In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob talks with Dr. Sherry Walling about staying sane while starting up. Sherry talks about her work with the founder community as a clinical psychologist. How to deal with stresses and fears while growing a business and the importance and power of retreats.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Rob: In this episode of Startups for The Rest of Us, Dr. Sherry Walling and I discuss staying sane while starting up. This is Startups for The Rest of Us Episode 377.
Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. Im Rob.
Sherry: Hi, I’m not Mike.
Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What is the word this week, not Mike?
Sherry: Well, I’ve been compulsively checking for the mail. I keep going down and pushing the snow out of the way so I can open the front door to see if the package has arrived that has what I hope is the final proof for my new book. But we had 11 inches of snow so the whole infrastructure of the city is slow going and I’m not sure that the delivery will get here today.
Rob: Traffic is not great today. There’s just a lot of stuff. All the schools are closed. All three of our kids are home today, and I feel your urgency. You’ve run through a few proofs. It’s the cover. Is the cover having some struggles with the printer?
Sherry: The cover’s having some trouble and part of it has been sort of the designer not understanding which template to use but also not asking but me also not making sure. There have been some communication lapses and then the first round of the proof came the week before Christmas and so we were bogged down with the holiday as well. So it’s just sort of a slow process to get that final hurdle of the final, perfect, most beautiful version of the book printed.
Rob: I can feel you there. In case someone is completely lost, you are Dr. Sherry Walling. You and I have been married for going on 18 years. You and I host a podcast called ZenFounder. You are @ZenFounder on Twitter. You recently completed a book with a little help from me. I’m the with on the book. I’m the second author. The book is called The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Shit Together, How to Run Your Business Without Letting It Run You. I’m pretty stoked about the book. Are you stoked? Are you excited?
Sherry: I am excited and I also feel some trepidation. I think it’s like founders [inaudible 00:02:31] You’re gonna launch something, it’s like you’re putting a little bit of yourself out there in the world. In this case, it feels like it’s a lot of myself. It’s 50,000 words from yours truly. It’s a lot about how I think about life as a founder and I’m super excited to put it out there. It’s been a lot of hard work. But I’m also totally scared that people will hate it or they won’t care.
Rob: The indifference would be not good. You’re packaging a heck of a lot of expertise into the book. You have a PhD in Psychology. You have also been married to me, a serial founder, for like I said going on 18 years. You’re an entrepreneur yourself having essentially launched ZenTribes. You’ve launched essentially a consultant practice. You have actually a really good ebook that’s gotten pretty reviews on retreats, how to take founder retreats. We’ll actually talk about that a little later on the episode. But you’re getting yourself out there in a way that I don’t think you or I would have expected even 10 or 15 years ago. There’s been a shift in you since maybe the last 5-7 years.
Sherry: I set out when I began my career as an academic. Life as an academic has a lot of conference presentation and writing but it’s just on a much smaller scale. In the opinion of most academic communities, what it means to cultivate expertise is 15 years in the trenches and lots and lots of papers. I’ve ended up shifting and now I’m working in the founder space and I still now have 15 years of expertise in lots and lots of podcasts, maybe not papers. I’ve begun to be someone who has wanted to get information and helpful tips to a much wider audience, not just the academic community, which of course has meant lots of hustle and lots of hard work to try to package a message in a way that’s most helpful and most accessible to people who need it.
Rob: That’s the thing in the startup or the founders space. I have, over the years, seen a few people come out of the woodwork, who are being the CEO/Coach or the Founder/Coach but they don’t have the credentials and in a lot of cases don’t have the experience that you do.
I remember maybe four or five years ago you were saying, “I want to go location-dependent with my work.” I remember us having this kind of conversation like “Should you dive deeper into yoga? Do you want to do more of that or do you want to dive deeper into serving founders?” It was a deliberate decision and we started ZenFounder and quickly become obvious how much of a dearth of really knowledgeable people there are in terms of staying sane and staying happy and keeping relationships healthy and not struggling with anxiety or depression or at least fighting through it, figuring out how to work with it.
There are so few people in our world. This is both the venture funded world, it is the bootstrapped world, and it’s also the broader entrepreneurial world. Let’s say you’re not doing a startup, there seems to be a real, definite need for folks, someone like you with your expertise. There aren’t any around. Every time you speak in a conference, it seems like people are saying, “Wow, what a breath of fresh air, not a lot of people are talking about this.”
Sherry: I think there are lots of helpful sources of information from lots of different places. One of the things that I try to do is to pair years of science based education and even my years working as a researcher with the on-the-ground experience. And I think being married to you is worth two PhDs on Entrepreneurial Science.
But I think much of this conversation began when Aaron Swartz committed suicide. And then shortly thereafter, I felt like we heard very often about founders who had taken their own lives or whose lives have just got totally derailed. I look at those kinds of instances or something that is potentially preventable, not 100% of the time, not perfectly. I certainly don’t know, I don’t have all the answers to try to keep someone alive when they don’t want to be alive.
I think there’s a lot of information in the psychological literature, especially in the clinical psychological literature, that can be super helpful to help people manage stressful lives and optimize their performance which is what most of us are trying to do. I think sometimes people hear clinical psychologists and they think like, “I don’t need a doctor,” or “I don’t need to see a therapist.” If we reverse engineer what we know about what breaks people down, what causes mental illness, if we do that backwards, often we can learn a lot about what helps people be really well. I think that’s what we try to accomplish with ZenFounder; get the information out there that can prevent problems before they start.
Rob: I think in addition to that, I see you as keeping people at the top of their game. Stress and all the stuff we’re talking about, all the negatives because there’s so much that comes with being a founder that just is thrown at you constantly, it can and will negatively impact your performance, and your throughput, and your ability to think clearly, and your ability to make really sharp and quick decisions.
