Growing a business is not fun. Too many people view company growth through the rose-tinted glasses of success. The entrepreneurs who make it onto the covers of magazines are the ones who have already “made it.” The days of struggle are behind them and they give the impression that perseverance was barely an inconvenience.
That could not be further from the truth.
I have founded and sold several companies and nothing about the growth phase is fun. As a founder, you have to think 18 steps ahead at all times. You have to know your business from top to bottom. You need to know how much you are spending on coffee, if there is any upcoming legislation that may affect your business, what your competitors are doing, and who within your workforce can truly think holistically about your company’s mission and vision, among 10,000 other things. It is a lot. I have been through enough sleepless nights to tell you that stress is the only reasonable response—which is why I never trust an entrepreneur with a positive attitude.
We are living through an age of toxic positivity. Everywhere I turn someone is urging me to think positively and manifest the reality I want to be living in. To me, this advice implies that if we smile enough and refuse to acknowledge our challenges, we will somehow wind up on top.
Every time I start a company I have 10,000 things on my mind at any given time. I simply do not have time to stop and appreciate the journey. I put my head down and power through tough decisions, and often wind up staring at the ceiling later that night questioning every choice I made. It may sound “unhealthy,” but in my experience it is the only path to success. Most entrepreneurs I know are pessimistic, stressed out, and exhausted. It is hard, and hard things are rarely enjoyable.
I like to compare growing a company to tough workouts. In the middle of a set when my heart is racing and my muscles are burning, all I can think about is how miserable I am and how much I hate my trainer. But once I finish the workout, rest a bit, and have a shower, I feel incredible. I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, and I want to tell everyone how fantastic it feels to workout. Most entrepreneurs you hear from are talking to you during that post-workout high, and their elation can trick you into thinking that you are doing something wrong when you are struggling to catch your breath in the thick of the journey. You are not. Misery is part of the journey.
I am immediately suspicious of entrepreneurs who maintain a good attitude in the middle of growing a company. It makes me think that they do not truly have a grasp on their business, or that they are making safe decisions that will keep their business in the fledgling stage forever. But give me an entrepreneur who isn’t sleeping and I will put my money on them every time.
The best advice I can give to aspiring entrepreneurs is not to be afraid of the struggle. If you are feeling miserable, that does not mean that you are failing. Appreciate that misery because it means you are doing something that few people stick with. If founding a company was easy, everyone would do it. It isn’t, and it is completely normal to respond to that difficulty with stress, melancholy, and even resentment. Just do not let those bad feelings scare you into stopping. If you can push through those challenges then you have a shot at making it to the top of a mountain that few get to summit.
The key is to turn these negative emotions into motivation. Otherwise, you run the risk of dragging yourself down into a permanent state of depression.
Here are my three tips for leveraging a bad attitude when the going gets tough:
- Remember that the amount of effort you put in is often proportional to the rewards you reap. The next time you have to tackle a big challenge, remember that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Remember our workout analogy. Running a mile feels nice, but running a marathon can be life changing. Put in the work to tackle the larger challenge and the results will blow your mind.
- Remind yourself that you are among the elite. I mentioned this above, but it is so important that it bears repeating. If founding and growing a company were easy, everyone would do it. If you truly dedicate yourself to this path and stick with it, you will find yourself in rare company.
- Think about the light at the end of the tunnel. Like all things in life, growth stages are temporary. There is a light at the end of every tunnel and the light at the end of the entrepreneurial tunnel can lead to fantastic success. In your darkest moments, that light can be a powerful motivation.
Remember, a good attitude isn’t always the best way to go. Bad attitudes can serve you, so do not shy away. Instead, lean in and learn how to use them to your advantage.
Blake Johnson is a Los Angeles based entrepreneur who has successfully founded and sold a variety of businesses. Read more of Blake Johnson’s Thought Leadership here.