Startup Life: Trough of Sorrow or Crest of Success?

This article hits home for me on many levels, it speaks about the passing away of Diaspora’s co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy due to unknown reasons, however highly associated with the pressures of startup life. As a follow up to my post “The Start Up Girlfriend“, it is clear that startup culture becomes a lifestyle. It is not a 9-5 job with the ability to turn yourself into “off” mode. Do people actually get that? Startup mode is always on.

It’s fuelled primarily by passion and for those of us who find ourselves working on things we are passionate about, time is not a factor. But as this taboo topic poses, where is the fine line between madness and sanity? Is the line so far away that it’s a dot?

I have the fortune to be surrounded by some good friends who share a love for startup culture. It’s not always pretty, like anything worth pursuing there are troughs of sorrow and crests of success. How do you put one foot in front of the other on those days? In startup culture, it’s a fairly intimate circle of people working on manifesting an idea, these people become your family, it’s a package deal (the good, bad, and the ugly). However, the ability to stay grounded and balanced, while pursuing such unveiled ideas can seem daunting and doubtful while also being awesome and fulfilling. All off these feelings are usually experienced many times a day in startup life. It is only human to have ideas reinforced by others, we are social creatures. However, ironically, the actual work itself is often a solo unsocial pursuit, you just have to get the work done to contribute to the bigger picture. For those hours spent hustling, coding, communicating, leading, experimenting, call it whatever you want, a bit of debt is incurred, maybe in the form of physical (you’re not exercising as much, you’re not eating as much, you don’t care as much) or mental, as in the case of Diaspora’s Co-Founder. Maintaining the optimistic front in light of setbacks and financial stress is not always easy. There is under-rated stressed from publicly press-released information about your start up and there is under-rated stress from the day to day that startup life demands. So how do entrepreneurs win? How do you put one foot in front of the other? Clearly there is a trend, Zhitomirskiy isn’t the first.

Take preventative measures. When I socialize with friends who are startup doers, they literally live and breath their business. Can I blame them? Not really, it’s what they love to do. However, we make a point to try to do non-startup-esque things to get away from work, if only for a bit. We go rock climbing. We eat good food, away from our offices. We dance like crazy, also away from our offices. All these things can be great breaths of fresh air and are under-rated solutions that contribute to a healthier state of mind. I’m a firm believe in allotting time to do things that are not related to your start up directly, because the time spent doing those things is actually propelling the productivity and success of the time you do spend working on your startup. All of these ideas are summed up nicely in this Hacker News discussion which was initiated by this key topic: Dealing with Post Startup Depression. I think we can all empathize, startup or not.

Be transparent. There are great listeners who are accountable confidants. It is worth engaging in these conversations. Don’t try to be a hero by holding down the fort. Know when to speak up, it doesn’t have to be closed doors. You know who you trust, speak to those people. Accountability & mentorships go along way. I’ve had some of the best insights when I can get past this threshold and voice my concern for something. We often think we’re the only ones struggling with these internal ideas, but if you speak up, chances are someone else can relate and has some insight. The act of sharing and engaging in someway is the premise of most startup ideas…why not use that same mantra to tackle those problems on a personal level as well?

There needs to be outlets, let’s un-taboo this.