I see you helping people, whether it’s one-on-one, whether it’s through your ZenTribes, whether it’s through the book or through the podcast, keeping people on top of their mental games so that they can perform because a founder’s job is not sitting on the sidelines and hanging out. It’s like you’re in the middle of the field, you’re the quarterback and everybody’s relying on you. If you’re stressed, you’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re not sleeping well, you’re sick, whatever, it negatively impacts everything including your bottom line and long-term, your health.
That’s where every founder or aspiring founder needs to be thinking about this topic, about how to stay sane, and how to stay mentally well and healthy and strong while you’re starting up. Even if you’re just an early [inaudible 0:08:41], if you’re doing it nights and weekends, you’re gonna get less sleep. You need to start thinking about how am I gonna counteract that? How am I not gonna burn myself out? How am I not gonna push myself too far? That’s where the message coming from you is so critical. I think a lot of people hand wave it away. Some of the founders go, “I don’t need that,” or, “I’m not sick,” or, “I don’t have depression,” or, “I don’t have anxiety.” That’s not the point. It’s just being more productive and being on top of your game and really not letting yourself burn out.
Sherry: I think I’m a reasonable speaker. I definitely have things like [inaudible 00:09:12]. I’m always astounded when I start talking about things like sleep or things like communication with your spouse. When I give a conference presentation on some of the basic parts of life, the room is pretty transfixed. People are really hungry to figure out how to help their lives go more smoothly, not only to optimize their performance, which of course is a high goal for many founders, but I think to make life enjoyable even in the midst of doing hard things.
Rob: We’ve talked about your background. Folks who want to learn more about you can go to www.zenfounder.com. We’ve talked about why this is an important topic for pretty much everyone listening to the podcast and why folks should be thinking about this from day one.
When you’re just getting started, there’s gonna be tough times. When you start to have success, there’s gonna be stress. The more success you have, the more stress I felt I had. There’s so much writing on you. You get a company to 10 people, now they’re relying on you. The dollar swings are way bigger. You have a great month versus a bad month. It used to be a couple of thousand dollars, it can be 40-50 grand difference. And suddenly it’s like “Whoa! The stakes just became very high!” Hopefully, folks listening to this have been taking notes if they haven’t been thinking about this yet.
I wanna touch on two topics today and have you talk through them a little bit. These are both out of the book. We’re gonna talk about self-knowledge and I wanna touch on retreat. You started going on retreats and I was really intrigued by them. I went on my first retreat years ago and I came back and raped about it on the podcast. And then it kind of spread through our circles. And there was no one, absolutely no one, talking about founder retreats before we did. I feel a certain pride that we were able to bring that into the space because it’s just a novel and helpful thing. Everyone who goes on one comes back to me and says, “Oh my gosh, it completely blew my mind!” I wanna be able to make sure that we do touch on that.
Let’s dive in a little bit to this idea of knowing yourself or self-knowledge. In the book, you talk about some different extremes. You talk about chaos versus rigidity, introversion versus extroversion, fixed mindset versus growth mindset. I know each of those is a concept all to its own. Maybe kick us off with why is it so critical to know yourself, and then talk through maybe one or two of those concepts.
Sherry: The premise of the conversation about self-knowledge is very practically helps you plan around your relative weaknesses and maximize your relative strengths. If you’re thinking about starting a business or you’re knee-deep in the process already, if you can have moments when you sort of catch yourself and ask, “What am I good at in this scenario? Where’s my sweet spot?” And then also be able to tell the truth about like “Oh, I’m really not good at this part of this problem or at this part of my business.”
That’s really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about self-knowledge; the ability to think about your own process in real time. When you can do that, when you are someone who can self-reflect pretty well, it means that you have the option or the opportunity to be able to plan around things that you’re not good at. If you know that you are not particularly good at public speaking or you’re not particularly good at marketing or there are pieces of what’s required of you that you’re not strong in, you can invest the time and energy to really learn how to counteract those weaknesses or you can hire help or you can do something about it. But when you go in blind and you’re not paying attention, that’s when you risk sacrificing potentially good outcomes when you risk sacrificing the success of what you’re working on because you haven’t taken the time to stop and think “Oh wait, actually I suck at networking. I need to get better at that or I need some help.”
Rob: So is this a lot about strengths and blind spots?
Sherry: It is, to some extent. Each of the topics that we talk about in that chapter are different continuums.
Chaos versus rigidity is an interesting one. I picked this up from a woman named Filipa Perry who is a therapist in the UK. She talks about how we can organize our conceptualization of mental health along that continuum. You can break at either polarities. If you are hyperchaotic or very chaotic, then you might be somebody who really has trouble following through. Perhaps you are really able to think outside the box and move quickly, but you aren’t that great at communicating what you are thinking to people who are working with you and for you.
Chaos at the outer edges can become very problematic, but if you move in towards the middle of the continuum, there are some real strengths there that are important to know about yourself.
The other side of that continuum is rigidity. Under extreme stress, some of us tend to be very rigid. We need things in a very specific way, a certain way, and we become very anxious when our environment doesn’t align with what we believe we need. That kind of rigidity, on either ends of the spectrum, they look like obsessive-compulsive disorder or an anxiety that is un-wielding or inflexible.
Knowing whether under stress you tend to clamp down and become more rigid or whether you tend to let it all hang out and lose your keys and forget to pick your kids up, and tend toward the chaotic, you can plan around that. Say you are about to launch a new product and you know that you tend to get a little bit chaotic when you are under pressure, you might need to invest a little bit more time in organization, or you might need some extra help, or you might need to think about the things that generally fall through the cracks when you’re under stress and make a plan for them.
Rob: And can it also be not just blind spots that you need to account for, because I think that’s a good point. Sometimes feeling a sense of anxiety or depression and not knowing what it is and finally realizing, “Oh, it’s because I hate this part of the job.” Like unearthing what you love versus what you don’t and being able to then delegate that.
