Unless you are one of the very, very few who have had a smooth, upward ride as a founder of a company, each passing year includes an accumulating number of bumps and bruises to the mind, body and soul of most entrepreneurs. In the early years, those who stick it out learn to shake off the disappointments and failures. Maybe a few hours will pass with a negative impact, or a day, but rarely does it last longer. If it does, by definition, you’ll quit and reenter the “normal” world.
Trusting and believing in the good intentions of others has always been my default mindset position. It has carried me through the worst days, weeks and even years. You get burned here and there, but at least you aren’t spending tons of time worrying about who is stealing, who is lying, who is trying to benefit themselves at the expense of others. Despite any number of torpedos that could strike on a given day a, I spent many years graced with the continued belief that people are inherently good, that focus on doing the right thing is the only way to win, that putting others first is a normal human instinct, that generosity and empathy in business dealings would be returned in kind. It always made so much sense.
And yet, finally, in 2019, here I am referring to that mindset with a tendency to use the past tense more often than ever before. The bumps and bruises have finally added up to something that is more visible than… totally invisible. It’s not a disaster, that being said. I just don’t always wake up in the same “I believe” mindset that drove me forward day after day.
I especially note the contrast of my feelings on an average morning versus the wide smile and smirk of Bo, our 5-year old, when he peers at me early every morning with the wonder of a new day gleaming in his eyes. I can only imagine…
Missteps and failures – large and small, real and imagined – are part of building businesses. The big question for founders is when will those add up to something that could be considered “baggage”. Will it be in the first year, and therefore you head back to work for a consulting company or investment bank? Will it be 5 years when too little has happened to be worth much, but enough was built that others with new energy and vision will take it to new levels and you can still imagine doing it all over again on something new and fresh? When do the challenges become ruts? When do the ruts become too deep to easily exit?
In March I’m having a benign lipoma removed after hoping for nearly two years it would stop growing before it got bigger than a minor annoyance. It kept growing. It’s more than a minor annoyance.
Like a runaway lipoma, sometimes an accumulation of setbacks needs to also be surgically removed… the problem is there’s no surgeon I’ve met who is able to do that. There are no quick solutions. Only, I believe, the much harder, disciplined work of reflection, meditation, a shift in habits of the mind and body, and absolutely ensuring that the same mistakes aren’t made over and over again.
The best advice I’ve heard recently is to very intentionally make new mistakes. That way, you are for sure not repeating old mistakes, bad habits, etc. Perhaps a focus on new mistakes can lead some to the breakthroughs required to allow long-time entrepreneurs to overcome founder PTSD and move forward with fewer fears, hangups, and much, much lighter baggage.