The first thing I had to grapple with as a founder was to become the default solution provider. Asking for help and experiencing growing pains is difficult in any new organization, but this challenge is exacerbated in startups where others keep looking up to the founders. No one is born a leader. I am still growing into that role, but the one truth I've learned from building egomonk is that pain is a recurring emotion in life and work. So, here are a few musings for founders to manage pain effectively during their journey.
Almost all pain stems from unmet expectations. This could be poor traction, weak growth, layoffs, down rounds, or something else. So, learn to reframe pain as an opportunity to pause and reset. Pain destroys all existing momentum and instead creates future opportunity. Pain is a lagging indicator of the arrival of an environment where the fears of founders have been realized. At best, we were blindsided by these changes. At worst, we lacked foresight and conviction. Regardless we must learn to forgive ourselves quickly and move forward. If we don't, pain can quickly push founders into decision paralysis and their startups into a death spiral. Startups are supposed to move fast and break things, but they're still naturally subject to the same rules of inertia limiting mature businesses.
Founders aren't usually afraid of being wrong or making changes but of the socioeconomic pain attached to failure. Their tolerance is primarily dependent on their worldview, privilege, and conditioning. Founders must recognize what they actually fear, so its power over them is limited. At work, pain usually means a low probability or undesirable scenario is playing out. This will pass, and founders can still alter the situation through their agency. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with personal tragedy, so we must learn to process our grief and recognize our limitations.
Pain is an exponential emotion. It diminishes greatly when we share it with others. Managing pain effectively in a high-stress startup environment is predicated on building the right support team at work and home. Founders must surround themselves with people who are willing to share their pain. In the near term, some founders may be motivated to extend organizational longevity by mastering avoidance instead of becoming resilient to pain. However, I encourage founders to give in to this momentary pain and work through it. Avoidance only compounds the underlying problems over the long term.
When I started out, I didn't know where to look but over the years encountered several wonderful humans like James Clear, Naval Ravikant, Sam Altman, Vala Afshar, and Shane Parrish! Thanks to these gentle giants for informing my worldview and bringing tremendous mental clarity to my life.