Sherry: Right. It’s always a conversation about strengths and weaknesses. When you realize ” Oh my gosh, this piece of my business totally stresses me out.” Once you have enough money to hire someone, hire someone to do that. Hire someone to do the thing that has the highest emotional pain point because even the most mentally sane person is gonna waste some cycles and spend some anxiety on something that causes a lot of apprehension. If you can have someone do that for you, then that’s gonna save you both the doing of the task as well as the anxiety that goes along with it.
Rob: How about one of the other two dichotomies I mentioned? There was a fixed mindset and growth mindset and introvert and extrovert.
Sherry: I think the same can be true of introversion and extroversion. Those are ways of organizing how we relate to the external environment. If you are introverted, you are pretty attuned to what’s going on inside of your own head. You might be somewhat apprehensive or reticent with a lot of social stimulation. The way that you recharge or refill your emotional bucket, so to speak, is doing things that are either alone or with fairly low-key social stimulation.
Versus an extrovert on the other end of the spectrum who really feeds off of social interaction. That is energizing, they love to be engaged in conversation and maybe animated, outgoing. These are usually the terms that we come to associate with extroversion. Those are both great personalities, right? The strength of an introvert in being able to observe and read a situation, the strength of an introvert in being able to think first and speak later, those are super valuable in the founder world.
But if you need to make that really energetic sales pitch, and that just fairly is not your personality, you have to really gear yourself up. You have to practice extra. You have to have all of your resources about you, whether that’s spending extra time to make a really amazing keynote or whether you bring someone to present with you. Those are the ways that we problem solve around our relative weaknesses.
The thing about knowing yourself isn’t that one way of being is better or worse. It’s that we all are a mixture of skills and abilities and we have to be super honest about what we’re good at and what we’re still growing in.
Rob: I think it has a profound impact on my, I wouldn’t say success as a founder, but it’s more like my ability to become and remain happy as I’ve started these companies and launched all these products. Early on, I remember feeling guilty as I jump job to job every couple of years. My dad told me people are gonna look at your resume, it’s not gonna be a great thing. And then I realized that I don’t like working on the same thing forever. It was just something I learned about myself that I was probably never gonna build a product and keep it around for 10 years. There’s been just a few exceptions in my life.
I think finally understanding that about myself and not feeling guilty and stressed about it when I get 18 months or 24 months into a project and I start really feeling down on it and burned out and all this stuff. As soon as I switch to a new project, I’m just fired up. I know some people who do that every month or two and then you’re never gonna get anything done. But I will see a product to enough success that it makes it worth it and then want to just move on.
Sherry: If you really accept that about yourself, then you would be razor sharp on honing the skills that it takes to get a startup going and then to a certain level where you can just hand it off to somebody else. Hypothetically, you wouldn’t really stress about do I babysit this thing for the next five years. You would just say, “No, this is what I’m good at. This is what I do. I know myself well enough to know that I am not going to retire out of this company.”
Rob: Let’s talk about how you do this. Someone listening to this says, “Okay, I don’t know myself very well.” How do you go about introspecting to the point that you can start identifying things for yourself?
Sherry: I think one of the best ways to do that, to really create space for meta reflection, for thinking about how you’re doing, is to have a practice of going on a retreat once, maybe twice a year, where you satisfy the day-to-day and put down your to-do list, turn off your computer and ignore all notifications and buzzes and beeps and things that often distract your attention. And then, begin to really ask yourself some deeper questions about what have been you successes over the last year; what have been the points in the year that brought you the most joy where you felt you’re most in your sweet spot. And then you ask the opposite kinds of questions. Where did you feel like your life was being sucked from you? Where were you miserable? Where did you feel like you failed? Begin to really look at those questions as an amalgam and look at what does it tell you about what kinds of moments and experiences you’re drawn to and what kinds of things really seem to not go so well for you?
Rob: You’ve thought and written a lot about this. You wrote the ZenFounder Guide to Founder Retreats which is available on Gumroad. I assume you have a link to it from www.zenfounder.com as well. That’s a 28-page ebook and 2 worksheets. You also wrote a bit about it in the Entrepreneur’s Guide that we’re talking about today. That’s a lot of fun, a lot of content on something. It sounds like just based on that, this is a really crucial piece and something that you believe in quite a bit.
Sherry: Absolutely. It’s not just me. There’s some great research behind the benefit of really disrupting your schedule and stepping aside from your normal context. One thing that’s really important about a retreat is you really should not do it in your office. You need to go to the mountains, you need to go to the coast, you need to go somewhere with different sensory cues, with a different environment so that you can let your mind engage the questions of your life in a different way. That’s helpful to begin to vary the ways that your brain is used, sort of like the well-trodden paths that your brain is used to taking. If you can get out of your normal environment, you create a level of environment to a novelty that lets your brain think in a different way.
Rob: That makes sense. It’s taking two days away from the spouse and the kids or just your everyday life, head somewhere. We used to go to the beach. We had the beach apartment and we go there all the time. But other folks I know would go to the mountains, go to the desert, and really just hold yourself up. If I recall, I didn’t even bring a laptop most times. I had my phone in case there was an emergency and I need to check email or something, but I would bring the black notebook with a pen and just start with those questions. Typically, a bunch of stuff fell out right out of that because it was like, “What do I wanna do this year?” Some years it was like well, it’s a year where I’m either acquiring something, I’m going to build something, I’m going to tool around until I find something, or it was a growth year.
It was like whoa, just a second, you’re at Drip. I know I’m not stopping doing that, so how do I wanna get to where it needs to go? How am I gonna do that? Sometimes, it was more about the business. Sometimes, I would have the personal side of thinking about me. Oftentimes, honestly, it was a combination of both.
