In this third episode relative to my startup failure (first one was the failure announcement, while the second one talked about the errors we made that led to our failure), I want to tell you how you, as a startup founder, can help yourself in recovering psychologically from your startup failure.
Seeing your startup failing is fucking hard, trust me. It’s like losing a person you love. When you start your startup adventure, you know that you have 90% chances of failing (these are the startups statistics), but you think that this won’t regard you, since your startup is based on a great idea and you’re super-determined to work to make it become a great success. When things become hard, you keep pushing and you continue think that they’ll get better in the end. You don’t realize it is failed until the moment of the final shut-down decision.
It’s a lot like other sad moments… I mean, your love story is going so-so, maybe you argue with your special one each day… but you really start to feel pain only the moment that he/she tells you that it’s over. Maybe you know that a person you love has to go working abroad, but you don’t really realize it until the moment he/she enters a train with a luggage in his/her hand. It’s like the brain doesn’t realize future possible things… somewhere I read that the brain only considers the present… well, in these cases it is really true. For the startup it is the same… even if things were already going bad and you knew that you may fail, you really start to feel pain when the adventure officially ends.
To me it has happened some weeks ago, when Gianni came to me and told that he had found a full time job, with a good salary and great working conditions. Company was already in troubles due to various issues we had, so this led to the decision of shutting down. The shutting down decision doesn’t come with some heroic discussions, just comes as the natural consequence of a lot of events.
Then hard times come… and you start feeling bad feelings, like:
- Sadness, because a great adventure is ended. I’m not talking about a standard sadness, but really about a deep sadness, a Lana Del Rey’s style one;
- Anger, towards all people that have been cause of the shut down;
- Emptiness, because from that day on, you have nothing to fight for. A startup constantly sucks your energy: it is the reason why you wake up in the morning. You wake up and you know that you have to make your startup perform a step further that day. When you have no startup anymore, you start feeling empty, you have no more goal to fight for… you don’t know what to do in your day;
- Shame, because you failed… because in the end you know that if the startup failed, it is because of your fault. Furthermore you have to contact all people and tell them the sad news and this is really hard… because you’ve to tell all them that you’ve failed;
- Regret, of all the bad choices you’ve made… you start thinking “ah, if 1 year ago I had done this, now…” and that is really painful. In my case, I know that due to my unexperience I made lots of errors, so I have lots of regrets;
- Envy, for all people having a successful startup. It’s like when you’ve just broke up a relationship and you see people kissing on the bus… you just want to kill ’em! 😀
So, how to recover from all of this? Honestly, I have no idea. Reasons are that I’m still inside this period… and I’m not even a psychologist (if you need one, I may advice you my friends Remigia or Vito). But I’m going to exit from the tunnel, so I can give you some advices on how I made my steps towards the exit. Hope this will help some other sad failed startuppers :).
Take your time
You’ll need time. I know, we’re in a society that thinks that we’re like robots. I know, you just want to recover pressing a button. I know, you don’t want to be sad… but it doesn’t work that way.
Some years ago I read a blog post talking about how to recover from a lost love: it surprised me because the first thing that it made clear was that time is necessary and also being sad is necessary. It said that to recover completely from a bad event, you have to go through all 5 stages of grief. It kept on saying that if you try to “block” this process ignoring the thing that made you sad, you will never go through it, you will never recover. You have to live that pain.
Again, I’m not a psychologist of any sort, so I don’t know if this in general is true or not… but I can say that on myself something like that works very well.
I accepted the fact that I would have been sad and I let myself be sad, because I had an important reason for being f*cking sad. I accepted the fact that I would have had hard times. I accepted the fact that in the end I would have been sad for some time, I would have been confused about my future, I would have been nervous. But I also said to myself that this would have been a time-limit offer: I gave myself one month.
