Being a founder, not to mention a CEO, can be a very lonely place, carrying loads of stress and requiring constant 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 #82 – With Assaf Barnea, Managing Partner of Sanara Capital & Sanara Ventures

It started with jealousy. Assaf’s older brother played basketball when they were kids, and so, as little brothers do, Assaf wanted to do the same. He started playing when he was only 8 years old, and 3 years later he was scouted and moved to Hapoel Haifa, which was an empire in Israel at the time.

He travelled every day by bus, coming home from games and practices late at night.

When asked at what age he started playing professionally, he points to the age of 8 - “That was the tipping point. It wasn’t when I started getting paid, the mentality was always there because you dive into it and then you can’t leave.”

The values he was taught as an athlete later became a passion for him. He wanted to teach and pass them on be it about leadership, delaying immediate gratification, tolerance, and resilience: “Those values– the ability to overcome frustrations, the ability to hold yourself accountable when working in a team, understanding that sometimes you're in a good shape but are not able to perform, being able to maintain yourself while going through the ups and downs over and over again – this is where I feel that I can truly add value.”

What’s next

He had to stop playing basketball at the age of 31 after wrist and knee injuries. He remembered that a year before this, his physician told him “If you keep playing basketball, you’re not going to be able to pick up your kids.”

It was a tough life change, but Assaf was able to overcome it by studying for 3 degrees while he was still a professional player – in Law, Business, and Political Science and Psychology. He also hosted a TV show called “Sports TV” with Yael Arad and many other amazing athletes.

So, when it was time to move on, he already had exciting new directions.

He shared: “When I grew up a little, I understood that I needed to have different angles. I had to have more than just the legal aspect, I needed the psychological one, the business one, and the global perspective. I knew that being only a lawyer would not satisfy my inner wishes to the extent that I was able to recognize them at the time.”

Asking ourselves “What do I want to do after this current project I’m working on”, whether it succeeds or not helps us adjust ourselves for the future, as it allows us to be more mentally prepared and clear about our goals. When a big project or job ends, it can leave us with a great sense of emptiness, so pre-emptively preparing for our next steps can help curb that.

We need to know how to handle change, Assaf said, because there’s nothing constant in life aside from change, like the Buddhist saying: “Everything changes. Nothing remains without change.”

Knowing yourself through therapy

“The first time I came to my therapist, I asked her how long our treatment was going to take. That’s how naive I was. Eventually, after 3 years of regular therapy, my therapist asked me if I wanted to do a psychoanalysis, and I agreed. It was a long process of going 3 times a week and not uncovering emotional insights in the beginning, but it’s like walking in the desert to find a well with water: in the end, it can be one word that opens the gate to your subconscious mind and triggers you and it led me to discover many things.”

He described it as a rabbit hole, which you can dive into, again and again, it allowed him to understand himself in a more profound way.

“So many people say there's a stigma about going to therapy. I’m saying therapy is the best thing I ever did, and I wish to continue with it.”

Knowing ourselves is so important, because in our world, with all the noise, feedback, and judgment from other people, it’s so easy to get caught up in superficial aspects of our lives without truly knowing if it gives us a sense of fulfillment.

This doesn’t mean that we need to listen only to ourselves, as Assaf explained: “Good entrepreneurs understand that there must be a balance between their expectations, wishes, enthusiasm, and motivation and knowing how to work with a board, and how to listen to their chairman, investors, and the ecosystem. You must balance these things to be able to adapt and adjust.”

I (Gali) believe that knowing ourselves is the most important part of our growth. By knowing our strengths, boundaries, values, goals, and the way we operate and react to things, we can learn how to work with and develop ourselves. Only when we develop ourselves, we can help develop our team and our startup, or like Assaf concluded: “You have to surround yourself with yourself.”