Sherry: It’s just time to ask those big questions like how am I doing? Am I happy in this life that I’ve constructed for myself? If not, what do I need to do? Those are not those big existential questions, we can’t do that on a day-to-day. We’re busy driving people and answering email and doing the business of our life. We need to step aside to be able to really have insight into those big questions
Rob: The thing is when I would go on a retreat, most of the first day was towards just leaving everyday life behind. It wasn’t typically until late in that day or maybe it was the next day where I would start to have a little bit of clarity about things because it’s like the rest of life went away and left all this room for deep thought, a state you don’t get into everyday, hectic lives of running businesses.
You obviously go into more depth on that in the book. The book is out in the next couple of weeks, as soon as printing is finalized. You cover a lot of other stuff about understanding where you came from, optimize where you’re going, battling the haters in your head, mastering disruption, getting things done when things aren’t getting done and staying connected.
Folks can go to www.zenfounder.com/book anytime to sign up for the launch list. I think the book’s gonna have impact on a lot of people. We really are selling it as a book. It’s gonna be, what, $25? I don’t know if we have the final price, but it’s gonna be $20-$30 bucks. It’s not gonna be some info product where we have all the whiz-bang and it’s hundreds of dollars, this is something that we want to get out to as many people as possible. It’s gonna be a no-brainer for so many of the founders who struggle with this stuff or potentially will in the future and just need a toolbox or just one more piece of knowledge for people to keep it together while doing this pretty stressful thing.
Sherry: Somebody asked me who the book was for. Obviously, it’s a really good marketing question. It’s for humans. It’s for humans who have jobs and are doing things. Obviously, it is geared towards people who are founding something and running their own business. So many of us are looking for strategies to help manage stress and the challenges of our everyday life.
Rob: Yeah, for sure. That’s www.zenfounder.com/book. You also do one-on-one consulting with founders and entrepreneurs, wanna talk a bit about that?
Sherry: I do. That’s one of the things that I have just found to be so rewarding over the last few years is to be a resource for folks who are trying to do some of this how do I get to know myself, how do I become more self- reflective, how do I answer big questions about my life, how do I make decisions when decisions are hard to make? I’m a sounding board, a sounding board with a lot of experience and trained ears to hear potentially problematic thoughts and to spot blind spots and patterns that are counterproductive. I try to come alongside people and help them be as awesome as they can be in their businesses and in their lives.
Rob: It’s totally confidential and that’s something that you’re very good at so I have no knowledge of who you talk to but I do know that you have co-founder disputes that you moderate, you help folks who forgot how to communicate better with their spouse or their family. You’ve consulted founders on how to deal with either a problem employee or a manager to get through struggles with, that kind of stuff. Folks considering selling their company, they’re getting an offer and they don’t know if it’s the right decision. You’re that sounding board where it’s a little bit about advice, but it’s a lot about getting someone to think what is the right answer for them, or just leading them to the right answer when it’s a hard decision and it’s not super clear and someone really needs to dig deep and to think to think about a lot of factors in order to make the decision
Sherry: It’s a lot about asking the right questions and listening really well.
Rob: Yeah, and it can be super helpful to have someone to just think through decisions now and again. I think that wraps us up for today. Folks who want to get a hold of you, www.zenfounder.com is your home online.
Sherry: It is. If people are interested in my professional background, I also have a presence at www.sherrywallling.com.
Rob: If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about tips for fighting stress and anxiety as a founder.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about tips for fighting stress and anxiety as a founder. This is startups for the rest of us episode 245.
Mike [00:16]: Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob [00:25]: And I’m Rob.
Mike [00:25]: And we’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Rob?
Rob [00:30]: Well, me and the family were up in Oregon last week and I had a pretty cool meetup with a few founders out there with Ruben from Bidsketch, Jordan Gull from CartHook, and the Bootstrap Web Podcast, and Samuel Hulick from useronboard.com. It was cool to hang out with them for a couple of hours and as usual, 10:30 rolls around and I just wanted to sit there and keep talking. I had hours more on conversation than I wanted to have but we had the bail and I had like a 35-minute drive back to this music camp that I was out my kids. So, I wanted to say thanks to those guys for hanging out and if you’re in Portland, next time I’m up there because I’m up there probably once a year during the summer to hang out with you, how about you?
Mike [01:10]: Well, as the listeners know I was in Hershey, Pennsylvania last week for a family vacation and I had a really good time recording the terror of my children on the rollercoasters.
Rob [01:21]: Yeah, that’s always fun. I saw those pictures on Facebook. It was pretty hilarious.
Mike [01:24]: I think the part where he said, “Is it over yet?” halfway through the rollercoaster was probably the best one.
Rob [01:29]: That’s the best, yeah. So update on a couple of [?] marketing approach as we started the past couple of weeks. One is I’ve started using LeadFuze from Justin Miguel, he’s a founder café at Micropreneur Academy Member and we met him at MicroConf and LeadFuze, F-U-Z-E, and it’s basically outbound email and it’s been really interesting. It’s already been more successful than the previous outbound, the three-month outbound email campaign that I ran with another provider and we’re like two weeks in and we already have more leads from this. So there, I don’t know if it’s the market they chose or if it’s the approach they’re taking but it’s interesting. I’ll have to see, I want to wait about a month or two and kind of see what volume we get because my experience with outbound email like this is that it’s great for really high-price services right because you might get 10 leads or 15 leads a month, but when you’re doing more a SAS that’s lower price, 50 or 100 bucks a month, that 10 or 15 new people to talk to doesn’t often move a needle unless they’re pretty high price. So, in vertex allow but certainly the frontend results have been positive so far.
Mike [02:35]: Cool. And you also recently ran a contest for LeadPages, right?
