Taming the lion

Coping with the psychological price of following your dreams. 

Based on my talk during @trampolineday, written by Kunal Kalro + friends.

A quick search on Pinterest for the word “dream” yields infinite peace, love and hippie pins talking about chasing your dreams, turning them into plans and making the impossible, possible. Media, culture and society seems to continually glorify people who chase their dreams, and even prescribe hero status to those who make their dreams come true. It’s only been recent times where some entrepreneurs have started to speak up about exactly how brutally hard it can be to actually make those dreams a reality. And that even if they do come true, they come at a great psychological, emotional, mental and spiritual toll, which begs the question: Is it even worth it?

Spoiler alert: It definitely is.

However, that really doesn't discount the struggles that are faced on a daily basis and many of those who chase their dreams have at some point or another harbored near debilitating inner demons, turmoil, fear and worry that’s almost always suffered in solitude. An article I read described it perfectly with this analogy:

A man riding a lion.

From the outside in, you see this guy and you’re thinking: “Whoa, this dude has totally got it together, he’s riding a lion, he must be brave as shit!”

The man on the lion on the other hand is thinking: “Uhm, how the hell did I get on this lion?! And how am I going to keep myself from being eaten?!”

Overly generous illustration by @akiraaeska

Plenty of research has confirmed that the people who've chosen to duck the path society has prescribed and forge one of their own instead, the kind people who chase their dreams, tend to have the type of personality that’s super energetic, motivated, creative and more often than not, driven by their emotions. But being driven by your emotions also makes them prone to obsessive behavior and mood swings on the opposite end of the spectrum with the feelings of depression, despair, helplessness and worry becoming fairly common occurrences.

Furthermore, because, it’s a path of our own choice, and the ego that we've all unquestionably built up from being glorified as someone forging their own path and chasing their dream, we often suffer in solitude so as to not show weakness. Which of course, is a terrible reason to hide behind. The talk I did during Trampoline Day only cemented my belief that talking about your struggles can make you stronger. And surely, the true character flaw is not the struggle itself but the inability to talk about it because of your ego and a perceived display of weakness, right?

…Also, if I want to have free reign to bitch and moan that more people should be talking about their struggles instead of constantly responding with the automatic startup response of “We’re killing it!” to any and all questions, I probably have to share some of my struggles first.

I think my biggest struggle has been that I am what they call, a mood sponge. I often take in the moods and energies of those around me and compound those same feelings in me. Subconsciously I’ve known this for quite a while now. It’s the reason I hated returning home for a long period in my life because of all the negativity I felt around me and found slipping into me. It’s the reason why I felt invincible to the point of delusion when I lived in Chile, surrounded by some of the most amazing, optimistic and brilliant people I've ever known.

Being a mood sponge is not always bad, when things are well, the energies around you can lift you to a point of superhuman belief in yourself. But when you soak up the anxiety, worry and fear of others, you find yourself at the point of paralysis with the same anxiety, worries and fears. At first, when I realized this, my immediate response was to mask my own emotions better. I still soaked up everything around me, but put up a wall to not put any of this negative energy back out. Just as long as people couldn't see I too was affected by all their worries and fears, I felt I was going to be okay. It’s the entrepreneurial base instinct.. Fake it till you make it. I wasn’t okay, but I was going to fake it till I was.

But eventually, it got to a point where I realized that I had sort of reached my maximum sponginess factor. The wall couldn't hide it any more. Those closest to me could start to see right through it and all of these worries, fears and anxiety were evident on my face. It was only then, that I decided I needed a better, more sustainable way. I had to find a way to become a filter, not a sponge. Disturbing display of narcissism, I know, that it isn't self preservation that drives positive behavior change, but the thought that others might see this worry and fear all over your face, that does.

It is after all, as an entrepreneur and a would-be leader, really important to hear the thoughts and fears of those you work with, your customers, your investors so I couldn't simply cut out the energy around me. But I had to learn to take in the data, but not the meta-data that it came with. As in… it’s fine to listen and respond to the actual worry, but you don’t need to take on the feeling of worry itself.

For example, someone in your life is worried about the fact that they aren't going to pay rent, or that they’re in debt, so, you hear that fear and turn it into a data-point for a response. ‘Okay, you don’t have money right now, let’s find you some consulting work to change that situation’. What you do not need to do is hear this and start thinking ‘oh fuck, you’re worried about your debts, I know mine are way more or the fact that I already know I will not be able to pay rent next month.’ That’s taking in the energy and letting it fuel the fire of your own worries and fears.

Some things that have helped me and many others at #trampolineday in taming their respective lions:

  1. Be the filter, not the sponge. Take in data, but leave the meta.
  2. Don’t ignore your health. Work out, meditate, eat healthy, find something in your routine that keeps you sane.
  3. Find a distraction. Tinder dating, family, friends, whatever it is. Find something to distract you from your own obsessive personality.
  4. Break it down. Little lists of to-dos have a surprisingly therapeutic effect on the days you feel overwhelmed by the mammoth-ness of the task at hand.
  5. Stop being a lil bitch. Look, as hard as it may be, always realize that the ability to chase your dreams is a privilege not a curse. In fact, it’s a privilege that’s bestowed upon the most privileged of us all.
  6. …But, every once in a while, allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself too. You don’t need to constantly be on, with your go-getter personality and your drive and motivation. Some days it’s totally fine to be a lazy mofo and sit on your ass and watch 3 seasons of Battlestar Galactica.
  7. Talk to people… You don’t need to find the good fight alone. There’s others out there going through the same shit you are so share. Build your brain trust and be there for them as they are for you.
  8. It’s about the journey, not the destination. In fact, the journey is the destination. Find what actually drives you. What drives me on a day to day basis is a thirst to learn. Every day, I am excited about learning about, people, how they interact with what I’m building, how they interact with each other, what drives them. It’s the thirst for knowledge that gets me out of bed every morning. And so every day, if I go to sleep, feeling that I've learned something new that I didn't know yesterday, I go to sleep a pretty happy person. Some days I learn about APIs, other days I learn about user behavior and interactions that lead to conversions, other days I learn how to negotiate and get what you want from the COO of a public company. Every day that I learn, is a good day. So find what drives you on this journey and do it every day.
Just remember, the journey is the destination, so enjoy the ride.