This post is to give you the keys to sanity, good health, and a positive outlook while on the mentally eroding journey in the world of "startupdom."
As you can imagine, this is not a public service announcement from the American Dental Association.
Rather, this is a call out to every entrepreneur in the universe who has ever sacrificed something healthy in their life on their road to creating the next big something.
Some of us have swapped out a healthy diet and working out in exchange for dollar pizza slices and “taking the stairs,” while others have sworn abstinence from any form of fun or vacation. Still, others have relinquished delight of any kind, whether it’s a weekend with family, or god forbid, a couple of cold ones with friends.
I Am Writing This To Say, "Don’t."
Nike says, "Do It." I say, "Don't Do It."
Don’t sacrifice your needed and much deserved breaks and you will actually be more productive. As entrepreneurs, it seems we all have this weird inherent guilt built into our DNA which causes some strange form of regret while enjoying life away from the office; regardless whether we have been on the grind for months or years.
We have all had those days where we get a little selfish and take a few hours away from the business only to find that our brain is swollen with "to-dos" and a fear of falling behind. As an entrepreneur who has surfed couches, crashed in offices and lives in a gym, I know the feeling; however, after over two years working full-time without pay, I have come to the realization that there is no need to martyr ourselves in order to be successful.
There Is Another Way To Run The Business.
I believe a healthy founder leads to a thriving business. Seeing as I am definitely not Tony Robbins, I can’t propose ideas in abstracts; however, I can speak from personal experiences about how certain alterations in my lifestyle and daily routine have created massively positive effects in my efficiency.
I know there are thousands of ways to arrive at the same positive outcome; these are just some ideas if you are struggling to keep the fire burning. Remembering that this is a marathon and not a sprint may help you.
During the first 12 months of creating our healthy energy shot, TruEnergy, I went from a bull in a china shop to hitting daily mental walls. Finally realizing that our progress was getting stifled because my brain was no longer working optimally, I began taking some steps to ensure that I had 100% focus each and every day. These changes helped armor me for the long haul and I can honestly say that I have never had a bad day that I couldn’t overcome when I completed all of these tasks.
Early Bird Gets The Worm
Having spent much of my life as a night owl, I always believed that it didn’t matter what time you worked as long as you got it done. Often, I would work until one or two a.m. Naturally, this led to sleeping in the next day and an out of whack sleep cycle.
By not having consistency, I always felt sluggish even when I got extra hours of sleep. After reading an article about how Michael Jordan enjoyed getting up early as he knew most of his competitors wouldn’t, I began adopting his philosophy. Something amazing happened. I actually started feeling better on less sleep. I wasn’t exerting myself to total exhaustion and I had created a consistent sleep cycle.
There was also something deep down inside me that felt really good about getting up when I knew other entrepreneurs wouldn’t start their days for another 5 hours! We are all finely tuned machines that need to have the proper maintenance -- and just as an athlete shouldn’t overtrain, entrepreneurs shouldn’t over work.
Look Good, Play Good
Okay, maybe the saying is not entirely in correct English -- but you get the idea.
Following a life dedicated to athletics and a short 2 year stint in pro hockey that left my mouth with one less tooth, I looked forward to taking some time out of the weight room to recharge my batteries and pursue a new passion.
At the time, I was living in NYC with little access to an affordable gym or at least that’s what I told myself. Honestly, I had no interest in lifting a weight or hitting the treadmill, as it was a whole lot less exciting trying to avoid a heart attack than to pursue a championship. Instead of feeling youthful and energized after a couple of months mimicking a sloth, I felt that I had deteriorated physically.
More surprisingly, my mental strength seemed to weaken as well. The little things that pestered me began renting space in my brain causing irrational levels of anxiety. A botched email or a rescheduled appointment would throw me off my game and the stress would compound.
As Warren Buffett can attest, compounding can add up before you know it. After reading a little bit about the connection between exercise and mental fortitude, I picked up a part-time gig at Equinox for some lunch money and gym access. Ten embarrassing minutes on the stairmaster and a couple bicep curls proved profitable as I enjoyed total clarity for the first time in months.
The mental fog casually blew away. Now, I start every day with a 5:30 a.m. workout. By far, this has led to greater productivity -- and more importantly -- happiness.
