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Startup Life: Trough of Sorrow or Crest of Success?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kimchi Ho (LinkedIn, @kymchiho). Kim is an architect by training and has been working to build community spaces in the physical and virtual worlds. Kim’s post, “The Startup Girlfriend” was featured in Forbes Startup Life series. This post was originally published on Kim’s blog on November 16, 2011 and is republished with her permission. 

Entering Startup

Ilya Zhitomirskiy, a cofounder of Diaspora, passed away earlier this week due to unknown reasons, however it is suspected that it was related to his depression and the pressures associated with startup life. Startup culture is as much a lifestyle as it is a very small community. It is not a 9-5 job with the ability to turn yourself into “off” mode. Do people actually get that? Startup mode is always on. It’s fuelled primarily by passion and for those of us who find ourselves working on things we are passionate about, time is not a factor.

But as this taboo topic poses, where is the fine line between madness and sanity? Is the line so far away that it’s a dot?

Fill in the ______

I have the fortune to be surrounded by some good friends who share a love for startup culture. It’s not always pretty, like anything worth pursuing there are troughs of sorrow and crests of success. How do you put one foot in front of the other on those days? In startup culture, it’s a fairly intimate circle of people working on manifesting an idea, these people become your family, it’s a package deal (the good, bad, and the ugly). However, the ability to stay grounded and balanced, while pursuing such unveiled ideas can seem daunting and doubtful while also being awesome and fulfilling. All off these feelings are usually experienced many times a day in startup life. It is only human to have ideas reinforced by others, we are social creatures. However, ironically, the actual work itself is often a solo unsocial pursuit, you just have to get the work done to contribute to the bigger picture. For those hours spent hustling, coding, communicating, leading, experimenting, call it whatever you want, a bit of debt is incurred, maybe in the form of physical (you’re not exercising as much, you’re not eating as much, you don’t care as much) or mental, as in the case of Diaspora’s Co-Founder. Maintaining the optimistic front in light of setbacks and financial stress is not always easy. There is under-rated stressed from publicly press-released information about your start up and there is under-rated stress from the day to day that startup life demands. So how do entrepreneurs win? How do you put one foot in front of the other? Clearly there is a trend, Zhitomirskiy isn’t the first.

Ramen Noodles aka Top Ramen

Take preventative measures. When I socialize with friends who are startup doers, they literally live and breath their business. Can I blame them? Not really, it’s what they love to do. However, we make a point to try to do non-startup-esque things to get away from work, if only for a bit. We go rock climbing. We eat good food, away from our offices. We dance like crazy, also away from our offices. All these things can be great breaths of fresh air and are under-rated solutions that contribute to a healthier state of mind. I’m a firm believe in allotting time to do things that are not related to your start up directly, because the time spent doing those things is actually propelling the productivity and success of the time you do spend working on your startup. All of these ideas are summed up nicely in this Hacker News discussion which was initiated by this key topic: Dealing with Post Startup Depression. I think we can all empathize, startup or not.

Transparent Toaster

Be transparent. There are great listeners who are accountable confidants. It is worth engaging in these conversations. Don’t try to be a hero by holding down the fort. Know when to speak up, it doesn’t have to be closed doors. You know who you trust, speak to those people. Accountability & mentorships go along way. I’ve had some of the best insights when I can get past this threshold and voice my concern for something. We often think we’re the only ones struggling with these internal ideas, but if you speak up, chances are someone else can relate and has some insight. The act of sharing and engaging in someway is the premise of most startup ideas…why not use that same mantra to tackle those problems on a personal level as well?

There needs to be outlets, let’s un-taboo this.


Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kimchi Ho (LinkedIn, @kymchiho). Kim is an architect by training and has been working to build community spaces in the physical and virtual worlds. Kim’s post, “The Startup Girlfriend” was featured in Forbes Startup Life series. This post was originally published onKim’s blog on November 16, 2011 and is republished with her permission. 

  1. “Be transparent!” now…there’s great advice, eh! Speaking as a new startup Mentor here in the Hamilton area, I can tell you that when I see someone who is obviously NOT transparent….it does make me start to wonder about not only their startup conceptually, but about them as individuals….it’s a great “qualifier” in my book!

  2. Some of the joy I’ve experienced in my years of startup-ing:
    -firing and/or laying off really close personal friends
    -customers phoning and threatening me physically
    -key partners, vendors, etc threatening to shutdown the business
    -nobody to blame but yourself when big ass business impacting mistakes are made

    Eventually once you’ve experienced enough of the “oh my god” bad situations (You will), you develop super thick skin and seperate yourself mentally from the business.

    There’s a good expression about marathon running – “marathons don’t cause heart problems, but they are a very good tool to find out if you have a pre-existing heart problem.”  I think startups are similar with mental problems.

  3. Well said. You can be obsessed and totally dedicated to your start-up without letting stress take a toll on you. There’s a simple root cause for stress, and it’s lack of sleep. And the root cause of lack of sleep is worrying unecessarily. My advice is:

    Worrying instead of sleeping won’t solve your problems. It’s the opposite. You’ll need a good night’s sleep so you can wake-up fresh and solve that problem the next day. 

    No matter what, always get enough sleep, and eat a balanced diet of wholesome foods (no junk foods or processed foods), and that will help you cope with anything with a clear mind and a healthy body. 

  4. Jim, I appreciate your honesty, why is transparency such an easy concept to conceive, but a difficult call to action? There is definitely a correlation between transparency and start up life and/or everyday affairs. Looking forward go your book, please keep me in mind. 

  5. I read your comment & I kid you not, I made sure to get a good nights sleep that very night! We all need to listen to our own advice, over and over again :) Thanks for reinforcing the message of the post.

  6. What a great expression, it stuck with me. Learning to separate yourself mentally from whatever it is you really care about, in this case your business seems to be a life long skill. These reminders are necessary for progression to happen. Thanks for sharing your good back and ugly moments. 

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