Last week, I was happy to attend a session at Boulder Startup Week on “Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Startup Realm“. The topic was especially intriguing since it combines my two vocations as Startup Founder and Meditation Teacher, and it featured three great speakers: Tom Higley of 10.10.10, Sarah Jane Coffey of Reboot.io, and Brad Feld, Managing Director of the highly successful Foundry Group (AND a strong advocate for revolutionizing the publishing industry).

Of the many insights I gleaned from the talk, there were a few that I found especially relevant to Find My Audience, our company and our users.

The first was a comment made by Tom that the insecurity endemic to startup life can often manifest in a form of “weaponized anxiety,” where a person’s (or organization’s) fear of failure gets projected onto other people in what is essentially a violent attack. The only way to disarm weaponized anxiety is to recognize your fears, own them, and turn them into excitement.

Just as an author faces the often-terrifying “fear of the blank page,” everyone who works at a startup is subject to persistent, daily insecurity, the knowledge that the basic existential matters of their work (financial security, viability of the business model, ability of the individual to contribute value to the company and the company to contribute value to society), are under constant question.

Writers learn to face this uncertainty as a matter of course, without reactivity or blaming their discomfort on someone else. Who else is there to blame? Instead, they embrace it every day as the juice of their creativity. Those of us who work in startups can learn a lot from that approach.

The other insight I found helpful was the call for authenticity in one’s emotional struggles, especially with one’s colleagues. A culture of “productivity at all costs” and relentless drive almost always leads to burnout, frayed psyches, and broken professional relationships, if not families!

Sarah Jane was especially poignant in her honest account of the wages of relentless, self-critical perfectionism; Tom was eloquent on the need for leaders to help create a culture that allows everyone, especially themselves!, to admit when they are pushing past their capacity; and Brad was inspiring in sharing how he works to neutralize his obsessive tendencies by giving himself the freedom to NOT DO what his schedule seemingly demands. (Sounds like an especially effective form of ad hoc Cognitive Behavioral Therapy!)

These speakers did a great job of restoring the personal dimension of technology work, a domain that famously risks turning individuals into machines. Being authentic about our skills, our capacities, as well as our emotional tendencies, is the only way to build a company with a healthy culture and, I would argue, a product with heart.

Authors of course know a lot about being authentic. Whether we are writing a novel, or software code, we need to speak from the place of our deepest human truth, flaws and all.

–Paul Agostinelli

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