who shares advice with you is a fool who just doesn’t get it – especially if your own vision isn’t leading to your expected outcomes – then maybe it’s time to serve yourself a slice of humble pie and realize that they may not be as much of an idiot as you thought. You may well be in that same category yourself for summarily rejecting all feedback as beneath you. You have to want success more than you want to be right, and when that is your goal, you’ll find the humility and grace to accept difficult advice and hard truths that can help you succeed. I know from experience that hearing difficult advice that goes against what we want to be believe is painful and difficult, but I’ve also seen the results of it and know that without finding a way to be coachable, there is no way to get where we want to be.