How to deal with loss and startup stress

Last year I went through some pretty tough / stressful times… within a two month period my mother passed away from cancer,  my grandma died from a stroke, my wife gave birth to our daughter Emma and had to have two surgeries due to complications related to giving birth.

All this happened while I was running a fast growing startup.

I managed to go through this, and still fulfill my duties at work and without losing my mind.

A lot of people ask me the same question:

How the hell were you able to manage all of this??

I have dealt with loss a few times before.  When I was 13,  my dad passed away and I did not cry.  I thought something must be fundamentally wrong with me.  My thoughts were that I must have buried this somewhere  deep inside of me, and that it will come out at some point.

Almost twenty years later I came to the conclusion that I just accepted it.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, she and the doctors (my mother was also a doctor) came to the conclusion that there is nothing anyone can do.   It was concluded that my mother was  going to pass away in the near future and she was able to ACCEPT the situation.

Even though she was terminally ill, she was still generously happy and enjoyed most of the time she had left.

Watching this made it very clear to me how powerful acceptance is and it reminded me of how I dealt with my father’s death.  I told myself “this is what it is…” It was not my fault and there is nothing I can do.

I accepted this situation back then and this realization helped me better deal with the storm that was ahead of me.

Acceptance in business.

As a leader you need it! You have to deal with problems big and small all the time.  You have to be able to keep a clear head, and be able to steer the ship through any weather.  When you are not able to accept the situation, you are not able to make the right calculated “chess move” because your emotions are in the way.

Once you can accept a situation you can ACT.  Things will become a lot easier. Otherwise, you just REACT.

Accepting does not mean you are not doing something about the situation. It does not mean that you will not fight in case there is something you can do to influence the outcome.  But in the case that there is nothing you can do, there is nothing you can do.

The Serenity Prayer  sums it up very well:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Disclaimer

Make sure to not lose your drive due to acceptance.  Plan and execute the things necessary to get through this crisis and come out stronger.  By accepting the situation you take away the panic and the fear.  Keep in mind that these are very powerful emotions.  Some people need them to move and get off their butt, but  I, personally, think that acting out of fear is the wrong approach and that it will lead to a suboptimal result.  I plan already working on a blog post about this topic.  Stay tuned.

Gratitude – A powerful helper

Almost every problem that you run into in business carries  an opportunity to turn the problems into something positive.  It is very different when you lose someone, since there is nothing you can do to turn it around.  But focusing on being grateful for the positive memories and good times you had with them vs. focusing on the negative aspects i.e. I cannot spend time with her anymore, will help you tremendously in terms of getting over the loss.  Diving into sadness would not have served me, my family or my business.

I have been using an easy trick that is really helpful to stay grateful and be in an “all is well” state of mind.

Find a stone that fits into your pocket and use it as follows:

In the morning: Pick up the stone with your phone & wallet and go through the things that you are grateful for.  Your healthy body,  your loved ones, your business, your friends etc etc.  This is very quick and efficient and a lot less work than writing a gratitude journal.  This quick exercise will help you get into an “all is well” state in your mind.  This mentality is what you need to have a clear head and to be able to perform in your business even during tough times.

During the day: You might lose this “all is well” state of mind due to a work problem.  We often get consumed by problems that are not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.  But while we are in them, they feel like they are the end of the world.  When we look back at these issues a few months later they feel like a piece of cake.  Feeling your  stone in your pocket can get you back into your “all is well” state of mind and will help you to make the problems appear like a piece of cake while you are in them.  (Do not get me wrong.. losing somebody in your life is of course NOT a piece of cake! I am talking about problems in business and in life.  But this gratitude exercise might make it less hard for you)

At night: Take the stone out of your pocket and go through the things that went great that day.  Often you get a lot of things done all day, and then at 4pm you run into a problem.  Then in the evening this leads you to think that the whole day sucked.  This exercise will help you to build up your emotional strength and stamina that you need to build your startup and to go through life happy and stress free.

I hope this is useful and helps you to have an easier time dealing with the challenges that life presents you.

I'm a driven, fast-moving entrepreneur and personal development geek. I’ve bootstrapped a variety of business. Technology startups, e-commerce, even brick and mortar— Today I run a content delivery network called MaxCDN. I write about things I have learned along the way, that matter to high-achievers, passionate entrepreneurs, and business leaders.

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