After two years of working full-time on my business, we’ve decided to pivot and start anew. In total, this is our third start-from-scratch pivot. When my twin brother and I decided to quit our jobs to pursue BeamJobs we were a little (okay, a lot) naive about what it meant to start a business.
We made the decision with rose-colored glasses on. Our first idea was going to be a winner and within a year or so we’d be successful (without even defining what that meant). While I still wholeheartedly think I made the right decision in venturing out on my own, I wish I came to that decision with more complete information to better prepare myself emotionally for what was to come.
If I could go back in time, there are three things I would have told myself to emotionally prepare for what I’d experience as a founder.
Freedom can be paralyzing
For months I knew the day was coming. It was a day I was looking forward to since college when I knew I wanted to test the waters of entrepreneurship. It was the light at the end of the tunnel when I was in a particularly long meeting or when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed and going to work.
The date was April 30, 2018 and it was my first day as my own boss. When I woke up that morning my mood quickly shifted from excited to nervous to anxious. My entire professional career I had a place to be and projects I knew I had to work on. Now, I was driving with no guard rails.
I felt like I was being pulled in a million directions at once and I wasn’t sure which direction to go. This sense of indecision led to wasted days with no progress made. I had total freedom over my time and yet, I felt paralyzed.
What I’ve come to learn is that discipline and planning are muscles that need to be worked out. It’s unreasonable to go from the structure of working for a large company to the uncharted waters of starting a business from scratch without a well thought out roadmap or routine to follow. If I could go back in time I would have spent much more time on planning and scheduling individual days instead of waking up each morning and winging it. I was not ready for that level of freedom and as a result, I wasted a lot of time in the early days.
Relentless self doubt will not serve you well
One of my biggest strengths as a business analyst before I quit to start a company was my ability to weigh the risks and upsides of various decisions, make a recommendation, then follow through on that recommendation. For some reason, this skill set just did not translate to BeamJobs in the early days.
I’d come to learn much later that this phenomenon has a name, impostor syndrome, and in talking to other founders I also learned it was relatively common. This caused me to have an incredible amount of self doubt.
Self doubt is healthy. You should evaluate your decision making processes to learn how they can improve and the only way to do that is to re-evaluate decisions you’ve made in the past. Too much self doubt, however, leads to indecisiveness. Your advantage as a start-up is that you should be able to move much bigger than incumbent competitors. If you have so much self doubt that you have trouble making a decision, you’re neutralizing this advantage and making it near impossible for your business to succeed.
As a startup founder you’ll constantly have to make decisions with incomplete information. Sometimes you just have to make a quick decision and run with it.
Maintaining emotional balance will be your biggest challenge
What has most surprised me most in the last two years is the unexpected range of emotion I can feel within any given week. When you work for someone else, it’s easier to disassociate your personal identity from your work identity. When you start a company, they can dangerously merge to be one in the same.
Maintaining that distinction has been vital to my mental well being. Now I actively fight against the urge to get too high when things go well because this inevitably leads to a dramatic low when things don’t go well. Your business will inevitably experience highs and lows, what you can try to control is your emotional response to those outcomes. When I lose control of my emotional responses I can get discouraged which leads to inaction. As a startup trying to find traction, doing nothing will lead to the business failing.
Starting a business is really hard, as a parting note I wanted to say it’s okay to give yourself a break. Learn from your mistakes and move on.