7 Emotional Attitudes to Overcome the Gauntlet of Startup Setbacks

I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 15 years. I’ve failed WAY more times than I’ve succeeded. WAAAAAY MORE. And…I love the “game of entrepreneurship” even more than when I started. Ironic? Frankly, I couldn’t be happier with the path it’s taken me. I’ve become a person I could not have become without the many experiences I’ve traversed. Moreso, I like this person much better than the person I was when I started. You could say that I’ve been refined…in a good way. ? I look forward to continued refining as the days, months, and years press forward! Don’t misunderstand, the path has been hard. Seemingly impassible at times.

I’ve learned, however, when you live to chase dreams and execute positive change in the world, it always pays off in the long-run.

Along the way, I’ve found a passion for sharing my experiences (successes and failures) with others in hopes that they can minimize their own learning curve to success. I’m a river, not a reservoir. As such, I’m going to share some insights to help you on your path to achieving your goals. Keep in mind, I will do my best to speak in terms of principles; so take what I share in that context. The specific circumstances of my experience will not match that of yours. Always try to focus on the “moral of the story”, rather than the story itself.

In the early days of your startup, nothing, and I mean nothing, will deter you from your golden belief that “this will work!”. You’re filled with dreams of changing the world and making a difference. There is great meaning in everything you do. “Honeymooning” with your startup is a fun and exciting time.

But, like most honeymoon periods, enthusiasm gives way to the reality of startup life: what you’re doing is hard. Change is hard. Raising capital is hard. Building is hard. Everything is hard. And maintaining the level of excitement you had in the beginning gets harder by the day. At some point, thoughts of “Am I crazy?” will most certainly creep into your mind. Or, you might just assume that the latest massive setback spells the end of your road. You give up and take the off-ramp; you quit.

Before I begin, understand this: Successfully navigating a startup to success has more to do with your emotional intelligence than it does your intellectual intelligence. Put another way, what you believe about yourself, the world, your work, and the possible outcomes are what matter most. Trust me…when I say that you will be given (often from those you trust most!) no less than 1 million reasons to quit, give up, or accept that you are doomed to fail.

Here are 7 attitudes to successfully navigate the emotional gauntlet of a startup:

1. “Why?” over “What?”

Anyone can come up with a great business idea. But ask yourself….why? Am I passionate about this field? This opportunity? Whydoes this matter to me? Or anyone else for that matter?  This makes it about purpose. Having purpose lead your life brings meaning to your activities. And meaning is what fuels the human spirit with joy and fulfillment.

“Why?” is the foundation which you should build everything on. Never focus on what you’re building first. Always lead with “Why?” From there the question becomes “How?” which may change throughout your journey to accomplish your goals. But “Why?” neverchanges.

Example: Let’s say I have an idea for a startup to simplify people’s ability to remit money to others in other countries. “What?” is that I have a startup to simplify how people send money to other people around the world. “Why?” is because people are being unfairly taxed by large, centralized corporations who provide this service today.

That said, “Why?” might also be because I want to make a boatload of money. One word of caution here. Be careful not to make your startup exclusively about you. If your “Why?” primarily is about your success, your wealth, your future…you’ll most certainly quit when things get tough. Align your “Why?” with something bigger than yourself. A higher purpose. Make it about serving the greater good of mankind. This might sound corny, but trust me, this is how big dreams are realized.

2. Money as a tool, not the goal.

This is one that took me a while to learn. Giving up the desire to have “a lot of money” or be seen as “successful” by those who measure success by flashy wealth was a tough one for me. I was taught that this was the goal of success by others around me. My insecurities reinforced it. You see, in order to accomplish anything really worthwhile, you have to be willing to sacrifice anything. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Money, image, power…anythingSuccess has a way of testing you to see how badly you want to achieve your big goal. Giving up the “money first” attitude is one obstacle that many entrepreneurs never actually get over. To me, this is sad.  For those not willing to do anything (legal and moral, that is), they are more likely to not see their dream become a reality.