You Are What You Eat
For many of us, it seems that we have no choice but to jump on board the infamous bootstrapped diet. Not only are the keystone products loaded with artificial ingredients and enough salt to make the Atlantic Ocean jealous, they are bland and boring.
The cliche staples of a young entrepreneur or startup founder consist of foods like Ramen Noodles and Campbell’s Soup, to frozen foods and cheese pizza. From a personal experience, this kind of diet, which many seem to call their, "badge of courage" in the entrepreneurial industry, certainly ended up negatively impacting my focus, overall health, and work.
Pro Tip: at least open a bag of frozen veggies and eat them over your ramen!
However, these types of food boast little nutritional value and lack key vitamins and minerals (unlike our elixir of life, TruEnergy). I would be willing to bet big money, that I was deficient in numerous nutrients across the board, leading me to constantly have to fight off some sort of cold.
If you don’t fuel your body and mind properly, I can promise you that your life and work will suffer. Even if it means that you have to pick up some sort of odd job to afford to eat healthy food, I believe it is definitely worth some sort of extra push to eat well. Your body will thank you in the long run. It is a fact, you will certainly notice a positive difference.
Rest, Relaxation, and Recovery
We have all gone on some crazy benders and I am not talking about the spring-break-party-weekend at your local university. I am talking about those months of long bouts when you vow to stay in the office until the impossible task at hand is accomplished.
Friends, family, and free time take a back seat (remember the guilt thing?) while you start digging trenches to fight for weeks on end to prove your concept or to fix that random bug in your virtual environment. In these moments, we believe that our business will either live or die based on the time we put into the project.
Although I believe there is a time and place for these kinds of actions, especially when it comes to building team unity, your business shouldn’t be a 365 day commitment. You may be able to accomplish all that you are trying to do, but you won’t accomplish it well. It is the entrepreneurs who knowingly set aside time each week for themselves to decompress and take a step back away from the business that truly succeed.
By distancing yourself from work, at least once in a while, you connect with other thought processes and one begins to appreciate different perspectives. You will keep your personal fire and passion burning, and you won’t begin to disdain your startup for the things you have missed in your life away from the business. We are all human after all and there is certainly more meaning to life than just business.
Creatures Of Habit
Although I was being facetious when brainstorming for a title for this piece, I believe routine can be the difference between a business living or dying.
During the first few months of TruEnergy, I jumped around from one problem to another with no structure. I couldn’t help but feel lost and I had no idea where the business was headed. Although we as humans can thrive in short term chaos, it does not bode well for your business (or your sanity) if you cannot control that tumult in your life.
Great things can occur when we are given deadlines and forced to make magnificent things happen on a shoestring budget with little time to react.
However, it does not mean that we have to force ourselves to live in havoc 24/7. If we are constantly in a state of reaction then we are no longer in control of the future of the business. By setting a flexible schedule, we now have the power to control outcomes across numerous platforms, while instituting new projects for the future growth of the business.
Chaos can lead positive outcomes but it can also mean terrible failures. Controlled chaos leads to consistent success. As leaders, we must begin to set aside time for all aspects of the business so that we don’t leave vital rocks unturned or leave strong employees feeling undesired. Although certain things on the agenda are more important than others, each aspect deserves attention in order for the fine tuned machine of a startup to flourish.
Life Of An Entrepreneur Is Simple But Certainly Not Easy.
I have felt on top of the world and I have also felt the deep dive dumpster of the darkest abyss.
I know the cost of not using a responsible self-care lifestyle and what a toll it can take on a person. It is a roller coaster ride of emotions; however, once you learn to stay even keel and stay open minded -- opportunities that you never knew existed begin to present themselves (like this one).
There will be days when everything seems to come together but then there will be the days when the world comes crashing down with employees quitting and funding dwindling. It is the entrepreneurs that have a sturdy foundation to fall back on it, that always seem to stand back up after getting knocked down.
My foundation is simple; wake up early, exercise, eat healthily, take time off, and have a routine. If I do all of these things from the second I wake up and brush my teeth to the second my head hits the pillow, I know that the rest that will follow will be good, or at least manageable.
Friday Night Lights said it best; clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.