Rob [02:39]: That’s right. Yeah, so basically, we use the KingSumo plugin which is a wordpress plugin for Map Sumo and ran a contest, one winner would win five years of LeadPages which is worth like $4,000. And, overall, I mean the contest with tons of Tweets I mean there’s a [?] rally to it where you enter and then if you Tweet and other people user length then you get like three extra entries or whatever. Overall, there’s a ton of bus during the contest. We ran ads, we mailed our list. We kind of did what you would expect to promote, but in the end the results were not where I wanted them to be instead of getting several thousand new emails. It was substantially lower than that. So, we did a post-mortem and I couldn’t pinpoint anything that I felt like we did wrong. Part of thinks that contest are so common place now that maybe they’re not the kind of the purple palette that used to be. Part of me thinks perhaps we misexecuted on something but it is what it is at this point and I don’t foresee doing another one in the near term but we’ll see what happens a few months down the line. So, what are we talking about today?
Mike [03:42]: Well, today we’re going to be talking about tips for fighting stress and anxiety as a founder and I kind of came over this idea because last week, I was on vacation and it occurred to me that this is probably one of the first vacations I’ve taken in a while where I didn’t feel stressed at all while I was on vacation and I kind of thought back about why that was and kind of came to the conclusion that one of the things that I did just dramatically differently this time was that I basically saved up money to pay for the vacation first so that I could go on vacation and enjoy it rather than thinking about all the things that I needed to do when I got back and how I was going to pay for the vacation afterwards. So kind of like frontloaded of what my savings were going to be for that and it occurred to me that there were a number of different places where I was feeling some stress and anxiety about the business and what things were going on and so I sat down and actually kind of did a stress review to figure out like what things in my life, in my business were stressing me out and I did this before I went on vacation and realize that there were a lot of ways that I can address some of those issues and by the end of my vacation, aside from getting sick was a little bit stressful. I was completely stress-free. It was not a stressful vacation in any way, shape, or form and I didn’t worry about anything the entire time. It was fantastic.
Rob [04:55]: That’s great. I mean that’s kind of the purpose of a vacation right is to get away and not feel stressed. I find sometimes it’s a mix bag where if you go away, it can make you a stressed out if A, if anything goes bad back at the office that you can’t handle then of course you’re going to get stressed out. And the other way is I feel like if I leave and there’s something undone or I realize that there’s a big push that we want to do and I’m not there and able to kind of participate in it, that always makes vacation kind of suck because it’s like you’re not being part of moving the business forward. But, when things are going well and you stuck away for a short amount of time, like I said, I think that’s the purpose of this to come back super refreshed and motivated, and ready to go. And so you’ve been back for a couple of days at work since vacation is over, have you had a lot of motivation to kind of get to work and get stuff done?
Mike [05:42]: Well, I’m kind of on the tailend of being sick. I started getting really sick on Thursday. So, and then through Thursday, Fridays, Saturday, and even up until today, I mean right now it’s Wednesday and we’re recording for next week, and I’m still feeling kind of the lingering effects of it. So, I’m not getting as much sleep as I probably could have but in terms of my motivation and my ability to get things done, it’s still there. It’s just I feel terrible throughout the day is really what it comes down through. But it has nothing to do with being stressed out or worried or having things to do that I’m procrastinating on and not getting done. It’s just my face just doesn’t feel good.
Rob [06:15]: Right. Yeah, that’s a bummer. Cool. So, let’s dive in to these tactics you have.
Mike [06:19]: Sure. So, basically, we’re going to walk through four different stages of taking a look at the stress and anxiety that you’re facing and talk a little bit about what to do in each of these, I’ll call them faces because it’s kind of an analysis of the anxiety and stress that you’re facing. And the first one is think about the big picture of what’s going on. And this is about identifying the things that stressing you out and understanding and recognizing the different science of that stress. So, for example, if you’re procrastinating on certain things or you’re avoiding certain types of work, or if you’re spending a lot of time thinking about a specific problem or a specific subset of problems that you’re facing during your business or your personal life, let’s say that you’ve got some bills that you’re trying to pay down and maybe it’s credit card debt or something like that. Or if it’s just the marketing strategy that you’re trying out and it’s not working and it’s frustrating. So, all of those things are things that can kind of contribute to the stress that you’re facing and are ultimately going to essentially drag you down in other ways that are not necessarily easy to quantify but will definitely impact your business in the bottom line. So, some of the science of this are if you’re overindulging into something whether it’s videogames or if you’re smoking a lot more or you’re drinking a lot more, eating, watching TV or movies and just [?] out in front of the TV at night, doing drugs that you shouldn’t be doing or sleeping much more or much less than you typically do, any sort of withdraw from social situations. So if you’re avoiding going out with your friends, or essentially just avoiding talking or interacting with people in general because you think to yourself, “Oh, I’ve got all this work to do, so instead of going and hanging out with my friends, I’m going to do this work and try and get it done.” And what I found tends to happen is that you end up spending more time in front of your computer trying to get work done than you do actually get in any of the work done. And it kind of comes about as much more a surface is a much more of a form of procrastination than anything else, and to me that’s when I know that I’m stressed out or I’m anxious about stuff is like I start procrastinating. And the natural reaction for me is to sit in front of my computer more or try and get more work done, but that never happens. It always end up putting me in a position where I end up procrastinating when I’m sitting in front of my computer and I’m still not getting as much work done which is essentially a vicious cycle. So, you spend more time in front of your computer, trying to get stuff done. It’s not getting done. You procrastinate and then it makes you want to spend more time there because you’re not getting things done. To me, that’s just the vicious cycle and to me that’s the sign that I need to do something about it.
Rob [08:46]: Yeah. I think the big signs for me personally is when I notice that I have this kind of feeling of stress or anxiety and I can’t pinpoint where it’s coming from and I always take that as a point to where I need to stop and think about when started and what kicked me into it. And oftentimes, I’ll find that it’s some ridiculous thing like an email I got from someone that was confusing or that means that I have to do some work tomorrow or that, I don’t know, it’s something that didn’t go exactly the way I wanted to but it isn’t actually that big of a deal but it somehow triggered a reaction in me that I then carry with me for an hour or two, or three. And as soon as I can pinpoint, “Oh, that’s why I’m upset? Like that’s why I’m feeling this?” That’s when I’m able to let it go, right, and to either do a short, I won’t even say it’s a meditation but it’s kind of just a short check in and saying, “All right. I’m letting this go because there’s no other reason that I should be feeling this way.” But the other thing, I think the excess of angry you talked about, I think overindulging them and I found myself definitely watching too much TV at times, not this year as more in 2014 where I had kind of a, yeah, just kind of tough battle with there’s some cash flow and there were other things going on there trying to grow drip that I was frustrated with and I think all the indicators that you mentioned about zoning out and withdrawing from social situations or things that I’ve certainly experienced.
