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Welcome to my chronicles as a black female founder.

Female Founder Mental Health: Laugh So You Don't Cry

Female Founder Mental Health: Laugh So You Don't Cry

Like many things in life, being a startup founder is hard. And the experience can be really hard on your mental health as well. You leave the security and comfort of a consistent income, your career trajectory and your 401k contributions (at least in my case anyway) to step out in the world of the unknown. Like seriously, consistent what? 401k contributions how? lol. Actually, let me capitalize that - LOL.

And then there’s the burden of the entire world (aka your startup) on your shoulders. Combine that with the hideous metrics about startup failures (I’ll clue you in - you have a 50/50 chance of being around after 5 years and that’s the polite stat). Then add in your friends and family. Many of whom will think you are going through a phase or better yet, out of your mind. It’s hard.

The mental anguish of being a startup founder

Starting out on the journey to build a business is exciting. But it’s exciting and nerve wrecking all at the same time - especially in the early days.

  • Exciting because this is your chance to go out and build something amazingly incredible and impactful.

  • Nerve wrecking because, well, what if this is just a giant, massive, horrible mistake?

  • Exciting because stepping out into the unknown is like a burst of fresh in your life…or like standing outside naked in the freezing cold…(It depends on how you look at it).

  • Nerve wrecking because who are you and why do you think you can do this?

  • Exciting because you get to be your boss and set your own schedule.

  • Nerve wrecking because you need to make money, and make it fast. Like now.

  • Exciting because you could be just like the featured founders in the glossy magazines and in big media throwing around fancy business lingo like product market fit, lifetime value, cost of acquisition, retention, conversion rate…

  • Nerve wrecking because does anyone really give a &^$% about what you are building?

See what I mean? Ah, the mental anguish. This image, which you’ve probably already seen floating around in one variation or the other, says it all:

My favorite part of this image? The straight line decline when reality sets in. Been there. Done that. That ish was real.

When reality sets in on your startup journey

As reality sets in, you’ll very likely experience several realizations. For instance:

  • Perhaps you’ll agree with your friends and family that you are, indeed, out of your mind.

  • You’ll have mostly certainly realized by this point that “overnight success“ is a lie.

  • You will consider getting a “real job” every other day, going back to beg for your old one or perhaps, you might have already gone on one late night and applied to 600 jobs because you are sooo over it. (Speaking on behalf of a friend).

  • You’ll know for sure that you have a ton of work ahead of you.

  • And there’s the really high chance that you’ll cry. A lot. (Speaking for another friend).

That being said, if I’ve learnt anything about being a startup founder, it’s that you have to control your emotions or your emotions will control you.

Crying at work (and at home…Let’s just be real)

Yes, it’s perfectly fine to cry, take that deep sigh and let it all out. Hey, I’m all for it because sometimes, you just need to.

Sometimes you’ll get feedback you hate. Your customers will hate your product. Investors will tell you your business sucks. Friends will think you are still going through your phase. You’ll be too broke to buy that thing you really wanted, when if you had a “real job“, it wouldn’t even be a question. So yes, sometimes, crying is necessary.

But…crying gives you red puffy eyes, which makes in person meetings and video conferences with your team, mentors, advisors or investors really hard to do. Crying also causes headaches, sometimes even migraines, can cause you to want to crawl back into bed forever (and ever), makes you feel sad and depressed and in very many instances, wastes so much of your time.

Laughter cures all (Well, kinda)

So here’s what I decided as reality set in and I’ve shifted into experimenting and pivoting (see image above): Instead of crying, I’m going to laugh. If I find myself crying, I will laugh anyway and laugh myself out of the cry.

This decision, has helped me develop an incredible sense of humor and has helped me grow some really thick skin.

Laughing instead of crying means I can attend my meetings and video conferences like a boss. It means I can take the feedback (bring it on) and be in the right state of mind to consider it and respond. It also means, I can get back to work building the amazing business I intend to build instead of nursing a hideous headache. This approach is not fool-proof but it works for me most times.

The truth is, no amount of preparation can get you totally ready for the rollercoaster that is the startup founder’s journey. Trust me, I know. so find something to make you laugh, or you’ll find yourself crying...and well, you know how that goes.

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