Weathering the Inevitable Startup Storms

The following is adapted from Lost in Startuplandia.

While the startup world seems fueled by self-confidence to outsiders, for those who’ve journeyed inside, this land can create doubt within even the steeliest of souls.

Why did I ever think I was capable of doing this? What was I thinking?!

These are the types of questions most startup founders have asked themselves at some point. If we let it, our self-doubt will overwhelm us and cause us to give up. 

During these inevitable storms of self-doubt, how do we keep ourselves going? The short answer is resilience.

In material science, resilience can be measured by an object’s ability to absorb energy when impacted by a force and then release that energy without suffering permanent distortion. The threshold at which the maximum energy can be absorbed without causing a permanent distortion is called proof resilience.

In the startup world, resilience is a requirement. We have to be able to weather the storms and keep going. We have to have grit and determination. But to stay in the game and thrive, we need to increase our proof resilience. We want to be able to endure the worst and still come out intact—or even better for the experience.

Where Resilience Starts

The cornerstone of resilience is self-belief. As Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Our beliefs about ourselves dictate what we are capable of learning. It all starts with how we perceive our abilities and ourselves.

In her groundbreaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explores how our thinking shapes who we are. Her extensive research demonstrates that our most basic beliefs about ourselves, whether conscious or unconscious, “affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it.” Don’t miss that.

Our mindset can both enable and prevent us from reaching our fullest potential.

Dweck argues that there are two mindsets: fixed and growth. A fixed mindset caps our potential. Our fear of failure keeps us from stretching and trying new things, while our fear of social embarrassment holds us back from learning like beginners. Eventually, any area of expertise we have becomes increasingly narrow as we fail to grow.

With a growth mindset, we see ourselves as works in progress, capable of learning and adapting. As such, we view every situation as an opportunity to grow.

We don’t try to hide our deficits, focusing instead on overcoming them. The willingness to struggle is a signpost of the growth mindset. When we’re able to thrive during our journey’s hardest stretches, it’s a sure sign we’re working with a growth mindset.

Talking the Talk 

One of the best ways to take on a growth mindset, build our self-belief, and become more resilient, is to change the way we speak to ourselves and others.

Years ago, I participated in a coaching call run by Nan Hoy Shaw called Club Soda. It was originally for people in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse. However, it expanded quickly to incorporate people who didn’t have any obvious addictions.

We all shared a single problem: we were all struggling with life.

Anytime one of us said something to the effect of “I am never going to figure this out,” Nan would gently urge us to restate that claim. “Up until now, I haven’t been able to figure it out.” This simple rephrasing reinforced a growth mindset.

We all have things that we say to ourselves when we hit a wall, such as:

  • I’ll never get this right.

  • Why do bad things always happen to me?

  • I am such an idiot.

  • I cannot believe I did it again!

Now turn it around. Make these statements growth-oriented:

  • Ha! It’s good to be a beginner.

  • Eventually, things will work out.

  • I’m figuring it out.

  • I love learning!

The key here is to find ways that support us and praise our effort, not a specific quality like intelligence. Saying “Boy, I’m smart” hurts more than helps. It reaffirms our belief that intelligence is finite and a zero-sum game. It also implies that we’re smarter than others, which is never true. All of us have strengths and deficits. The smartest amongst us are the ones who have the capability to learn and commit to being growth-minded.

Building & Sustaining Self-Belief

Building self-belief is not easy. There’s nothing our family, friends, or loved ones can say to make us value ourselves more. Worse yet, we live in a culture dead set on cutting us down. Advertising points out our insecurities—stop aging, lose weight, increase sex drive. Social media carries an underlying message of shame.

Everything we see makes us think: everyone is more successful than me!

To believe in ourselves is a radical proposition. We have to see the shame-mongers for what they are and believe in ourselves in spite of our culture of negativity.

It’s not easy, and it takes time. But the more we maintain a growth mindset, watch our negative self-talk, and slowly build our self-belief, the more resilient we’ll become.

For more advice on being more resilient, you can find Lost in Startuplandia on Amazon.