Mike [10:10]: Right. So, as I said, step one or stage one I guess is just thinking about the big picture of what’s going on and recognizing that there is some sort of stress or anxiety that you’re facing. And then stage two is really just identifying what those stressors are. So, what I find it helpful is to list all of the different things that may or may not be stressing me out or frustrating me. And it’s helpful to just write them down and say what it is, why it’s stressful and what is about that particular thing that is stressful. So, one of the things that I find helpful doing this is keeping a personal journal. So I use a service called penzu.com or you can just go in and you can have it send you emails and notifications about when you’re supposed to be doing anything in your journal and I just have it send me a reminder that for certain things, so for example I keep a sleep journal that just says, “Hey, how did you sleep last night?” And what it does it helps me keep track of how well I’ve been sleeping and whether or not I’ve been well or sleeping poorly, and it helps me just pay attention to it. So it’s not about measuring it so much as it is about just kind of being aware of what my sleeping patterns look like. I used to use a [?] to actually measure how much sleep I was getting on any given night but they went out of business and the machine went on the [fret?] so I haven’t found anything else to kind of replace that yet, but I found that this journaling application has helped me to understand when I am and when I’m not getting good sleep. And you can use a journal and application for anything so you could use it for your personal life, use it as an end-of-day check-in, you could use it for sleep, you could use it as an exercise journal for example. I mean there’s lots of different things that you can use where the activity isn’t easy to measure but by journaling about it, you can give yourself an opportunity to just think about whatever it is that’s going on. And by listening to those things, you’re essentially identifying them, and once you’ve identified them, you can move onto stage three which is just dealing with that stress. And there’s a lot of different ways that you can deal with it and kind of the five that I came up with was you can ignore it, you can avoid it, you can outsource that stress, you can eliminate it, or you can adapt. So, let’s talk about those five different things in order. And the first one is ignore it. There are certain types of stresses that you can just completely ignore them. So for example, one of them is negative blog comments. If you have a blog that you’re writing and we talked about this a little bit in a previous episode where we talked about dealing with haters, but if you a blog you’re inevitably going to get people leaving blog comments on there and if you’re in anyway controversial, there are people who are going to believe negative blog comments and just reading those is extremely detrimental, I mean we talked about it quite a bit before but the way to avoid that stress by reading those things is just completely ignore those comments. You don’t have to even read them. There’s pros and cons to not reading the comments on your blog, but if you’re getting enough comments you’re recognizing the negative ones throw you off for a couple of hours, or for a couple of days, it might be worth considering just ignoring them entirely.
Rob [13:01]: Yeah. There’s definitely a pretty large group of stressors that you can outright ignore I think, blog comments and hacker news comments, and Twitter comments and frankly feedback or input from people you don’t know or that’s unsolicited or that you didn’t ask for I think is typically something that you kind of have to learn to ignore as you build up an audience or as you build up a customer base because there’s always going to be somebody, you know, someone off case of one in a thousand or one in ten thousand people who’s going to say things that stresses you out and learning to kind of deal with that and not let others have the power, that power over you I think is definitely one way to avoid the stress because frankly, at this point, if every time I heard a negative comment about something that I’m involved with all that we do in terms of MicroConf, the blog, the podcast, all the apps, everything; if I got upset every time someone made a negative comment, yeah, I would be stressed quite a bit. And so, I think getting a little more fixed scanned and learning to ignore those things that should be ignored, is a learn skill.
Mike [14:10]: Right. And just to kind of clarify a little bit. There is a slight difference between ignoring the entire thing versus not letting to get you, I think because there are fine line between those two so that you can take it one of those two different ways. The second one in this list is to avoid at something entirely. So, one of the things that I found is that overcommitting for me can be a big stress and nobody likes to say no to somebody especially if somebody comes and says, “Hey, can you help me out with this?” I love to say yes to anyone who comes to me and ask for help, but at the same time it’s not always possible. So, especially if people come to you and earlier on, I think in most of our careers, we always have family who come to us and say, “Hey, can you help fix my computer?” And I used to kind of jump and say, “Oh, yeah. I can totally help you out with that.” And overtime, I got to the point where I realized that not only was that not helpful for me or for them because they weren’t necessarily learning to fix or address the wrong problems. They were just basically passing them off to me, but I was committing to things that I didn’t necessarily have time for, and at this point, I definitely don’t have time for them. So, it is a lot easier to be able to say no to those types of things, and saying no can be really, really hard and that’s one of the issues that a lot of us are going to have to face at some point. You’re just going to have to say no sometimes even if it doesn’t feel good at the time but you have to understand that sometimes saying no is the right decision for you in the long run.
Rob [15:27]: Yeah, earlier on in my career, I said yes to everything and I think that’s probably advice I would give to most people is to take advantage of it as many opportunities as you can early and then as things build up for you, you have to start switching that to a mix of yes or no and then at a certain point, nobody comes your default answer, and that’s been my default answer for a few years now where I don’t have time to think about it, or if unless it’s like what [Derek?] [?] says, et cetera, hell yes or a no and that’s at a certain point how it has to get if you are overcommitting and I think most of us overcommit. This is not just about business, right, this is about personal life and this about overcommitting your kids to play three sports and do gym and ballet and all the stuff and you’re driving all over the place, that can be crazy even though you’re not overcommitting yourself, you’re kind of overcommitting your time and your family and spending a lot of time in the road, these are things we’ve chosen internally, as a family to kind of pick one thing and invest heavily in it. So my kids each playing instrument and then maybe they do one sport that kind of comes and go and gives us a gap. Some families may work to do three or four things at once, but we know that overcommitting in our personal lives can be as bad as just committing to help everyone who emails you which just becomes impractical at a certain point.
