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How to Survive the Rollercoaster World of Startups

startup rollercoaster


Up, down, over, under, and then throwing you for a loop. Your stomach ends up in your throat, your head is spinning, but when the train pulls back into the station, you keep your seatbelt fastened and can’t help but go for another ride… Welcome to the startup lifestyle! 

The startup game is a roller coaster, and for many, it is one of the most difficult, frightening, stressful roller coasters in the world – it’s boot camp for the soul.

As a founder, an executive, or a leader in a fast-growing company, you might feel alone in your struggles. You might even be hiding your struggles in an effort to appear like everything is going great.

If you are a leader who’s never been through the entrepreneurial grind before, if you’re an aspiring COO or entrepreneur founder, or if you are in the midst of the most challenging parts of the startup rollercoaster, there are some valuable mindsets to help guide you through the unique challenges you face in this fast-paced and ever-evolving startup game. 

The journey is ALWAYS here to teach us what our soul most wants to learn.

Let’s throw on your leadership skills lap bar and get you to whatever goal awaits you at the end of the rollercoaster (and that might mean a new beginning!)

Here are some ways to survive the startup rollercoaster…

The Striding Versus Striving Mindset

Striving is the mentality that if you do good, you’ll get results and rewards. It feels great for your ego and yourself when that formula works, but when you feel like you’re doing good and not getting the results you “deserve” or feel you have earned, that can be difficult to grapple with.

When success doesn’t go according to plan, you blame yourself “well maybe it’s me, maybe I’m not doing it the right way,” and a lot of insecurity can arise. It challenges a deeply ingrained formula and way of living that most people adhere to. 

One thing you can do is try to shift your focus and mentality away from striving and towards striding. In this context, striving is trying to control things that are outside of your control.

Striding is more about going at the pace you have the grace for. It’s letting things come to you. It’s about pulling momentum, where you’re getting pulled into what you have a call to do, your Zone of Genius. Striding is about embracing what your life embodies easily and naturally, versus trying to knock down every door and get results through immense effort and specific timing.  

Striving and striding feel different because striving is a lot of hard work. Striving is like pushing a boulder uphill and every single inch that it moves is dependent on your effort. With striding, life isn’t dependent on you or your ability. Yes, there is work in striding, and commitment, but it just comes more naturally. 

It’s going along for the ride versus the ride being dependent on you.

Giving yourself grace during the chaos of startups and business

Being kind to yourself and giving yourself grace during the stress and chaos of startups is not necessarily about setting lower or less ambitious goals. It’s about giving yourself the same level of understanding and kindness you would give other people. 

Do you sometimes beat yourself up about the little things? In a way that you would never judge another person? 

You “slept in” until 6 am when you were intending on getting up at 5 am, and you spiral into a negative thought loop about your work ethic. You don’t need to. 

Give yourself the grace and patience to make mistakes and be a beautiful, authentic human. 

Tips for Staying Sane in the Startup Game

A startup is the ultimate boot camp for the soul. Don’t go into it thinking this is going to be really glamorous and it’s going to be really easy, and you’re going to start a winner and going to win the game because there is only one way to win the game. And it’s to make it through to tomorrow. But in the meantime, there are those dark nights of the soul. 

If you’re starting out and struggling with the common experiences founders of startups face, like stress, panic, burnout, anxiety, and pressure, there are a couple of ways to stay sane as you work through the startup adventure. 

Feel Your Feelings

Experience your emotions through to completion and you can learn from their wisdom

There is a lot of pressure to suppress or ignore ‘negative’ emotions, like sadness, fear, and anger, and cling to ‘positive’ emotions, like joy and desire. There’s no right or wrong way to feel. And counter to popular belief, there’s no emotion that’s better or worse than any other emotion.

Every emotion is equally valuable because each of them brings with it a specific form of value or wisdom, a message of the emotion. Emotion arrives to wake you up to something and to guide you.

Allowing your emotions removes the friction of trying to control, manage, explain away, avoid, or escape your feelings. After listening to the wisdom of your emotion as it’s passing through, you’ll be guided to making choices and taking action in your life in ways that are divinely intelligent and beneficial to you. Challenge yourself to feel your feelings when they show up exactly as they show up and as big as they show up.

The startup journey is like a rollercoaster, the lows are very low and the highs are very high. When you feel your emotions and learn from them, that can help you navigate the ins and outs of your business. There is a lot to uncover by sitting with your emotions. 

Remember: There is No Winning or Losing the Startup Game 

A lot of leaders who are high-achievers or ambitious have an inner critic that always wants more. There can easily be a mentality where you achieve something and then instead of celebrating your success, you automatically set your eyes on the next thing. 

Think of the post-Superbowl win interviews where the star athlete goes, “Hey, this is great, but I can’t wait till next year to win another championship.” There’s nothing wrong with that mentality, most of us are wired to operate and approach our life in this way. But so much of our approach in our life becomes dictated by wins and losses, successes and failures. 

You can have the mindset that there’s no winning or losing in startups. The only goal of the game is to stay in the game and keep learning and adapting. The only way that you lose is if you give up. 

Giving up in this sense means figuratively giving up or tapping out completely. Because sometimes in startups you do “give up”, you shutter a company or let go of the business. That isn’t a loss. 

That outcome isn’t a reflection of how you’re doing in this game. It’s a data point that will help you learn and correct course as you move forward. This mentality means moving away from drama patterns like shame, blame, and judgment and shifting towards empowerment even during moments of “failure”. 

You are Allowed to succeed and you’re Allowed to fail. Each comes with opportunity. There is an opportunity to lead consciously by taking responsibility, learning the lessons that come with failure, and moving forward with confidence and conviction because of the learnings and lessons that you gain from that journey. 

With the mindset that startups, and leadership in general, are an infinite game of lessons and learning, you can always move forward in a more conscious and constructive way. 

This article is related to my podcast interview with Terry Lee – Listen here. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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