“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
All of us have seen a version of the above picture of a Startup Founder’s journey. The emotional toll building a company takes on the founder is gut wrenching. I believe there is a survivorship bias i.e we only hear the stories of those founders who survived the journey. We don’t hear the story of those founders who tried and failed. I am quoting from one of my favorite books – Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
I am an ingrate toward the man whose overconfidence caused him to open a restaurant and fail, enjoying my nice meal while he is probably eating canned tuna.
In order to progress, modern society should be treating ruined entrepreneurs in the same way we honor dead soldiers, perhaps not with as much honor, but using exactly the same logic (the entrepreneur is still alive, though perhaps morally broken and socially stigmatized, particularly if he lives in Japan). For there is no such thing as a failed soldier, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner) – likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher, any more than there is a successful babbler, philosophaster, commentator, consultant, lobbyist, or business school professor who does not take personal risks. (Sorry.)
Entrepreneurs and Startup Founders take personal risk for the betterment of the society, community or their customers. We need to cherish this attribute called overconfidence in our founders. I think it is the path to progress and development. I have worked with more than a few founders to see the toll this journey takes on them, including yours truly. For I am a founder in my own right. I have been on this journey of investing in founders and building the Startup Community in Iceland for almost 7 years now and I have not stopped to take stock of the damage this has done to my body. I have written about my struggles with depression, diabetes and everything inbetween. I think I have found the cure, I think becoming a Mindful Founder is the only way to manage your own psychology. Our monkey brains have constant chatter that exasperates the startup founder’s journey. There is the reality and what narrative your mind adds to the reality. I believe I have found the antidote for the emotional ride of a Founder for me. It is meditation, I can only speak from my own personal experience. The act of meditating and being on the path of self-awareness, self-inquiry and self-discovery has been tremendously useful. I am not saying that I have solved it but I am on a path where I can see progress, incremental positive progress. I am becoming self aware. I will encourage all founders to take up meditation and becoming mindful.
Being a founder is a paradox, you need to be hard and soft, you need to know what to do and be open to ideas, you need to be confident and humble. You need to be obsessive and give up control. You need to inspire and instruct. You need to experiment and execute. This is hard, there is no doubt about it. I believe the only way we founders can mold ourselves to become this is to work on our own minds. Most of the challenges that we face are manifestations of our mind into emotions that trigger our responses. Becoming mindful changes that rather than becoming reactive, my experience has been that I pause now when I am hit with a challenge. I am training my mind to ask, umm what I am feeling because of this stimulus. Just starting to notice the thoughts, feeling the emotions and sensing how my body feels has been educational.
The act of being mindful is different for everyone, the experience is different, the journey is different and the results are different. However, what is constant in this exercise is that it leads to positive change. The simplest analogy to the practice of meditation or becoming mindful is like training your mind to run a marathon like training your body to run a marathon. It takes constant practise and it takes a long time to form the habit and see result. The word “Mindful” is rather misleading, when you start on this journey of becoming Mindful, your mind actually starts becoming less fuller, i.e the thought engine slows down, everything slows down and you start having less chatter. The physical benefits are also quite meaningful. I have noticed that my resting heart rate as measured by my Fitbit HR is becoming lower everyday. I can feel sensations, tensions and functioning of my body like I have never felt before. My focus has improved, my mood and attitude is improving everyday.
It has been almost a year since my doctor called me to let me know that my diabetes has come back. I have taken a whole person approach to solving my health problem, i.e Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit. It has been transformational but it has also been a very difficult transition. I hope that documenting my journey helps another founder find their zone. The more and more I dig deeper into this rabbit hole of self discovery, it is becoming a fascinating experience. I would highly encourage everyone to take up the practise of mediation and mindfulness. I am encouraging my daughter to meditate, I am encouraging my wife to meditate. I think it is a wonderful experience once you pass the initial struggle and motivation.
Here are some of the resources that has helped me in this journey
- Ramana Maharshi and the part of self-knowledge by Arthur Osborne
- Tim Ferriss Podcast – The magic of mindfulness, complain less, appreciate more and live a better life
- Sam Harris – Waking up: A Guide to spirituality without religion
- The Mindful athlete: Secret to pure performance
- The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
- Wim Hof Method
- 10% Happier Podcast by Dan Harris
- Get some headspace: How mindfulness can change your life in ten minutes a day