This strategy is very similar to the one that I already told you in a previous article when I talked about how to recover from a bad day. I usually give me a time slot where I’m allowed to be sad, where I’m allowed to feel bad sensations… because I know that I’m not a robot and it’s perfectly normal that I’ve down-times in my life. I can’t be always happy. But I don’t want these moments to last forever: I hate being sad. So it is like I make an agreement with my brain: I say to him “ok, I understand that you need to be sad now… so do whatever you want, but at the condition that by that deadline you will be up and running again, ready to fight”. It isn’t a perfect method, but for me it works. 50% of times I do not exactly respect the deadline… sometimes because I recover even earlier… other times because other bad things happen and so the sadness increases… other times because I understimated the problem (like this time… I thought it was easier to recover from this). But having a deadline makes you think of your bad condition as a temporary one, so your brain already works as it has to recover in the end.
Of course this doesn’t mean that you are super-sad for all that time and then, like a switch, you are happy again. Nor it means that you stay in a bed all day and magically you recover. It means that while you accept the fact that you’re having hard times, you fight to be happy again at the end of the sadness interval. What I do mean with fighting? Well, means… the things I’m going to talk about in the next paragraphs :).
Accept the world as it is
Life isn’t fair. This is the takeaway of one of the articles that I’ve loved the most and that I’ve linked you here. Accept that the world isn’t fair and that even if you did your best, things have gone bad. We’re not in a movie where in the end everyone is happy.
Life is a big battle… and if you fight hard, in the end you may succeed. But this is not even guaranteed. Nothing is fair here… accept it.
Your family, your friends, your teammates… a lot of people is ready to listen to you and to give you support. Kind words help a lot… listening to people showing you the esteem they have for you is awesome. Some blog readers or people I collaborated with, showed me support and love for what I’ve done in these three years.
Feeling ourselves loved and respected helps really a lot. People telling you that you’re a smart person and surely you’ll have a bright future helps too. Close friends that listen to your sad story are fundamental and make you feel really loved. Don’t feel afraid to ask for support: you need it and you deserve it.
This warmth helps. It makes you feel that for someone you are really important and that you deserve to go on and be happy.
Then, if you need professional support, even contacting a psychologist may help.
Think about the past
The past is useful because it’s your teacher. “In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson” [cit. Tom Bodett]
It is important to examine the past and discover all the errors you’ve made: what mistakes you’ve made, why you made them, how to avoid them in the future. This is fundamental, to give you the awareness that you won’t make them anymore and that your future will be brighter. For example, I now know that I’ll not repeat the same startup errors and that I’m now a better entrepreneur.
Furthermore, you have to think to all things you’ve learned and to all the competences you get. After three years, for example, I know a lot about VR and AR, that are the trending technologies for the next years. I know how to guide a project. I (partially) know how to manage a startup. I’ve a good contact network. I know some investors. My name is inside some articles about VR and AR that you can find on the web. I’ve learnt better how to deal with problems. I know how to speak in public. I’ve a blog with some lovely readers :).
I’m not at the same starting point of 3 years ago: I’ve a lot more. That gives me strength. That opens me a lot of opportunities for the future. The awareness of this is very important to think positively about my future.
Think about the present
Yes, but what to do now? The idea of opening immediately a new startup is strong, but it’s like finding another big love the day after your special one has left you. It’s almost impossible. You should find a new valid team, a new valid idea, etc… etc….
I admit that I tried it and I failed… even if your objective is going into another startup adventure… unless a friend of yours has already set everything up, well… this needs time too (boring, eh?). So, again, what to do now, when you wait for all this time to pass by?
Finding little work projects helps. As I’ve said, when your startup fails you pass from being super-busy from having lots of free time, making you feel empty. You can fill this emptiness working on little projects, like:
- Consultancies, for companies of your network (have you developed a network, haven’t you?). For example, I’m talking with some people of my network about some projects that may start in the next times;
- Little side projects: in my case, I’ve in mind a little game to develop with Max;
- Books, blogs, etc… : maybe you can write that book you’ve never had the time to write. Maybe you can start a blog. In my case, I’m investing more time on this blog (and these long startup-related articles are a proof of it).
