We are living in probably some of the most challenging times. The world is changing exponentially and at a faster pace than ever before. A century ago, in 1918, we were still trying to figure out the challenges to mass production of automobiles. And now? We have self-driving cars! A century ago, we were struggling to battle the Spanish flu that eventually caused more than 50 million deaths worldwide. Now, scientists are using stem cells to regenerate functional human tissue! Change is constant, true. But change can also be unsettling and stressful, especially given the rapidity of such change.
The American Psychological Association has been conducting an annual ‘Stress in America Survey’ since 2007. Survey after survey has shown that today’s millennials are the most stressed-out generation.
The mind is efficiency-obsessed, and therefore, it is difficult to re-orient it from patterns of negative thinking. Meditation can work on reconstructing our minds into dynamos of positive energy.
— Kamlesh D Patel, Global Guide, Heartfulness
It appears that, collectively, despite all the technological advances of the past 100 years, we are dealing with increasingly higher levels of pressure and stress. And more so, if you are working in a start-up!
High stakes can lead to high pressure
Start-ups operate, by their nature, in a combustible high-octane world. We hear the success stories, yes. But the burn-out of young start-up founders and employees is something that you don’t hear much about. In fact, it’s hardly even discussed! Recently, I was even told, the world is different from your generation! Now, we prefer to make things happen fast or crash and burn.
There is a personal toll to working on something that fuels your passion — that toll is often insidious, hidden amidst the adrenaline of creating something new. But it’s a toll that makes its presence felt sooner than later. I believe that you need to develop a certain kind of personality to handle the inherent demands of the start-up world. The kind of personality that can handle the ups and downs of this world, with an unshaken inner calm.
Investors. Funding. Customers. Competition. Revenue. Numbers. None of these is predictable for a start-up. But the founder’s dream is the same — you want to create an impact. Solve a problem. Disrupt. Make the world a better place.
This is a generation driven to thrive on success. However, running a start-up means that you have to deal with the possibility of failure too, every single day. It’s dealing with the pressure of the unknown, the fear of failure, and living life on the edge of uncertainty that can unravel the best. But then, it’s not circumstances or situations themselves that can cause stress. It’s often our approach to those situations that cause stress.
Handling the pressure
What we consider as pressure or stress is really a matter of perspective. Consider the high-pressure world of sports — we expect athletes to perform under pressure. But no one can really perform at his or her best under pressure! Coaches help athletes understand how to create a mind bubble and not allow pressure to get to them on the field.
Apply that same principle in a start-up, and follow that every day. Keep the pressure at bay and find the focus to do the best you can.
Here’s what I do to change my perspective on pressure and handle it more effectively:
Create a strong support group — I can’t stress enough that in the often-lonely start-up world it is important to have a strong inner circle of people you can rely on and trust. Developing this core network is critical in maintaining overall balance. A good support system will act as a sounding-board for often tricky situations or problems.
Importantly, I have seen when under pressure, we tend to shut down, and not communicate our worries. With a strong inner circle, that communication barrier is more easily broken down.
Get to know yourself — As important as our jobs and careers are, understand that this is also just a part of our larger life purpose. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
The bigger picture can be as simple as how far you have come in life. When you create a framework of mindfulness, you can create better outcomes.
Pressure is insidious, building up over time. So, if you find yourself getting angry or irritated frequently, acknowledge those emotions, and try to recognize the root that causes these triggers. For me, often it is the fact that I expect perfection and high standards, and I expect others to embrace the same standard. And when that doesn’t happen, that triggers my irritation.
Fear is another trigger for most of us. Once you get comfortable with your fears, in fact, you will get stronger. For example, failure is a probability in a start-up, so I told myself that if I did fail, I would still have learned a lot; I can pick up life again and restart something else. Then, I was able to box the fear, and not let it paralyze me.
Conflict is also inevitable. Given the potential for failure and the myriad conflicts you face, emotions tend to swing. You can choose to handle this on your own or seek professional help.
Spend 10 minutes a day to delve into these aspects and work on yourself one by one through the mental, emotional or physical spheres.
Develop an array of tools — I like to keep a gratitude journal, and no matter how bad you think your day was, at the end of it, there will be something that you would be grateful for.
Meditation is my mainstay. Taking some quiet time off from the rushed spaces of our mind can settle that inner chaos. Keep time aside for meditation and self-reflection.
For years, reading has also been another critical tool to calm me. I can get absorbed in a book and forget my stress! A couple of hours later, I am calmer and better able to handle the same situation that was causing havoc in my mind.
Exercise does the same. For me, it is yoga or a walk with a friend. Other de-stressors include a good cup of tea and a small piece of chocolate, cooking a gourmet meal or just watching old classics!
We are what we think, and many times, we forget the power of our thoughts! Instead of ruminations over the past or anxiety over the future, use visualization to re-create positive outcomes. Athletes do this all the time.
These are all my tools to de-stress, and everyone should build up a set of go-to tools that allow them to control their stress triggers. Daily routines that are built into our life are invaluable to keep us anchored. We have to set this up based on our personal preferences and circumstances.
But ensure that you embrace personal care as an important priority. Often, the self is neglected in the pursuit of goals. We need to ensure that the way we deal with pressure becomes a part of our intrinsic lifestyle. With a start-up and two kids back in the 90s, I realized that if I didn’t become more disciplined about managing my lifestyle and give myself personal time, I would not be able to achieve my goals. There were three key decisions I made then that helped me a lot: Become an early riser and exercise; don’t leave home without my daily meditation; create a weekend time where I didn’t check in on work.
Create a positive culture — Be it the workplace or our home, we need to increase our ability to handle pressure to match our high aspirations. Stress and pressure are like water and a sponge — different people absorb these differently. Understanding this will go a long way in ensuring that you manage the complex interactions of the workplace.
While having a strong crisis management framework is essential, it’s also important to dig deep and understand why crises happen in the first place! An adrenaline-driven culture cannot sustain that intensity for long. The fight or flight mode may work well in the animal kingdom, but it’s clearly not the best solution for today’s human world!
We have seen how families bond more together in times of stress. A workplace can achieve the same if the focus is on a people-first approach.
In one of my Twitter polls, 57% of the votes polled revealed that ‘unclear expectations’ were a major cause of performance pressure. There is a chasm, a gaping vacuum of communication here that we must bridge.
Create a work culture that sets clear expectations and, importantly, offers support to reach those expectations. I also think that start-ups need to invest in skill development. A start-up that encourages continuous learning is equipping its employees with valuable skills for the future — for future crises, I might add!
In the end, creating a balanced life in the start-up ecosystem is not impossible. The ‘succeed at all costs’ mentality can drain even the best among us. Yet, it does define our lives. A calm mind can develop the inner strength and self-confidence to transform pressure into resilience. Ernest Hemingway wrote that ‘Courage is grace under pressure.’ With practice and awareness, we will reach that state of courage and grace.
This year is unfolding ahead of us — 12 months of opportunities, promises, growth, and change. Change is probably the only certainty we face! But as I wrote earlier in this piece, change need not unsettle us. Change, pressure, and time can all be viewed from different perspectives, reshaping and transforming negative experiences into opportunities for growth.
As the new year begins, I wish for all of us to develop new strength to handle the pressures of life with positivity, reduce chaos, and build an oasis of calm. And love our personal self as we are, taking better care of our physical and mental health!
Disclaimer: It is strictly an independent opinion of the writer, not representative of Kstart or Kalaari.