Are you struggling more than you did last Spring?
It is OK and you are not alone.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I was doing pretty good in March and April and over the Summer.”
“I can’t figure out why I am just so physically and mentally depleted right now. Shouldn’t I have felt this way months ago and be over by now?”
“I am having a hard time feeling motivated and inspired right now — which is weird for me. Do you have other clients in the same boat?”
I had suspected that this Fall would be particularly tough on my founder clients, and this has turned out to be true.
Why? Founders and startup folks are used to working with fire drills. Uncertainty is the name of the game. While I would, by no means, categorize Spring and Summer of 2020 as “easy” for anybody, most founders did what they are used to doing — they called upon their surge capacity. Their adrenaline kicked in and they went into problem-solving and fire-fighting mode — streamlining ops, applying for PPP, and setting their teams and companies up for remote work. As they busied themselves with doing, there was no time for being — which consciously or unconsciously — is a great way to avoid feeling.
In addition, in the Spring there was uncertainty, but most folks were optimistic that things would be back to “normal-ish” by Fall. Only now it’s Fall and there is no certainty in sight. On top of that, many of my clients are finding that their surge capacity is depleted and, while they may not fully recognize it, they are burned out. Burned out on Zoom calls. Burned out from working more hours (up to 40% more). Burned out from adding Therapist-in-Chief to their Executive-in-Chief duties. Burned out from context-shifting between leading teams and teaching kids. In burnout mode, the pace of doing has slowed, and they can no longer hide from or avoid their feelings. And there are lots of them. And they don’t feel good. Particularly the ones around loss. This loss may be intangible, in the form of school, dining, social, and work routines and systems, but it is loss nonetheless. And loss is hard.
It is no wonder Founders (and really anyone) may be feeling the most anxious or overwhelmed or de-motivated or unproductive they have felt thus far in 2020 (or ever).
So what now?
First, please know you are not alone. The quotes above, from clients over the past few weeks, are what encouraged me to write this. You are not weird or an anomaly. YOU ARE HUMAN.
Brené Brown has an amazing podcast on this very topic called “Day 2”. On it, she discusses how we are in the dark — the messy middle — with no visible way forward right now. It is completely normal to have any and all of the feelings you are having. Brené’s advice here is in line with our coaching work: “You gotta name it to tame it and feel it to heal it.” She also advises checking your expectations. In other words, let go of how you think you should feel or how you think your co-founder should be dealing and treat yourself and those around you to a giant helping of grace and compassion. Having worked with countless Type A founders who are extremely demanding of, and hard on, themselves, I know self-compassion may not come easy, but it very important for your mental well-being in these challenging times.
When it comes to your team, it is as important as it was at the start of Covid and through the racial injustice protests, to continue to check in with folks regarding their mental and emotional well-being. “Psychological First Aid” is a real thing and is an essential skillset for leaders to learn. Vulnerability is also key. Being real and open and human with your team will go a long way. If you know you have some room to improve in the Emotional Intelligence department (who doesn’t?), now is the time to prioritize this work. In fact, I view the bolstering of EQ skills to be one of the big positives of this challenging year.
Speaking of positives, I like to end on them. As Brene says, “the messy middle is also where the magic happens.” The only way out of anything and everything going on in the world — and in your startup — is through. It is in the “through” (aka Day 2) that we grow and stretch. I do hope we are on the other side of the “messy” soon and, when we are, I hope we can collectively exhale and say that we stretched and grew and persevered into better leaders and humans, as well as businesses, communities, and governments. In the meantime, let’s all practice gratitude and give ourselves and each other a little #graceandspace.
If any part of this post resonated with you, I highly recommend diving into the following content:
Note: In a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1/3 of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, compared to 1/9 in Q1 of last year. If you are feeling intense or prolonged feelings of anxiety or depression, please seek professional help. Again, you are not alone. There is no shame in seeking help.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and was published here with permission.