This is not to say that money is a bad thing. AT ALL. Money is a great tool. The way I see it is that having a lot of money will give me more ability to affect positive change in the world.

Often, money is a reward for great contribution and value creation. Think about it this way: if I successfully execute my startup that helps people more efficiently send money to other people at lower cost, the rewards compound over time. Not only is there the reward of joy and meaning by impacting people positively, but often times, there is multiplied monetary success. In other words, monetary gain is a byproduct of successfully contributing great value to other people; delivering on a higher purpose.

3. Focus on the end, not the means.

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, describes what he refers to as a BHAG (or Big Harry Audacious Goal). Goals are actually the “What?” that I referred to in the section title “Why? over What?”. BHAGs are really BIG, CRAZY goals.

One of my BHAGs is to create a worldwide, decentralized opportunities marketplace on the blockchain to disrupt the $400B international Staffing and Recruiting Industry. When I tell people about my BHAG, sometimes they laugh, sometimes they stare and sometimes they roll their eyes. Sometimes they say, “That’s really cool….and big….don’t you think you should be more realistic or reasonable with your goals?” Here’s the truth: being realistic doesn’t do anything but limit your ability to think outside of what has already been done. Being reasonable won’t help you when times get tough or you stare fear and doubt in the face. As Bernard Shaw famously said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

In the end, the only thing that will hold you back from your goals is yourself. Being willing to dream….and believe….BIG is the only path to achieving great things in your life.

4. Set an Example.

Author Peter Drucker said,  “Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right.” Not that getting the thing right isn’t important, rather, you must always do the right thing before you consider the path to getting it right.

There is never a reason not to do the right thing. Even if doing the right thing might result in something bad for you personallyWhat I’ve found is that when I’m faced with this circumstance, choosing the right thing is always the path forward. I’ve watched others choose the easy or safe path only to find great disaster at its end. Make sacrifices. It’ll be worth it.

You also owe it to your team to set an example. Especially on the emotional side. You see, they’ll be going through the same emotional turmoil that you will be going through. Your example of grit, passion, and perseverance will help inspire them to continue the journey.

5. What do you really believe?

You must really believe in what you’re doing. You must believe it with your whole person. Not just a, “Yeah, I believe I can change my industry”, sort of thing. It’s something you feel. Something you breathe. Something you live. It’s deep in your gut and often not the same as what you might say.

Belief fuels courage. Belief will give you the courage to continue when doubt rears its head. It will give you resilience when financial resources are diminishing, or a key employee quits. Belief will give you the ability to transcend any challenge that you face. Belief is also contagious. Others will follow your lead and persevere along side of you when things get tough.

6. There is only one way to make a diamond.

Time. Heat. Pressure. That’s it. You can’t cheat the process. In our context, YOU are the diamond. You can’t cheat your growth. You, as a diamond, will only be at your best with time…heat…and pressure. Remember that success is a byproduct of you. Embrace what’s coming. Don’t fight it. Lean in. Be coachable. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It will serve you well. Your growth as a human being and entrepreneur will likely rise well beyond your expectations.

7. Setbacks are tests, not terminal illnesses.

Too many people mistake the obstacles they face as failure.

  • Where are we going to get the money?
  • Why is this taking so long?
  • How can we possible overcome the fact that we just lost one of our biggest customers?
  • What if no one likes our product?
  • I’m not a good enough leader to be successful.
  • How are we going to compete with Visa?
  • What if someone steals our idea?

These are all examples of the ideas/statements that one would mistakenly interpret for “a hill too big to climb”. Remember that your “Why?”, your higher purpose, will be enough to overcome any of these mental setbacks. Not to say that you won’t experience fear or discouragement. You most definitely will. The key is to continue anyway. Persevere. People need what you’re building. Your project matters to them. If you don’t build it…who will? You’re called to this task, so hand me another brick and let’s build!!

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