It’s a basic concept — as a founder, your company’s health depends on your own health. You need to be thriving, vibrant and happy if you want your business to be any of those things. In order for your company to survive a sudden loss of pressure in the cabin, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first.
Your health — and therefore your company’s health — rests largely on four things: the amount of energy you have, the level of stress you’re under, your mental capacity, and your ability to ward off getting actually, physically sick.
There’s this idea out there that you can earn a founder “Badge of Honor” by sleeping three hours a night, drinking nothing but Soylent shakes and never exercising because you’re too busy writing code or calling investors. Like the cake in Portal, that badge is a lie. And while you probably won’t die while attempting to earn it, your company might suffer big time.
Right off the bat, not getting enough sleep at night knocks off upwards of 15 IQ points. Some of us don’t have points to spare — I certainly don’t — and in many cases it’s the functional equivalent to being drunk. Imagine knocking back a six pack of Colorado’s finest microbrew, then calling an important sales prospect or your lead investor. This career requires creativity and thoughtful problem-solving, which requires sufficient sleep. In order to maintain the physical energy required to lead your business every day, you need a solid night’s sleep, every night.
Here’s a simple rule to follow: If an airline pilot wouldn’t do it the night before a long-haul flight, don’t do it as a founder. No getting drunk, no staying up until 3 am, no crappy midnight snacks. As a favorite children’s book once put it, just go the fuck to sleep.
Understandably, it can be hard to fall asleep as a founder, even in normal times. I get it. There are plenty of solutions and one will work for you; keep testing and iterating until you find a solution. Order a Sunbox for your desk. Seek medical advice and medication. Download a meditation app.
Sleep and meditation can also help with your ability to handle stress. Last week seemed to be the “week of irritability” for several of my clients. It was showing up in sales calls, teams meetings and general decision-making, and it wasn’t helping anyone. After a month of self-quarantine, it’s a natural response that we’re all having right now. It’s ok to feel like shit some of the time, emphasis on “some”. You have to set a limit on stress, and choose to push through it. Happiness is a choice. Happiness is hard work. Here are some basic things that can help you optimize for it:
- Sleep well: see above.
- Exercise: Take a walk. Take a yoga class from home. Go for a run. As the famous, and very pink, Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
- Eat well: Both your body and your brain need proper fuel right now to succeed. Good food will help you not get sick, but also help you stay alert, stay calm and stay sane. The “Corona 15” isn’t good for anyone, but it’s especially damaging for a founder. I am having an especially hard time with this one, so I feel your pain.
I know, mind not blown. The big takeaway here isn’t how you can take care of yourself, it’s why.
The Coronavirus could give you a bad cough and a sore throat, or it could land you in the hospital in a medically induced coma hooked up to a ventilator. And COVID-19 isn’t the only thing that’s out there right now either. In the last six months, I’ve seen a lot of friends and co-founders knocked out by the flu and an other “flu-like” illness going around. Some of them can kill you. A majority of them will put you in bed for a week or more, feeling like shit and completely out of action.
It doesn’t matter if you have Coronavirus, the flu or who knows what, spending a week in bed can spell disaster for an early-stage company. You don’t yet have a full executive team and your employees and your customers are likely depending on you to make decisions on a daily basis. Your ability to ward off infections of any sort is in no small amount defined by the health of your immune system, which in turn is tied to — surprise! — sleep, exercise and diet.
Keeping your company alive got much, much harder in the last month. Many of my clients are solving the most challenging problems of their careers. If you need your A game to succeed as a founder in good times, what do you need today?
This is one area where Joseph and I will encourage you to try new things and straight-up pivot in areas where you’ve been falling short. Start a workout regimen. Call a nutritionist. Hire a therapist. If you haven’t been doing these things already, now is the time to start.
In times of crisis, people are looking to you not only to manage your own energy, stress and intelligence, but theirs as well. In these stressful times, you’re not just managing your own fears. You’re also managing the anxieties of dozens, or even hundreds, of your company’s stakeholders, and you’ll need every ounce of capacity you can find — physical, intellectual and emotional. Build up those reserves; take care of you.
— Eric Marcoullier
This is the part of the post where I normally talk about how challenging being a founder can be (because it is) and mention that I can help (because I can).
Honestly, I’m not your guy on this one. If you need assistance getting into shape, you should be talking to a trainer, a physician or a therapist. I’ve struggled with my weight my entire adult life. Talk to me over beers some time and I’ll tell you how I’ve lost and regained 60+ pounds five times in the last 20 years. All those coaches who tell you “it takes just six weeks to form a habit” don’t recognize that most new habits are built on a certain set of circumstances, and when those circumstances change (such as a pandemic), our behavior reverts. Thus, if you need real, foundational behavior change that affects your health, you should be talking to a professional.
And I should be your coach 😉