My wife’s grandfather recently passed away.
At 95 years old he lead an incredible life. One full of love, laughter, and success. And despite the 61 years that separate them, the two of them shared a special bond. As if father and daughter, their relationship was incredibly honest.
When she heard that the end was near she was given a choice. To confront it or to hide.
Confronting death is terrifying. I remember when my mom was dying, I hid more than I confronted. I worked more, pretending to myself as if my startup was more important than the reality of her battle.
My wife didn’t have this conflict. She packed our house and we moved in to her grandfather’s place. Even if he only had a few weeks left to live, being there was more important than not. Embracing his death, no matter how difficult it would be, was not a part of life she wanted to pass by.
Life and death is much more important than the gray we stress out about as entrepreneurs. The fears associated with growth, capital, customer acquisition, or even team building pale in comparison. But the approach to confront what terrifies us is the same, even in death.
There are a lot of times as an entrepreneur where we’re afraid. When your subconscious knows your plan is not working. Your growth is not fast enough, your money is dwindling, the product is not sticking, or the team is not believing. Although the data of your results is binary the depth behind that fear is not. It’s an emotion felt deep down that every entrepreneur understands.
The hardest part is to embrace this fear and confront it head on. To spend real time understanding what isn’t working. To have the confidence to talk about it in public. To be objective about your own business. It’s always easy to judge someone else’s startup problems, but incredibly difficult to be honest about your own.
Communicate regularly, objectively.
Learning ‘business speak’ takes practice, especially for product focused founders. Normally they gravitate to product speak with talk about the immediate tactics.
To combat this, I found it helps to read quarterly and annual letters from public CEO’s. It teaches you how to objectively talk about your own business, including how to measure success. Then communicate in this manner with your investors and employees every two weeks.
Sending a monthly business update is not the same thing. Often startup company updates are just a list of stuff they’re doing, heavily focused on the good. Instead analyze your own business every two weeks and send that analysis, no matter good or bad. Just like public company CEO’s are forced to do every quarter.
Forcing yourself to provide consistent analysis will enable you to be much more objective about your actual results. The Seahawks call this ‘tell the truth Mondays,’ and they follow this process ever week whether they win or lose.
Tackle the biggest problems first.
Dealing with shit all day sucks. Especially when working on problems you are worried about, which often come from money or the expectations associated with raising it. Even in your daily routine, eating your vegetables first is hard. It’s easy to gravitate to the areas of the business that you like, leaving yourself exposed.
This is easier said than done. Often problems are linked and so if you drop one plate the other spinning plate will fall. Regardless, prioritize the most important items first even if what you love gets put on the shelf for the time being.
Let the fear consume you.
Pushing away fear, especially the fear of failure only makes the stress worse. And just because you push it away doesn’t mean it actually goes away. Sure you can make yourself busy in order to forget why your subconscious aches, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Instead try embracing that emotion. Whether through meditation or a different means, just let that fear consume you. Let it spread from your soul, to your heart, and to every part of your body. Feel its energy until the point you realize it’s just energy. At which point, use that energy to give you clarity of direction.
Watching my wife process what she just lost is incredibly hard. On the surface life without her grandfather is already surreal. But deep down there is a peace. Because every chance presented to her she embraced his life and ultimately his death.
I’m humbled to call her my wife. She has taught me more about life than I ever could have imagined.
Image Credit: Lili Vieira de Carvalho via Creative Commons