Since March 2020 the societies we inhabit have been changed dramatically. We were already living in uncertain times before, but we know now that we hadn’t seen
Written by Martin Bjergegaard / Guest post
Jan 19, 2021 / 8 min. read
Survival Tips For Startup Founders In 2021
Since March 2020 the societies we inhabit have been changed dramatically. We were already living in uncertain times before, but we know now that we hadn’t seen anything yet! Today we don’t even know when we can fly to meet that investor in London, when we can go out to visit our customers, or when we can share a meal at a restaurant with our friends.
These are times where it is extremely difficult to be a human being, let alone a startup founder. However, we know that humans are resilient - and we take comfort that, as a civilisation, we have bounced back from what seemed to be insurmountable challenges before. This too shall pass, we remind ourselves. The majority of people duck their heads, staying at home, attempting to survive by watching Netflix, playing games, and maybe doing home improvement projects. However, as a startup founder these strategies might not work for you.
On one hand this is a major disruption. On the other hand it’s also a huge opportunity. Whenever a society is turned upside down, as gigantic changes take place, a wide array of new business opportunities are up for grabs.
Of course, the million dollar question is: how long will this last? And what will be on the other side. None of us can know for sure. So we need to apply our favourite startup philosophy of agile to the extreme. As always, this starts with our mindset. We want to be empowered, enthusiastic and creative.
The mindset for success is one thing that covid-19 hasn’t changed. But how do we have a strong mindset in such challenging times? Here are 5 tips that work for me.
1: Have your grief, but don’t despair
At first glance, grief and despair can look alike. But they are not the same. If we haven’t had a period of grief during 2020, we might very well right now be in a state of denial. It is only natural to grieve the loss of something that is precious to us. We have all lost a lot in 2020. Our way of life, our freedom, our hope for a bright future. Sure, it might come back, but for now it all looks pretty dire, doesn’t it?
We don’t want to be like the man who still talks to his wife even though she passed away 5 years ago. We have to move on from denial and into grief. A healthy grief period is something like 1-2 months. It takes time for our system to take in what has happened, and to allow oneself to feel all the feelings of pain and sorrow that come up. Make sure to feel it. Then, after a while, return to life and to the realities of what is here today.
This is the difference between grief and despair. Grief is something we do for a limited time period, in order to heal. Despair is what happens if we don’t return to life, but rather continue to indulge in our own suffering. It is a fine balance, and throughout history we have aided each other in this process by having cultural norms. Such as dressing in black when in mourning, for a certain period - and then afterwards being expected to return to life. We don’t have such traditions anymore, so we all have to set our own standards. If you are a startup founder, give yourself 1 month for grief and mourning. And then get on with the work full throttle.
2: Give your life meaning
Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl discovered that what really keeps people going, even under the harshest conditions, is the feeling that their life has meaning. When we feel that our life is meaningless, that is when we give up and wither away. Viktor survived his years in the Nazi concentration camp by imagining how he would write important books about his experiences and newly found insights when he came out.
What meaning do we give our life? Does this meaning need to be updated in the light of what is happening in our world today? Maybe you thought that your life was about bringing people together at events, and giving them amazing in-person experiences. In that case, you now need to find new meaning in your life. Don’t sit and wait for the past to return. Instead be creative and update your meaning.
We need a life purpose that we can work on today. Viktor was constantly thinking about his theories and his books while he was being tormented in the camp. It kept him going. What keeps you going?
3: Focus on your inner landscape
Since I visited Nelson Mandela’s tiny prison cell on Robben Island (which is a museum today) I have been so inspired by how he was imprisoned for 27 years, and one day came out as a kind, reasonable and wise man. Nelson Mandela learned that ultimately we are in control of our own inner landscape, no matter what is going on around us. We don’t choose what happens to us, but we choose how we let it affect us. This is obviously easier said than done, but that is the case for anything worth achieving, isn’t it? I believe we are here on Planet Earth, in this human form, to grow and evolve and to experience our own power.
From this perspective, the covid-19 crisis is a perfect opportunity to practice. Notice how you can receive some depressing or stressful piece of news in the media. And then make a conscious effort to still feel empowered and creative.
This is something I’m training myself to do, and don’t always succeed, but when I do, wow, it brings such an empowered feeling of being in control of my own life experience! As with all practice, it is not about being perfect - it is about continuing to practice.
4: Make a list of great ideas
Now, from a place of feeling good and empowered, sit in your favourite chair and jot down any and all ideas your mind comes up with. Ideas for new businesses that can be successful even if this craziness continues for years to come. Ideas for how you can make a difference in other people’s life. How you can solve their problems, how you can bring them hope and joy. How you can make a difference in the world as it is today, not how it used to be. Be agile. Update your perspectives. Keep going. It is in the hardest of times that entrepreneurs really show up. Now is the time to show what we are made of.
5: Ask for help
If you are a startup founder struggling to make sense of these intense times, and finding it challenging to stay positive, empowered and productive, do remember to ask for help. Talk to a wise friend that you trust, seek professional help, or consider speaking with other entrepreneurs that understand what you are going through. You are not alone, and it is a sign of wisdom and strength to reach out when you need a fresh perspective or a boost of energy.