The Emotional Highs and Lows of a Startup

Circa is not my first tango with a startup. Even before Spot.Us, the startup I am perhaps still best known for, I have been part and parcel to various projects that were “starting up” even if their aim wasn’t to build a company (i.e.: conference organizing or experiments that had sunset dates like Assignment Zero).

People talk all the time about the skills journalists need in the world of media entrepreneurship. I’ve written some lessons and ideas in the past. What is often left out of the conversation: The mental traits journalists need in the world of media entrepreneurship.

1. The Mental Aptitude for Immediate Ups and Downs

In any startup there are very high highs and very low lows. Sometimes these emotions are experienced within hours of each other…. There is no average day.

These feelings of highs and lows aren’t just theoretical. They are felt at a very real and gut level. In some of those moments you want to jump up and high five random people on the street. In other moments you want to assume a fetal position.

These emotional fluxes can be emotionally draining. Worse yet, they can lead to rash decision making. A journalist in a startup needs to be able to separate themselves from the visceral emotions that are inherent in any startup. These emotions will be felt every day and you cannot be a slave to your emotions, you have work to do. There is no ‘average day.’ I never say “Just another Wednesday,” because no Wednesday is like any other day. Each day is a roller coaster.

A Team Player

Yes – this goes for pretty much any job at any company. You need to be a team player and an effective communicator. But considering the emotional fluxes mentioned above, this becomes even more important. Not only do you need the mental toughness to ride your own emotional highs and lows – you need to be able to help lead your team through it (and EVERYONE must be a leader – see below). They are feeling the same things and if anything is contagious – it’s panic. Even if you can keep your own sense of steady – you need to be able to communicate and project that to the team and take their temperature in what is a never-ending volatile situation.

Haters Gonna Hate, But Criticism is Your Best Friend

You are exposed. You should be ready for trolls. I am honored to have what I consider “career trolls.” They do not have well-meaning intentions. No matter what I am doing, they will find a reason to hate on it. I used to let it get to me. This one, for example, I found rather obnoxious – I couldn’t even get a funny fake twitter account goddamit, it was mean spirited! Bottom line – these folks are not helpful ever – and you have to be ready willing and able to ignore them. Haters gonna hate.

That said, not everyone who has criticism or even negative comments is a troll and to dismiss them as such is doing yourself a disservice. If you are working on a project you have to be open enough to hear criticism and wise enough to recognize when it’s coming from a place that isn’t constructive.

Everyone is a leader

There are different kind of leaders. Genghis Kahn would lead from the front, Napoleon from the back. Some lead by example and others by inspiration. I would not prescribe how one leads, but you must be ready to. Because a team (see #2) is made up of individuals that have complimentary expertises. One could argue the ‘art’ of putting a team together is just trying to compensate for deficiencies. Everyone has their strength, and everyone must be able to lead when it comes to the territory of their strength in their own way.

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