Being A Founder Is Hard: Here Are 5 Tips For Dealing With The Stress

Written by Tom Fairey

9 March, 2022

Business Psychologist Kristina Barger Has A Message For Entrepreneurs: You Have To Be Transparent

Most founders start with a grand ambition for disrupting an industry, creating a great product, or changing society. 

But quite often, those ambitions run up against everyday, real-world challenges: Your spouse wonders when you will start putting food on the table, your children ask why you are at work all the time, your friends ask you if your product will “really work,” your team says they are unsure if they can get permits for the project, and so on.

All of these problems have to have an answer. If you are here to find easy solutions, then stop and look somewhere else.

“There isn’t really an easy answer,” business psychologist Kristina Barger told me on a recent episode of my podcast, Back Yourself. “You’ve taken on something that is very difficult, so to some extent that you have to accept that this is very difficult, there are many unknowns, and there are unknown unknowns.”

Barger is currently science director at Performa Labs. She harnesses the latest research, strategy, and innovation to build high-performing software that supports mental health, positive behavioural change, and peak performance.

She has a long list of accomplishments at the intersection of psychology and business. For example, she wrote the first-ever report on U.K. Entrepreneur Mental Health, served as a clinical psychotherapist in New York City, was a digital change management consultant for the New York City Department of Education, was a business and communications strategy consultant for Dov-E in Israel and South Korea, and has been an advisor and coach at a number of firms. And she’s a founder, too — in 2018, she launched Cogenta, which delivers cognitive behavioural technologies, digital product testing, information and choice architecture, and service and program testing.

The Bottom Line For Entrepreneurs Dealing With Stress Is Being Honest About What You Can And Can’t Control

So yeah, it’s safe to say that Kristina Barger knows a thing or two about dealing with pressure in the entrepreneurship space. Luckily for us, she has a set of recommendations for founders who are having trouble dealing with stress:

  1. Accept where you are
  2. Accept what you can’t deal with
  3. Be transparent
  4. Set limits
  5. Make conscious decisions

Those five recommendations all center around a common theme: be open and honest with yourself, your family, your co-workers, and your investors. Yes, there are certain things within your control, but there are many more things that are not, and still more that hinge on other events.

Setting limits, Barger said, can help create finite, definable boundaries which take some of the uncertainty out of the entrepreneur process and signal to yourself and others that yes, there are limits to the amount of time, money, and resources that will be invested in reaching a goal.

You don’t have to have the answer to everything. It is the secrets that will hurt you.

Setting Boundaries In Business Allows You To Clearly Communicate Expectations And Goals

“The reason people have barriers,” Barger explained, “is often because they need them.”

Along with setting those barriers is the need to communicate clearly, and this can be tricky for entrepreneurs, too, Barger said. Miscommunication is the one thing that can damage startups the most.

Miscommunication in a startup can come about in many ways. There may be outright secrets. A founder may think they have the answer to a problem when they actually don’t. Or the message may simply not be heard because everyone is tired, everyone is working at a furious pace, and things are changing so quickly.

“The disconnect between reality and whatever your vision is what causes probably the most problems I ever see in a startup because people get very angry and they lose trust,” she said. And that makes everything exponentially harder because when you don’t trust people, problems become much bigger than they actually are.

While this can be a critical problem, it’s easily avoided. Remember: What is obvious to you may not be obvious to the normal person.

The Takeaway

Founders face extraordinary stress, competing goals, and demanding friends, family, employees, and investors. This can disrupt businesses and lead to permanent rifts between people that can’t easily be healed.

As Barger says, there’s a relatively simple solution that entrepreneurs can employ to at least begin to solve this problem: communicate clearly and honestly. Being honest and upfront about your abilities, the things you can and can’t control, and your goals and expectations will create a chain reaction that can help to settle rough patches and smooth relations. Then, you should follow through by setting limits that communicate clearly your intention: limits on the amount of time you will invest, limits on the amount of money you will lose, and limits on the amount of resources you will dedicate to a problem, product, or service. That, says Barger, is a key step to regaining control of your startup.

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