Being a founder, let alone a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying a lot of stress and having to constantly be at the top of your game. It is often difficult to find a balance between your professional life and your personal life. Maintaining strong relationships with co-founders and investors is also not an easy task, where clarity and empathy are not always present. As one of my entrepreneurs says: “It’s not the technological challenge that we take up, it’s the mental one.”
“Throughout my 15+ years as a professional, I have always been drawn to the intersection of business and psychology through entrepreneurship – What drives people? How do people think what drives people in business? What drives me is being there for the amazing entrepreneurs, who are under constant pressure, so they can make our better world. That’s why I’m here, and this is my podcast – The Human Founder.
Ep 56- With Dr. Lisa Law, Clinical Psychologist Part 3 of the Psychology Series
For risk takers – failure is part of the journey. Although entrepreneurs are more confident in their personality – understanding that failure is inevitable – is a must. Otherwise, there is a lot of pain, self-blame and frustration. Just as children learn to walk by falling, so do we. The more psychologically resilient we are, the faster we will bounce back.
Why don’t people want to face failure?
People want trust. Confronting failure – you put a mirror in front of you that shows you what went wrong; this can lead to emotions of confusion, frustration, and feeling unsettled about how to act next. Instead of letting it affect our self-esteem and thinking about how others will see us, we need to be realistic; we must be able to face it head on and move forward. As Tony Robbins said, “A fantastic analogy for the power of concentration is when racing cars. When your car begins to skid, the natural reflex is to look at the wall to try to avoid it. But if you keep focusing on what you fear, that’s exactly where you’ll end up. Professional runners know that we are subconsciously heading in the direction of our goal, so with their lives at stake, they divert their attention from the wall and onto the open track.
Vulnerability is the name of the game; embracing life as it is and allowing yourself to be human while navigating the emotional roller coaster is key. It’s a muscle we need to strengthen – lead with our vulnerability and not ignore it.
Not everyone is up to it, because it involves taking risks. People feel safer taking risks in areas where they feel strong. For example, people who are confident in managing their money can take financial risks. But being an entrepreneur also means taking an emotional risk, and that can be difficult.
Generation Z, for example, brings a different mindset within the workforce, and there is a shift towards greater emotional connection, maintaining their well-being, authenticity, and participation. Founders and employers who don’t adopt this mindset – simply won’t win in the competition for the brightest talent.
When we face failure, we need to identify internal and external attributions and their impact on us. For example, if the pitch didn’t go well, was it because I was unprepared (internal), or were the investors extremely tough (external). If it’s internal but not common – that’s OK, but if it’s internal and happens frequently – then we’re stuck and have a problem.
With the help of CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), we can reassess and change the way we feel about failure, which will help us be less “stuck”.
When we face failure, it can affect our stress levels, which will result in:
- Physiological symptoms, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Learning techniques that can actually help us reduce stress levels can be very beneficial. In stressful situations, our sympathetic system kicks in and our adrenaline and cortisol levels can spike when we feel like “the lion is in the room.” By moving, exercising, practicing yoga, meditation, learning breathing techniques, eating at shorter intervals, and drinking less coffee, we can help calm our sympathetic system. Moreover, having social support increases the levels of oxytocin spread in our body (the love hormone), which also improves our mood.
- Cognitive aspects – we should train our negative thoughts to turn into positive thoughts.
- Emotional aspects – we may experience unpleasant emotions and feelings.
Ask yourself – what feeling or emotion am I not allowing myself to feel/show enough? Being angry, jealous, hurt?
Managing emotions includes 2 steps:
1 – Validate it, name it and acknowledge how we feel.
2 – Stay with it for a while, then move on. Don’t get stuck in it.
Entrepreneurs often move on, but without necessarily processing what happened to them.
As we volunteer to be part of society, we must understand that loss, failure and pain are part of life. When we choose to connect with people, we take a risk because we will also have to learn to lose and grieve.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kobler Ross defined the different stages of loss and grief. When dealing with a failure in our life as an entrepreneur, we actually experience the loss of a hope/effort/belief/relationship.
- In the 1st stage – we are in denial and/or in shock – “the business won’t close” / “it’s not leaving” / “it’s not dead”.
- Then we try to negotiate – if X then Y. We try to “make a deal” to change the verdict.
- Then we feel strong anger combined with anxiety – “how am I going to be, OK?”/
- And finally, is the stage of acceptance – “I don’t agree that it happened, but I’m okay with it”.
We will not necessarily pass all the stages, but we can also enter and exit each stage several times.
“The world breaks everyone, and then many are strong in the broken places”/Ernest Hemingway.
This idea is the basis of AEDP, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, developed by Dr. Diana Fosha. Crisis and suffering provide opportunities to awaken extraordinary capacities that might otherwise lie dormant, unknown and untapped. AEDP aims to make the most of these opportunities for both healing and transformation. The key to its therapeutic action is the dismantling of loneliness and therefore the co-creation of a therapeutic relationship experienced as both a haven of peace and a secure base. Then, to work with the emotional experience to heal trauma and suffering, and to develop emerging positive transformational experiences.
Understanding that life is more complex than the twin axes of right-wrong and right-wrong – we will embrace the spectrum of experiences throughout our lives. Less labeling and categorization; be less judgmental and more compassionate.
Showing empathy and vulnerability makes life much easier. There is a correlation between vulnerability and sympathy. Remember – learn to hold yourself accountable and not expect external approvals of who and what you are.
Failure is how we learn to walk.