Regular ups and down have become normal for me as I’ve worked with new ventures. We close a large order (this is fun!), we lose a large customer (we’re doomed!), we close a round of financing (we’re invincible!), financing gets delayed (how are we going to make payroll?!), a customer provides a glowing review (everybody loves us!), a customer publicly criticizes us (everybody hates us!).
The past couple of months have been particularly volatile, which has led me to reflect on the strategies I use in an attempt smooth out those ups and downs.
1. Recognize human emotions. I try to remember that life is never as bad as I feel during down moments and never as good as I feel during high moments. Our emotions are coded for survival. The fight or flight response is meant to keep us alive in life or death moments. In our day we rarely face such moments, but our ingrained emotional response can make tough situations feel like life and death. This is a good thing if it motivates us to do all we can to get out of the situation, but we shouldn’t let fear become debilitating.
I don’t know why we tend to be overoptimistic in the good moments. Maybe a psychologist can explain that for us. Understanding the why isn’t as important as recognizing our emotions for what they are - just emotions. I try to acknowledge my emotions and then step back and view the situation for what it really is.
2. Accept the price of success. If building a successful company was easy, everyone would do it. Recognize that success has to be challenging or, by definition, it wouldn’t be success. The history of any successful company that I’m aware of includes many ups and downs and even near-death experiences.
Most of us know the basics of Apple’s history. Michael Dell famously said in 1997, when asked what he would do to fix the struggling company, that he would shut it down and give the money back to shareholders.
In its early years, Google executives bet the company on an ad deal with AOL. If the deal had gone wrong, the company could have gone down with it. Instead, the deal became the foundation of its core business: search advertising.
3. Appreciate the Load. I recently heard a story about a guy who took his new 4x4 truck into the mountains to gather firewood. Despite his confidence in the new truck, he got stuck in the snow near the firewood. When he realized he couldn’t get out, he thought he may as well cut and load the wood while figuring out what to do. With a full load of firewood in the back, he tried again to get out of the snow. Sure enough, he was now able to get out. The heavy load gave him the traction he needed. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/bear-up-their-burdens-with-ease?lang=eng)
We can appreciate the loads we carry because they give us traction in our lives and in our business.
4. Box up challenges. An entrepreneur I work with taught me a valuable lesson. When he has a challenge that he can’t deal with at the moment, he mentally puts it in a box, closes the box, puts it on a shelf, and forgets about it. Only when he’s ready to address the challenge does he intentionally take down the box and open it.
5. Know thyself. It is important to understand our unique emotional thresholds. Not all of us have Amazon founder Jeff Bezo’s nerves of steel. But not all of us can handle the monotony of a factory assembly line. Most of us are somewhere in between. We should take into account our emotional threshold and the other priorities we have in life as we decide where to take our companies and careers.
I’m still on a roller coaster, but these strategies help level it out. Business is not nearly as terrifying or as exhilarating as it used to be, which I think is a good thing.
Question: What strategies do you use to level out your roller coaster?