Startup life is not easy. As founders, we face an endless number of challenges but what keeps us going and the reason we get up in the morning is the mission. The stress, fear of rejection, actual rejection, long hours, and pressure we face as founders can easily erode our mental health, especially if we are not actively working to protect it. In order to weather the storms that will undoubtedly challenge us as we build a successful company, we need to take care of our mental health. Here are some things we’ve done to protect our mental health as we work to build the next Future of Work unicorn.
Things we do to mentally prepare for success (and failure):
Define (and uphold) Company Values - Think about and decide early on what type of culture you want to create and what role mental health and well-being will play when it comes to creating that culture. Deciding your company values means you have to sit down and think about the type of business you want to build and what you want the company’s legacy to be. Be ruthless about these values: make sure they reflect yours. These will guide you when things get tough and they will also influence who joins (and thrives) at your company.
We defined our company values and continued to uphold them even as we’ve made large product pivots and many hiring and investment/board decisions. We commit to these values in everything we do as part of Joyn:
Community - Build communities of support to uplift each other and make meaningful connections
Trust and Transparency - Approach everything we do with openness, honesty, empathy, and compassion
Equity - Build an equitable company and platform with diverse backgrounds and identities
Resilience - Never lose sight of our employees, members, and why we started. No matter what.
Align Expectations - Understand and define your role and what’s expected of you. Share the expectations you have for yourself and other team members, and make sure you can agree on and/or adjust those expectations to get alignment across your founding team. If we know what’s expected of us, we can figure out how to adjust and account for other areas of our lives that we need in order to find our version of ‘balance.’
Creating an Operating Agreement gave us a way to structure and discuss our expectations. For founding team members (and investors) it’s important to know how you work together and how you ultimately make decisions (especially when you disagree). Putting it down in writing and legally signing are forcing functions to really decide on what you expect of each other and the company and mitigate risks by protecting the company and yourself.
Create and sign an operating agreement
Document your expectations (communication cadence, bandwidth/availability)
Write your own job description (current and future)
Review the founding team’s job description(s)
Outline communication expectations
Find your balance - Investor calls bringing you down? Counterbalance with customer calls. Is development feeling slow? Ask for a full demo of your progress to see how far you’ve actually come - get excited about what you’ve accomplished.
Things we do to ground ourselves:
Set Boundaries - Share the things you are willing to sacrifice - and what you are not. Establish boundaries that help you protect the things that you need to do in order to maintain your mental health. A few things we’ve done to establish boundaries:
Calendar Blocking - (We like to color code)
Working hour cut-offs
Accommodate different meeting styles
Vacation / Time-Off
Respect and encourage time away
Don’t book without asking!
Respect working hours as much as possible
Outline an agenda
Be flexible - something comes up? Let’s find a new time
Support Each Other - Startup life is a roller coaster. Roller coasters are fun, right? Right?! But like… imagine you spent your life’s savings on a ticket to get on the roller coaster and you don’t know how (if) it ends or how many times you’re going to go upside down or how long it lasts or if it’s a safe roller coaster, etc. Do you know what makes this particular roller coaster more fun? A founding team. You will have days/weeks/months where you feel rejected, scared, and exhausted. In those moments, look to your team and your mission to help you find your fire. And know that when you are down, your founding team is there to help lift you up. And vice versa.
We’ve had some big disappointments, we’ve heard the word ‘No’ about 1,000 times (that’s really not that much of an exaggeration). Having a founding team allows you to work like a pulley system: when one founder is down, the other can help you stand back up. Whether that’s jumping in to work a few extra hours so the other person gets a break or sending an inspirational book with a note that reminds us why we did this in the first place - we support each other and recognize what our team needs to keep moving forward. If you are on the founding journey alone, lean on other founders when you need to. We really are in it together.
Please comment or share your stories as founders, how do you protect your mental health? Send us a note to email@example.com
Larissa's Mental Health Toolbox
Daily workouts - "I’m strict about my workout routine and don’t compromise on it because I know it helps me start and end my day. I start my morning with HIIT, Pilates, or Yoga every day, and end my workday with yoga."
Time to pause - "I meditate at least twice a day for 10-20 minutes in the morning and evening while also trying to take “breathers” in-between meetings"
Therapy - "My therapist has always been an important force to give me perspective and allow me to see things from a different angle. She also constantly makes me rethink self-limiting thoughts which, on the startup journey, is extremely helpful."
Daily Walks - I make time for my daily walks (my step counter has been great in holding me accountable). I also really enjoy walking meetings which break up my work day nicely instead of sitting at a desk all day. Also - sun is good for you!
Sleep - I don’t compromise on my sleep. I’m a morning person (ew, I know) so I do go to bed early. I start reading around 8.30pm to fall asleep by 9.30pm so I can get enough sleep to wake up refreshed at 5.30am.
Nutrition - "Food is fuel. I make sure to eat my 3 daily meals without exception and ensure I have a balanced diet with the occasional cheat treat, because, well, I am human too and I have a bad sweet tooth. Also - Don’t forget water!"
Quality time - "I prioritize making time for things that are important to me, whether that’s time with friends, family, or my cats, spending time at pottery or volunteering at the botanic garden, or going on a hike. Balance is important."
Share - "I’ve learned that being vulnerable about challenges and wins has been an incredibly healing tool, not only that, it also opens the door for the other person to open up."
Time to reflect - "Every day before bed I take 20-30 minutes to practice gratitude and journaling. On days that seem chaotic, writing down even the smallest things that brought me joy have been an important practice."
Kendra's Mental Health Toolbox
Get Outside - "I have to make sure I get outside (even when it’s very cold and dark). It helps me keep a clear head and gives me space to just enjoy the outdoors. I have a cute little puppy that holds me accountable to do this every day."
Exercise Goals - "I give myself weekly exercise goals that keep me motivated and active throughout the week. I also need to keep my workouts interesting (or else I get too bored) so I often switch between HIIT, running, and yoga."
Daily Gratitude - "At the end of the day, I write down one thing that I'm grateful for. Keep it simple."
Cooking Dinner - "I enjoy cooking and care a lot about nutrition so creating a menu for dinner and having a set time when I start the ‘prep’ process forces me to close my laptop and transition my focus away from work."
Be Present / Show up for Friend/Family - "I will have dedicated times during the week when I can ‘walk and talk’ with my family and friends. I also try my best to show up for the big (and small things). Even if I can't physically be at an event celebrating a graduation, birthday, or new baby, I make sure I create the time and space to send a letter or a text telling them how much they mean to me."
Therapy - "I am privileged to have access to therapy and even when I feel like I am in a good place, I have to remind myself that therapy is the journey, not the destination. I constantly have things that I need to work on and therapy holds me accountable on my progress."
Nighttime Routine - "I have to make an effort to transition to ‘off-mode.’ I do this by plugging my phone in, putting on do not disturb mode, and reading a book for 20-30 minutes. I make an effort not to check my phone once it’s plugged in and leave it untouched until after my first meeting."
Celebrate the journey - "I can become too focused on the 'final destination' so when I'm struggling or feeling impatient, I think about the value of the struggle and how cool it is that I get to experience the struggle.