Lessons learned as an entrepreneur

The other day I was reflecting on my transition to entrepreneurship from my previous career as an investment banker, and how my life changed in the process.

Risk, financial (in)security and the sense of responsibility are significant shifts when you leave a corporate career to start and build your own business.

But the most different aspect between now and then is how good days and bad days feel as an entrepreneur. They hit you, both ways.

My business partner and I have a theory about this. Good days tend to come in batches and when something good happens early in the day, the rest of that day tends to bring more and more of that good news. On the opposite, a day that starts poorly will likely evolve into a terrible one, awakening all possible sources of trouble. The law of attraction in motion? Maybe.

The consequence is that if you are willing to become an entrepreneur you need to work on your resilience. Your grit. Your ability to follow through, to fall seven times and rise eight.

If for whatever reason my firm stopped trading today, I would pick the resilience I have developed over the past 4 years as my most important takeaway of this journey.

To be resilient, you need to be able to go through bad days, turn them around in your head and put them into the right box in your brain, out of sight, where they belong. You need to survive the downs to be able to achieve the highs.

For the past 4 years I have been experimenting with practices — some of them based on Positive Psychology interventions, more on this below— to find some peace and to be able to cope with those days in which problems seem to multiply and stuff seems not to make sense anymore.

1. Write about it.

Let words flow. Put it on paper and out of your brain. Give frustration a way out.

On those days, my subconscious makes me reach for the laptop and punch the keyboard to level off the pressure. It works for me. And apparently, it works for others too.

Psychologists recognise writing as an effective way to combat depression. It allows you to contain the real issues and to take control over them. It also allows you to shift your viewpoint. For me, it is a way to figure out how I may have contributed to the problem. It brings objectivity and takes away the emotional bias.

Writing helps me to be creative or put myself in problem-solving mode (a topic for another article, maybe), allowing thoughts to connect with each other and putting my brain into a state of flow. But I also write to find peace, to cool off. To download the frustration, put it in a box and kick it. I gain balance through the writing process.

2. Embrace a bit of chaos. It won’t hurt.

You didn’t plan to have a bad day. Nobody does. But it will happen, because once in a while things won’t go according to schedule.

Sometimes problems arise because we plan too tightly. We don’t allow for any flexibility. I am a huge fan of Pareto’s 80/20 approach. Plan a perfect 80% but stay flexible and alert to the new turn of events. Because sh*t will happen, always. Regardless. So be ready and prepared, knowing that some things you cannot control and you will have to react to.

Life is not a straight line. At best, we aim to keep bouncing against the kerbs at each side of the path, hoping that we will keep some sense of direction over time. Your principles, your overarching goals and values, are what those kerbs are made of. The stronger the principles sustaining your aspirations, the better those kerbs will help you maintain your direction.

Order is certainty. Chaos is possibility. Where there is no possibility, there is no growth. No chance of change or evolution. Drop the need to control every outcome. Learn from today. Feel the opportunity to be better tomorrow.

Bounce off that kerb, trust your goals and your sense of direction. The storm will pass.

3. Acceptance of our feelings helps us move beyond our frustration.

Am I good at this, after all? How much more pain can I take? Am I making real progress? Why is [“your choice here”] not working? What the hell am I doing here?

An entrepreneurship’s classic.

Well, things happen for a reason.

You are exactly where you should be in life. Period. You are in your own race. You cannot compare yourself to anyone. Nobody has put you there. You did, your chosen path led you here. You cannot pretend to be anyone else. This moment in your life is teaching you something. Accept it, don’t resist it.

4. You are not defined by your bad days. Focus on the materiality of things.

Time to crack a laugh, make fun of yourself.

You are the same person that had a great day yesterday or the day before. The same person that did that amazing something a couple of days back.

Just know that our brains are useless with good memories. We like the bad ones better. We tend to overplay them, to ruminate on them more than we savour good experiences. We are a bunch of chemicals in action. Knowing this will allow you to gain some distance.

“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” — John Maxwell

Is the world going to end? Is that day putting you out of business? Most likely not. Sun will rise tomorrow. So balance your feelings out and project yourself one year forward. Is there a chance you will laugh about today then? Will you even remember about this day?

5. Refocus your attention: think of the day’s positives instead.

Conquer the bad day with the 3 Blessings practice.

For some time now I have been experimenting with this, borrowing straight from Martin Seligman’s book. Prof. Seligman is the father of Positive Psychology and the Director of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Months ago I started his Coursera course “Foundations of Positive Psychology Specialization”, which is a greatly summarised version of Penn’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP). It shows you how happiness and well-being are things we can actively work on. I can’t recommend it enough.

In the course, I learnt about the 3 Blessings practice. A simple but effective way to recap any day, and particularly a bad one: right before going to bed write down 3 good things that happened to you today. Instead of turning off the light at the end of a lousy day drowning in your toxic juices, you will give yourself a chance to shift your attention to the good things that also happened on that day. Because any day will have something useful to remember, at least in relative terms. No exception.

And after all, is also likely that there will be something good in disguise coming out of all this? A recent bad day prompted me to write this piece. Something good came out of it.

By adopting this practice, you will be going to bed with a fresh recollection of positives, which will be picked up and worked upon by your subconscious mind once you fall asleep. Your brain will go into mood repair mode, and you will wake up with a very different feeling about the day prior. It works. I would encourage you to give it a try and see for yourself.

Conclusion: you need to live another day, physically and psychologically, to succeed.

You won’t make it if you don’t know how to overcome those bad days in which you doubt yourself and everything around you. That is the time to reset and count your blessings. To remind yourself of your aspirations. To go back to your safe zone. To pick your grit from the floor. To commit to being better tomorrow.

And then, nothing like a good night sleep to brush it off.