I’m an Entrepreneur: Tired but Unstoppable

There are only a handful of blog posts and articles with founders talking openly about being tired and how the grind is wearing them down. Understandably, being vulnerable is hard for most people — doing do publicly as a founder gearing up for a fundraising round is downright risky and pretty much unheard of. What others choose to do is up to them, but I share how I feel.

There’s also astory and context to everything. Being tired doesn’t mean giving up! Au contraire: the party is just getting started. With a foundation in place, now the real fun begins.

When you believe in something with a level of conviction that is so deep, you’re not going to stop. You WILL find a path forward. Of course there will be one or five thousand speedbumps along the way that do everything from exert a soul-crushing blow to thwart your confidence at every turn. But, when your “why” is inextricably linked to the core of who you are, you are determined to persevere no matter how tired you are.

That’s because your team is counting on you. You’re building something that’s bigger than you, bigger than your team, and even more grand than all the collective BS spewed by the naysayers telling you that it can’t be done. Or that you’re not the right person to get it done. They tell you to just give up. Surrender.

You want to talk about pressure? Resilience? You better have a back-up supply of the latter if you’re going to foray into the world of lean startups.

Incorporating as a company with all the legal and tax stuff, creating a community of coaches, building a team, going to market, securing pilot customers, developing a proprietary e-Learning platform AND a content library for soft skills — IN PARALLEL — was, in hindsight, overly ambitious. But we’ve done it.

The grind of operating a bootstrapped startup is beyond grueling and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And I’m a tough cookie. Battling breast cancer and an abusive spouse — at the same time — was so much easier on multiple levels. Here, I’ve bet the farm. That’s right, I’ve mortgaged my family’s home and depleted my savings to do this. For many, that’s too much risk, and that’s fair: we all have a different tolerance for it. For me, it is motivation to succeed. And, to be clear, I fully accept that this choice and this burden is mine and mine alone.

I’ll share this: one group of students that we were collaborating with had a negative reaction following our introductory Q&A sharing the history of, and vision for, STEERus. Note that I said that I mortgaged my home once, and not repeatedly to them. Three months later, I learned that sharing that detail made them “very uncomfortable,” “put them under an unreasonable amount of pressure,” and that I should have withheld that detail from them. I’ve taken their reaction to heart as I like to create safe spaces for people in my ecosystem, so I won’t make that statement again in conversation with others. That said, I sincerely hope that none of those students pursue a path of entrepreneurship; they appear to be lacking resilience and have little appetite for risk. As a founder, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, like asking for help and asking for money.

I can err but I must learn quickly from the errors that I make. Regroup. Pivot. And move forward.

The pace is relentless — there are no days off and time for indulgent self-care. I read blogs about people taking an hour-long bubble bath each night, sleeping 8–10 hours, limiting their work day to eight hours, not working on weekends, making time to doodle, day-dream, and nap. Arguably, that level of self-care is worth aspiring to. But it currently eludes me.

On the average day, most founders have to wade through a couple hundred emails. Keeping up with my network is nearly a full-time job and made more challenging given all the e-communications channels. From Slack to Basecamp, WhatsApp, LRT, Lunchclub, Upstream, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Linkedin, and texting, there are days that I want to throw my phone into the Hudson River. But, without my network, which is correlated to my net worth, I have nothing. So I grind.

However, keeping up with everyone is getting harder as my network grows along with the number of disparate e-comms channels that I correspond on. Not surprisingly, every day, the number of messages grows along with the number of responsibilities and daily decisions that have to be made. What has made a remarkable difference in my mental health is that I recently silenced all the notifications. Wow: it’s seriously been life-altering.

Sidebar: there’s also that whole software access password thing and double verification that tries to take me out at my knees. I just want to stick a chip in my eye and call it done. It’s the “death by a thousand cuts” nonsense that can wear you down.

Plus, I have a family to grocery shop for, cook for, and clean up after. Along with two rescue dogs and ailing in-laws. Not to mention a 125-gallon fish tank that needs more attention than a daily sprinkling of food (which is automated, of course). There isn’t a lot of time for indulgent bubble baths.

I follow all the principles, like categorizing a task as urgent or important. I “eat that frog” per Coach Brian Tracy and complete the most arduous task of the day first thing in the morning when I’m fresh. Regularly throughout the day, I’m asking myself if what I am doing is producing value or consuming resources.

My team is tired, too because it’s really hard operating as a lean, boot-strapped startup. Knowing this takes an emotional toll on me. Everyday, I go to bed grateful for all that they’ve done. And every morning, I wake up determined to bring us one step closer to success. Daily, before dawn, I walk my pupster and us that time to greet the day with joy and gratitude, as well as to steel myself for the grind ahead of me later that day. Intrinsically, I know it’s not going to be easy but I refuse to quit.

I am one with my “why.”

Failing is okay: quitting is not.

Giving up because I’m tired is like kicking sand in the face of all the people who believe in me, who have given their time and effort to get behind my vision. They want to help me close the gap between education and work and make talent development equitable. Those who believe in what we’re doing love how we’re tracking to equity as our North Star making our soft skills training available free to students, educators, and underserved communities around the world.

I can not — and will not — surrender. What we are building is soooo much grander than anything that can be measured by hours of sleep or work.

Even in the face of hardship and a cash stream that’s rapidly dwindling down, I will not stop trying. The negative Nellies out there talking smack about how my soft skills academy is this or that and somehow less than their standard hurts me, but I move on. I dig in and recall being bullied as a kid, then recite that child’s morality chant, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but your words will not hurt me.”

And to the new upstart currently in beta mode that has neither integrity nor the capacity for innovation and blatantly ripped off so much of what I’ve created at STEERus, I have this to say: “F U. You are anything but magnificent.”

Entrepreneurship has been overly glamorized in recent times. High school and college students that I’ve spoken to firmly believe that they can go to the market with an idea, raise at least $1 million from investors within a month or so, and quickly rise to 6-figure personal incomes within weeks of incorporating their startups. When you ask them about their anticipated success trajectory, their answer is unanimous: “I will be a unicorn within three years.” Self-confidence is fabulous but I’ve personally watched arrogance and hubris take down more than one giant in Silicon Valley.

So where do I go from here? I do not stop. They say that only 2% of the population is cut out for entrepreneurship. Those of us that have the tenacity, the unrelenting sense of purpose plus the physical and emotional stamina to manage the grueling pace are few. But we are mighty — albeit tired.

And when we are connected to our “why,” we are unstoppable.

Props to all the startup founders out there, grinding away, sacrificing and building their dream. I wish you all indelible fortitude, much luck, and wild success.

Photo by Alexandra Vasina from Pexels

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Loralyn Mears, PhD

Loralyn Mears, PhD

Word Nerd. Science geek. Champion of the underserved. Social entrepreneur inspired by acts of kindness. An optimist & contrarian bent on living outside the box.