Being a founder, not to mention a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying loads of stress and required to constantly be at peak performance. This often makes it hard to find a balance between one's professional and personal life. Maintaining strong relationships with the 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 we deal with, it’s the mental one.”
“Throughout my +15 years as a professional, I've always been attracted to the intersection of business and psychology through entrepreneurship - What makes people tick? How do people think and act? And what motivates people in business? What drives me is being there for the amazing entrepreneurs, who are under constant pressure, so that they can make our world a better place. That’s what I’m here for, and this is my podcast – The Human Founder.”
Ep 56- With Dr. Lisa Law, Clinical Psychologist, Part 3 in 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’s a lot of suffering, self-blame, and frustration. Just like children learn how to walk by falling - the same goes for us. The more we are psychologically resilient - the quicker we will bounce back.
Why do people not want to cope with failure?
People want confidence. By confronting failure - you are putting a mirror in front of you that shows you what didn’t work well; this can lead to emotions of confusion, frustration, and a sense of instability of how to act next. Instead of letting it affect our self-esteem and thinking about how others will see us - we must be realistic; we must be able to meet it head-on and move on. As Tony Robbins said: “A fantastic analogy for the power of focus is while racing cars. When your car begins to skid, the natural reflex is to look at the wall in an attempt to avoid it. But if you keep focusing on what you fear, that's exactly where you'll end up. Professional racers know that we unconsciously steer in the direction of our focus, so with their lives on the line, they turn their focus away from the wall and towards the open track.”
Vulnerability is the name of the game; embracing life as it is and allowing ourselves to be human while navigating through the emotional rollercoaster is key. It’s a muscle we need to strengthen - leading with our vulnerability and not ignoring it.
Not everyone is up to it, as it involves taking risks. People feel safer taking risks in areas where they feel strong. For example, people who are confident in managing money - can take risks in finances. But being an entrepreneur - means also taking an emotional risk, and it may be hard.
Gen Z, for instance, brings a different mentality into the workforce, and there’s a shift towards being more emotionally connected, keeping their well-being in place, being more authentic, and bringing themselves in. Founders and employers that don’t embrace this mindset - simply won’t win in the competition for the brightest talent.
When coping with failure - we need to identify between the internal and external attributions and how it impacts us. For example, if the pitch didn't go well, is it because I wasn't prepared (internal), or were the investors extremely harsh (external). If it’s internal but not a common occurrence - it’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 re-evaluate and change the way we feel about failure, which will help us be less “stuck”.
When we deal with failure, it can affect our stress level, which will be reflected in:
- Physiological symptoms, like increased heart rate, blood pressure etc. Learning techniques that can actually help us reduce the stress levels - can be very beneficial. In stressful situations - our sympathetic system goes into the action, and our adrenaline and cortisol levels can increase as we feel that “the lion is in the room”. By moving, exercising, practicing yoga, meditation, learning breathing techniques, eating in shorter intervals, and drinking less coffee - we can help calm our sympathetic system. Furthermore, having social support increases the levels of the oxytocin spread in our body (the ‘love’ hormone), which also improves our mood.
- Cognitive aspects - we should be training our negative thoughts to turn into positive ones.
- Emotional aspects - we can feel unpleasant emotions and feelings.
Ask yourself - which feeling or emotion I don’t allow myself to feel/show enough? Being angry, jealous, hurt?
Dealing with emotions includes 2 stages:
1 - Validate it, name it, and acknowledge what we feel.
2 - Stay with it for a while and then move along. Don’t get stuck within 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, as we will also have to learn how to lose and mourn.
In 1969, Elizabeth Kobler Ross defined the different stages of loss and grief. When processing a failure within our entrepreneurial life - we are actually experiencing the loss of a hope/ effort/ belief/ relationship.
- In the 1st stage - we are in denial and/or shock - “the company won’t close ''/ “he is not leaving”/ “he hasn't died”.
- Then we try to bargain - if X then Y. We try “to close a deal” to change the verdict.
- Then we feel a strong anger combined with anxiety - “how will I ever be, OK?”/
- And lastly, is the stage of acceptance - “I’m not OK that it happened, but I’m OK with it”.
We won’t necessarily go through all the stages, but we can also get in and out from each stage several times.
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places”/ Ernest Hemingway.
This idea is what lies in the basis of AEDP, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, developed by Dr. Diana Fosha. Crisis and suffering provide opportunities to awaken extraordinary capacities that otherwise might lie dormant, unknown, and untapped. AEDP is about experientially making the most of these opportunities for both healing and transformation. The key to its therapeutic action is the undoing of aloneness and thus, the co-creation of a therapeutic relationship experienced as both a safe haven and secure base. Then, working with emotional experience toward healing trauma and suffering, and toward expanding emergent positive transformational experiences.
Understanding that life is more complex than the two axes of good-bad, and right-wrong - we shall embrace the spectrum of experiences throughout our life. Less labeling and categorizing; be less judgmental and more compassionate.
Showing empathy and vulnerability make it much easier to live life to its fullest. There is a correlation between vulnerability and likeability. Remember - learn how to empower yourself and not wait for external approvals of who and what you are.
Failure is our way to learn how to walk.