Mike [16:42]: Yeah. I mean even this past year, my kids were just currently entering karate and they were doing karate two days a week and then they had soccer another two weeks a week, and they both decided that in this coming fall, they don’t want to play soccer because they’re already doing karate and they know that it takes up a lot of their time and they have to basically be there for one or the other almost every single day of the week. And they just decided they didn’t want to do that. So they’re going to take a year off and kind of see how things go which is kind of very admirable of them. We didn’t fight it, we just said, “Okay. If you want to take a year off from soccer, that’s fine.” But karate like for your kids, it’s music for our kids it’s karate and they just do that and it’s kind of their primary thing but it’s nice to kind of be aware of those types of things that they are both business related and personal life related. So the third strategy for dealing with some of these things is to outsource it. And this usually comes with certain types of tasks especially if you tend to procrastinate on any of these types of task. And one thing that I did a while back was I started outsourcing a lot of the financial stuff for my business and I kind of got to the point where I almost wanted to go over to doing on the personal side as well because I hate seeing money come out of my bank account especially in large quantities. So, I hired a bookkeeper other basically manage all the books and handle them and it’s not that I completely ignore them, it’s just I’m not looking at them on a daily or weekly basis in order to figure out what bills to pay or whether I need to pull money from one account or the other like that stuff is just taken care of for me and I don’t have to worry about it anymore. And when I did that was I hired a bookkeeper to do all that stuff for me and she pays the American Express bills. She goes in and she runs the payroll. And I don’t have to worry about it. I just basically just ignore it and trust that she’s doing the right things, and if there’s a problem, I’ll deal with it but otherwise, I just don’t want to be involved in that kind of thing. Another type of thing that you might want to outsource is if you’re running any sort of a SAS products where there are cancellations on a semi-regular basis. Well, you want to reach out to those people and ask them why they cancelled but if you are the one getting the email every single time there is a cancellation, then that may very well be a source of stress for you. So, a better strategy would be to hand that off to a support rep or to hire somebody who’s sole job is to go out there and email those people and aggregate their replies and put them into a spreadsheet so that you can review it maybe once a month or something like that. And what that does is it essentially offloads it and aggregates it all into an hour at the end of every month that you look at that spreadsheet versus once a week or two or three times a week you’re getting these emails that you have to go in and you have to make sure that the account is cancelled and you have to go out and send an email to that person or ask them why they cancelled and then you see the response. All that stuff can be detrimental and instead, if you’re outsourcing that responsibility to somebody else, you are consolidating all of that into one single interaction instead of 15 or 20 throughout the course of the month.
Rob [19:27]: Yeah. Virtual assistants, bookkeepers, I mean we’ve covered this before but these are the things that had a major impact on my ability to get more done and to be less stressed about it when I made that shift from trying to do everything myself to hiring these folks out and I don’t know, I can’t say enough good things about it and I think that the cancellation stuff you said is a good deal. I think customer complaints get old and having one or two support people who can kind of feel bad upfront after you’ve dealt with stuff for a few months and you get a feel for it and the complaints or the feedback aren’t helpful anymore and you know that it’s either someone just being angry or it’s not a good fit for your product or whatever. As long as it’s not something that you’re not missing or ignoring, then it’s definitely something that I think there’s value [?] yourself from this type of feedback and that virtual assistant that can certainly help by handling score for you.
Mike [20:20]: The fourth strategy for dealing with these situations is to see if you can eliminate the source of whatever the stress is. So, if you can fix the underlined problems, then the symptoms of the stress go away. So for me, for example, the vacation stresses that I used to feel was that I would worry about paying for it afterwards but of course when you’re on vacation, then that becomes an issue that you think about why you’re on vacation. So you don’t enjoy your vacation nearly as much. And instead, for me, I just decided to say for it beforehand and that way, when I was on vacation, we would go out to breakfast, we would go out to lunch, we go out to dinner, and I just didn’t care how much it was going to cost because I knew that I already had the money to pay for it. I wasn’t going to have to go out and do any sort of consulting work or pick up a couple of extra weeks of work or work extra hours or anything like that. It was already paid for. It was already taken care of and handled. So, I was just able to enjoy myself completely as opposed to worrying about what was going to happen down the road. And there’s other places where you can eliminate those sources of stress and we talked about some of them more already about being able to outsource or just avoid them, but at the core of this is being able to completely eliminate the source of whatever that stress is.
Rob [21:26]: And I think we tend to have more options than we think. I think that there’s a learned helplessness that some folks fall into is kind of trap and you can say, “Well, I’m stressed out because of this and I can’t change it.” But there’s almost always a way to change it, and it may not be something obvious or it maybe something that’s difficult to do but sitting down and taking a retreat to figure out if it’s big enough and worth it, or just spending 20 minutes in writing down 10 solid ideas of how to eliminate something. One of those is going to kind of come about and be a feasible idea, I would bet. Even if you have something like, “Well, I don’t have enough cash to pay for this.” Well, it’s you’re not tied to your current income if you’re an entrepreneur. And so, could you do a really quick info product. Could you just go sell some consulting really quickly if you have a name recognition or you have some old clients, like there are a number of ways to get around things that seem insurmountable but you actually sit down and think about them, there tends to be a way to get around them. Another thing I would do is talk to folks in your mastermind, right and say, “This is a problem I have. It’s really bothering me. Can you help me figure out ways, think of some ways that I could get around that?” I think that’s just a strategy that can help a lot as well.”
