Managing Emotions Under Pressure

I got the following note the other day from a friend: After reading your latest post on Board Room Rules, I started thinking about the pressures that entrepreneurs experience starting, growing and managing start-up companies (whether it’s their first company or their fifth.) So I wonder if you as an investor/board member/partner/cheerleader have ever had to counsel your entrepreneurs on this topic and if so what advice did you dispense?

I’ve been helping create companies for 20 years (basically my entire business career.)  I started when I was 19 and was way too young to have a clue.  At times, I felt immense pressure, especially when we had no money and I had to make a payroll in three days.  As an investor, I thought I’d never feel more pressure than in 1999 as I spent virtually every waking hour working.  Then – 2001 came along.   Ponder – for a moment – how you feel at the end of a really shitty day.  I take a shower, crawl into bed, and think to myself that “tomorrow will be a new day.”  However, By June of 2001, I’d realized that every day was worse than the previous day.  So – that night as I crawled into bed, I thought to myself “tomorrow will be worse – no matter what – until one day when it isn’t.  In the mean time, I’ll just deal with it.”  And – I did.  And – it eventually got better.

I’ve seen a lot of emotions in my 20 years in business.  Lots of anger, lots of sadness, lots of joy, lots of depression, lots of enthusiasm, lots of euphoria.  I prefer the joy, enthusiasm, and euphoria, but I know that the anger, sadness, and depression are part of the experience.  One of the challenges of being an investor is having companies (and entrepreneurs) in different states simultaneously.  On any given day, I’m likely at a meeting where the people around the table are in a happy place and then at a meeting where the people are in a not happy place.  Repeat.

My simple advice – for all entrepreneurs – is “don’t take it personally.”  Today, when someone yells at me or acts irrationally, I’m simply amused.  I listen.  I try to be constructive. But I don’t take it personally.  I learned this from Amy – whenever she yells at me, I grab her by the shoulders and start jumping up and down and making funny loud noises until the dogs join in.  While I rarely do this in a business context, I do the “business casual equivalent” of it.

A close friend once told me in the dark, dank, dismal depths of 2001 – “all’s well that ends.”  It always does – eventually.  How you deal with it while it’s in process is up to you.