These activities are important for two reasons:
- Make you work and feel less empty. Furthermore, the satisfaction of finishing some work is something that makes you feel better;
- Maybe one of the projects you make leads to something important: maybe your blog becomes an influencer one (I hope so!); maybe that consultancy becomes a full time job for a company you live; etc…
So, don’t sleep the whole day, but DO SOMETHING USEFUL.
Think about the future
Ok, you see a good path coming from the past and you’re doing something useful in the present… but what about the future?
Well, future is unclear: in my case I’ve still no idea what I’m going to do.
But you can start thinking about what you do want from your future… for example if you want to start a new startup or you want to be a freelance consultant or you want to find a full time job and become an employee. I’ve learnt in my life that often things go completely different from what you expect (e.g. 5 years ago I had no idea that one day I would have been a startupper!), but having an ideal path in your mind helps you in knowing where you’re headed in the future. Maybe things will go differently because you’ll catch an opportunity (and that’s awesome), but think about what you do want to do. Think about a plan A and a plan B (please, don’t think only about a straight plan A… it’s hard that it will become reality… it’s far easier if you think about different opportunities, something more like a decision tree). You’ll feel safer… you’ll think the future as something you can handle and not as something misterious.
Another thing very important: think that you’re strong enough that you’ll be able to handle whatever will happen to you. Feel your strength.
In my case, since lots of people have asked me: I’m determined to keep working in the AR/VR field… as a freelance or entrepreneur.
Invest in yourself
In my case, I’ve also lost completely my team: I’ve good relations with them, but I’m not working with them anymore… I’m alone now. Being alone, in my time now I’ve to invest in myself.
Investing in myself means making my brand better on the social media (I’ve planned updating all my profiles); means investing on my blog; means try to learn something new that I can use in the future. I’ve lot of free time and it’s a pity to waste it. I’ve to invest in myself to be a better self when I’ll have to face the future I want to obtain. That’s why I still go to the office each day.
This gives me strength and also opens up new possibilities: if new contacts find me on Linkedin via my improved profile, I’ve new work opportunities for the future.
Do something you like
Life is not only work. During the startup journey, you’ve very little time for yourself and for the people around you. I usually try my best to see my family and friends, but it is really hard.
When you lose your job, take your time to stay more with your family, to hang out more with your friends.
Do activities that you like: read books, go for a walk just to relax after lunch, eat ice-creams, watch sports on the TV, go to the gym… think about yourself, dedicate some time to yourself. Do things that make you happy. In the bright future you’ve planned for yourself you may not have that again, so transform the present sad situation in a pleasant situation.
If you’re single, you can chase after women 😀 😀 :D. Love is a drug that can make you forget all other bad sides of your life.
I mean, do this while doing all the other work things that I’ve suggested you. Do not indulge too much on leisure: if you end up chasing after girls the whole day and going drunk to discotheques every night, well, I find it hard that you can recover and find a new job in the next times. You’ve trained yourself to discipline in these years… if you lose completely it, it will be hard to re-gain it. But if you work in personal project only 6-7 hours a day and take free weekends to have fun… well, that’s the right approach.
A blogger that I love reading said in one of his articles that our life is made of “columns”: job, love, family, etc… The more columns are stable, the more we’re happy. Well, if your startup fails, the “job” column gets destroyed, so to be happy you have to reinforce the other ones. So, try to make all other components of your life better. If in the end the job is your only problem, you will gain your serenity faster and you’ll recover better.
And that’s it… I tried giving you the advices that are helping me. Don’t know if they’ll work for you too, since everyone has his road to follow. I’m still uncertain about my future, but I’m recovering and I know that if I’ll fight, I’ll have a bright one.
Hope that my article have given you a little strength… if it is the case, please like and share!