The 3 biggest causes of stress for entrepreneurs and how to deal with them

An entrepreneur’s life is fairly stressful. Most of it (in my perspective) is self induced, so the best advice I have ever received is “take a deep breath”. That said the first step to reduce stress is to pinpoint the sources of stress.

1. The stress of “expectations”. This causes serious heartburn and is the biggest cause of all stress. Most entrepreneurs believe they can be successful in their own right and when their own “expectations” of self defined success dont match with the progress of their startup, they tend to go into a vicious circle of blame, guilt and introspection.

Expectations from family – parents thought you’d be making good money by now, as opposed to eating Ramen noodles (they fed you much better) and guzzling oodles of Red Bull (drink milk instead).

Expectations from friends – many of whom got a good job at a larger company with a steady paycheck, (mostly) defined hours of work, a “life” after work and health insurance, while you sleep on the bean bag under your desk.

The expectations from friends and family can mostly can be ignored.

The expectations that you set for yourself, comparing your progress to Airbnb for e.g., either in terms of your product, traction, funding or hiring will cause you more sleepless nights. I have seen many folks couch this under the category of “benchmark against the best”, but its hugely unproductive.

“There will be people much better than you and those that will be much worse than you. Deal with it”.

2. The stress of “competition”. I worked at Mercury Interactive (bought by HP) for the longest stint of my professional career in one company (side note, my dad worked at two companies for 20+ years and he claims I worked at 20+ companies in two years). At Mercury, I got to work with an immensely talented bunch of engineers based in Israel. After their mandatory 2 years at the armed forces, they were so “battle hardened” that they LOVED competition. They (David Reichman & Boaz Chalamish) taught me how to really compete in hugely competitive markets. Here is the secret of their teachings condensed in 1 line. You ought to pay me for this in gold, BTW (Feel free to send me a beta invite to your product instead).

Rule #1 – Dont care what they do. Rule #2 – There are no other rules. Rule #3 – What? Are you still looking for more rules? Go back and read Rule #1.

My suggestion, the stress from what competitors could do, would do, will do, should be the least of your worries. I am not suggesting you ignore competition – just dont get stressed about them, because you can largely not control what they do. You can only control your own actions, strategy and plan. Focus on that.

3. The stress of “closure”. We have all been in this position. You email that certain angel investor, advisor, customer, potential key hire, then call them, drop them a voice mail, send them a LinkedIn invite, stalk them on twittter, only to get largely ignored. I send so many emails and get so few responses that if I had a penny for every email sent and 2 pennies taken away for every email I received back, I’d still be super rich.

The best way to counter this stress is to keep going. Develop “Temporary Forgetfulness” – which my wife can attest I am awesome at.

Most of all – “take a deep breath”.

21 thoughts on “The 3 biggest causes of stress for entrepreneurs and how to deal with them”

  1. Awesome. Great read Mukund. My payment to you for teaching me the golden rule is on its way – the next best thing to gold, a beta invite to our app this week. πŸ™‚

  2. Great article. I can personally relate to most of it. After two years of starting my company, only now I’m making enough profits to sustain me. But what I make is still one seventh of what I used to make before. So, when you see your ex-colleagues driving the BMWs and Porches, while you are still slaving for the extra dollar, it sucks. But, then we have to live with it and focus on the future. Entrepreneurship is not about money – it is about making a positive change and adding value.

    In two years of startup life, I have seen enough of sh*t. That helps me relax a bit now and take life as it comes (what worse could happen).

    1. BMW and Porches they may drive, but you drive your destiny (cue cheesy music), whereas they work for the man.

  3. Rule #1 – Dont care what they do. Rule #2 – There are no other rules. Rule #3 – What? Are you still looking for more rules? Go back and read Rule #1.
    I am embedding this πŸ™‚ lovely piece
    I have always believed that nobody can stop me what i am doing and nor can i stop others πŸ™‚ So might as well keep doing what i am enjoying the most. May be I fail but it was worth a fail πŸ˜€

      1. Mukund one more thing, when i share the article on social media sites it is not picking the right title and description. the title comes as page not found and the description is also same. may be u can have a look πŸ™‚ however the link works fine.

      2. Hmm. What should I check? I am using wp hosted. The link and post seem okay when I shared.

  4. I could relate to all the three. 1 and 3 is so true.

    The expectations that I had set myself, sometimes swallows me. And stress of closure and the follow ups needed!

  5. Reminds of one very important lesson that I learnt from Zia Mody. She said – “Whatever problems I face day to day, the only thing that matters to me is that I am able to sleep peacefully at night. Nothing else matters. And this is something that I have learnt in my life till now “. This is so simple yet important. There’s no other fruitful way to end a day and when you wake up the next morning, well all the fun starts AGAIN !

  6. Hi Mukund

    Very well put together article!

    I would like to add a #4 stress of managing/juggling personal life. This is different from expectations of friends and family.On same hard days at work, being an entrepreneur one has to de-prioritize personal life and focus on the problem at hand.

    Over a period of time, one starts pondering whether the startup is worth it? This guilt holds true in both cases – when you have an understanding family/spouse/better half and when you have one who complains a lot.

    1. Great point Upasana. Having a “work” and “life” balance is stressful for sure.

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