The 4 Keys to Maintaining Sanity as an Entrepreneur

by Joe Belsterling
Paramount PIctures

Three months ago, I thought everything was over.

I just blew a deal for 100,000-plus students, on which I had everything riding. I just passed up a job with one of the hottest companies in EdTech because this deal was going to help MajorClarity take off.

In an instant, it all came crashing down. I couldn't even get out of bed.

Now, a few months later, things are finally getting back on track. Admittedly, I haven't secured partnerships of the necessary scale yet, but we're growing slowly and steadily.

We just won a challenge to pilot with the NYC Department of Education (out of some of the top startups in our space), and have a few potential game-changers on the table.

These three months serve as a perfect illustration for the emotional trials of entrepreneurship.

The volatility and ups and downs take a serious toll on entrepreneurs, to the point where one author found, "The unexpected and terrifying emotional roller coaster an entrepreneur experiences is the greatest factor in why most [entrepreneurs] quit and ultimately fail."

Although there are many ways to cope with and combat the emotional duress of entrepreneurship, I have found four keys to keeping my sanity as an entrepreneur:

1. Don't get caught up with losses...OR wins.

Everyone says to rebound after the losses, but you don't nearly as often hear to stay grounded after wins. Don't let your head get stuck in the clouds; it makes the crash down all the worse.

It is fairly common advice to not get too bogged down by your losses, and when you hit a rough patch, it's something you're telling yourself over and over. However, it is also applicable to our wins.

If something goes well, congratulations! Celebrate with your team. Enjoy the win.  If a huge partnership or client falls through, or something else catastrophic, let yourself grieve a little.

Intentionally set aside a few hours, or even a day, to feel in the dumps or celebrate, depending on what happened, but then move on to the next thing.

If you want to maintain sanity as an entrepreneur, you need to tailor your emotional responses to what happens with your company. One great way to do that is to give yourself set, short time blocks to fully experience the respective emotion/moment, then force yourself to move on.

2. Know, and use, the "Sunk Cost Theory."

If you don't know what this is, read its definition, and then read about how it's making you make stupid choices.

What's done is done. What's in the past is in the past. That is why, win or lose, it is important not to dwell on what has happened, but rather, what lies ahead.

One of the biggest errors in judgment people make every day is incorporating sunk costs into their decision-making. I see it all the time.

Although it affects nearly everyone, it has the potential to be especially detrimental for startups. If that feature you loved and poured so much time into needs to be abandoned, do it.

It does not matter how much time or money you've already put into it, those are sunk costs. All that matters is whether or not it is worth it to devote time or resources to it going forward.

Please, for your sake and mine, remember in use "Sunk Cost Theory" in your decision-making.

3. Don't ask, or think, "What if?"

There is no would have, could have or should have. There is no "what if," there only is what is.

I'm not trying to be overly philosophical here. In fact, I'm trying to be the opposite. It is so easy to get caught up in how if you had only known this or done this differently, you could have landed that huge client and everything would be different.

The problem is, you didn't know that back then, and you didn't do anything differently, so it is no use spending your time daydreaming about what could have been.

Don't use this as an excuse to not critique yourself. You should constantly be critiquing and reviewing so you know what to do differently for next time, or how to keep improving.

However, nothing comes from wondering how much better off you would have or could have been if only "this or that."

4. Diversify.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket, and never abandon slow, organic growth.

Huge partnerships or clients are great, don't get me wrong. Often, especially with first time or green founders, it is too easy to get distracted by these shiny objects.

When someone sells you on how this partnership or deal could change everything for you, it is easy to abandon all the small, grueling work for this home run.

But, things will always take longer than you think, or are told. Deals could easily fall through, and it is not worth abandoning everything else for, until and unless it is closed.

What I always tell myself is, "Prudence in the face of grandeur."

Plus, you learn a lot more from slow, organic growth, which is more sustainable and exponential. Having one huge deal does not necessarily prove you can keep growing or improving.

Basically, don't get caught up in the past or on any one thing. Whether it was a WFIO mistake, a complete home run, a potential game-changing deal or something else entirely, startups are so much more than one moment.

Don't get caught up on the past, and don't get caught up on one moment, win or loss.

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