Mike [22:38]: The fifth strategy for dealing with some of these stresses is to adapt to it. Are there ways that you can change how you think about the problem or can you reframe it? Or can you adjust your standards? If you’re building something and you’re disappointed or frustrated with how things are going, maybe it’s time to adjust your standards about what your expectations were for that particular thing, whether it’s for a product or whether it’s for a particular marketing strategy that you’re trying. Focus on the positive elements of what it is that you’re doing and make sure that they are realistic, because if you’re trying to do something and let’s say you’re trying to build an email list of 25,000 people and you’ve never built an email list before, then 25,000 is probably a ridiculously high number that is just out of your reach, so it’s going to be frustrating, it’s going to be stressful. And just by reframing and adjusting your expectations about what your current capabilities are, then you can reduce the stress that’s going to be caused by that. Let’s say that you’ve set a deadline of 12 months to get that, and it could be very, very difficult for you to do that. But, if you look at that and say, “Well, I’ve never done this before. This is a learning experience for me and I will learn how to do this better in the future.” That right there has reframed your expectations to say no, it’s not about getting the 25,000 subscribers. It’s about getting as close to that as I can and learning as much about the process as I can, not about that end piece of it. So, in a way, you’re kind of adjusting what your goals are and what your expectations around those goals are.
Rob [24:04]: You know, one thing that helped me with this is this book called A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. And I was a bit skeptical of going to it. I mean it’s kind of been an interesting title and stoic is something that seems to be kind of all the rage or whatever and a lot of people are talking about it. But, to be honest, I really enjoyed this book and it’s written by a philosophy professor I think he is and I love the way he ties everything together and basically, the idea of stoicism is not to be some cold-hearted person who never feels anything. But it’s to not hang onto everything. It’s to not be stressed about everything. I mean that’s really what it comes down to. There’s some other elements to it and I took so many notes from listening to this book about different ways. They have things about dealing with difficult people. They have things about even with your internal strife and it’s just a mindset thing. It’s just kind of a life philosophy. So if this is something that you struggle with which I certainly do kind of feeling stressed often and having kind of an ongoing anxiety, I definitely recommend this book, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
Mike [25:09]: Yeah, I’ve read that. I would definitely recommend that as well although I guess you listened to it instead of read it, so.
Rob [25:15]: Right. Right. And so, in terms of reframing it and adjusting your standards of focusing on the positive elements, I mean that’s really kind of the main core message of the entire book.
Mike [25:25]: I think the last part of today’s podcast is going to be about some of the different stress recovery activities that you can use to help deal with some of the existing stress and I think if you just go and do a quick Google search on how to relieve stress, you’ll find a lot of, I’ll call them really basic types of things that really do work. So, for example, you’ll find things like walking and exercise, going on vacation, socializing, listening to music, doing any sort of meditation, yoga or massage, self-reflection tends to be up there as well, I find journaling helpful for example and then any sort of movies or comedy shows, or anything that gets you to laugh, those are all typical stress recovery activities, but those are things that are essentially coping mechanisms for existing stress that you may or may not be able to do anything about, and if it’s possible to completely get rid of those stressors, then that’s definitely a profitable course of action than to deal with the symptoms after the fact.
Rob [26:20]: I found that under the right circumstance working helps me relieve stress. It depends, and it’s not if I’m working super long days and it doesn’t help me, but if I’ve been away from work, and I’m stressed about something that needs to get done or stressed about something that I’m uncertain about, then sitting down and making a plan and kind of writing it all out in a notebook or writing it all out and just making sure that I can see the vision in the next 30 or 60 days, that helps me quite a bit if I’m stressed about kind of an unknown because I think that’s something that freaks a lot of people out, me included is not knowing what’s next, right? It’s about having this kind of unknown blackness over the next 30 to 60 days that you can’t see or it’s about having a specific scenario like, “Boy, I have this big webinar next week and I have no idea what I’m going to talk about or I have this talk to deliver and I don’t know what to do or the business is not growing and I don’t know what to do.” As soon as I have a plan of action or game plan, that’s when my stress tends to go away and then I want to go into work mode and actually execute, grind it out, and get stuff done. And so, I think that could be another way is to kind of make a plan on how to do things to remove that kind of unknown that stands ahead of you.
Mike [27:26]: Yeah. It’s interesting you bring that up. That actually made its entry into one of my talks from MicroConf I think the year before last where I talked about the fact that fear of the unknown is something that people are much more afraid of than negative consequences and it’s not knowing what’s going to happen or how you’re going to deal with the particular situation is way more stressful than knowing that things are going to turn out poorly and I could definitely see how if you don’t know what is happening in your business or how you’re going to deal with stuff, it’s sitting down and going through some of that work and some of that planning effort can help out. But obviously, if you’re procrastinating about working then that’s not going to help, but there are certain circumstance where I can definitely say that helping out a lot.
Rob [28:06]: Yeah. And I think if you go back and watch the two talks from MicroConf where Sherry basically covers this type of stuff in her talks about how to kind of stay mentally fit and stable while you’re starting up. She has a lot of good mechanism and even a breathing exercise that can help with this kind of thing.
Mike [28:24]: One of things that we’re going to do in this episode is we’re going to link up in the show notes to helpguide.org and there is a specific article on stress management that you might want to take a look at. It’s got a lot of good information on not just how to go through and take a look at some of the different stressors in your life, but how to go about coping with them as well and they’ve got six or seven different stress management techniques that you can use. Some of this podcast episode was pulled from that but not a lot. So, there’s a heck of a lot more good information in there. So if you’re feeling any kind of stress about your, either your business or your personal life, definitely head over to that link or check it out.
Rob [28:59]: As a closing comment, I can’t think of a time when I was stressed about work when my business was growing. So, I think that one of the remedies for feeling stressed at least for me is to be successful. It’s to be getting the end results that I’m shooting for in my work and I think that wraps us up for today. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or email us to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Out of Control by Moot used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.