A Toolbox For Staying Positive at Startups
Startups are hard and it isn’t easy being positive in a high-stress environment. As a younger employee I struggled with this, but over time I have built up some mental tools to help me deal with the downs of startup life - because working at a startup is not all ping-pong and catered lunches. In fact, now that I think about it, I have never worked anywhere with a ping-pong table, going to add that to my bucket list.
Believe in What You Are Building
This is the foundation of staying positive. Most companies I have worked at have been high-stress. The amount that stress has affected me seems to be dependent on whether or not I believed in the project or the product I was building. Believing in the product is what allowed me to remain solution focused while spending a week of late of nights patching production at Astronomer. I remember similar situations at previous companies where I didn’t have a higher-level product to beleive in, and it felt like I was throwing away my life nearly anytime I was working outside of the 9 to 5. Those long nights need to seem like they are worth something and it’s a heck of a lot easier to get out of bed when you’re looking forward to what you get to build.
Assume Good Intent (Until You Have Evidence Otherwise)
People are going to rub you the wrong way. If you’re honest with yourself you’ll probably realize you have rubbed them the wrong way as well. You’ll also realize that you probably never meant to. Once you were aware of that, you most likely evaluated the situation, learned from it and tried harder the next time. If you give others the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the same, you’re going to be much better off. Next time you think someone is out to get you, assume that they have their own good intent for what they were doing and move on.
The disclaimer here is that some people will try to abuse you. I won’t go into the many ways that can happen, but there are people out there that view people as a means to an end. Remove those people from your life as much as possible and do what you need to protect yourself from that. There is no need to assume good intent when you have been shown they behave otherwise.
Focus on the Real Enemy - Failure of the Company
When things get heated, just remember your teammates are not the enemy. There is no prize when teams fight (healthy dissent is another thing). You can win as many internal battles as you want, but none of those wins will mean anything when you the startup fails and you have lost the war. With that in mind, just remember that you are all on the same side fighting for the success of the company.
I was talking to a coworker (E1) one night about some apparent friction between him and another employee (E2) at the company. E2 had obviously developed a grudge at some point along the way. I think it was safe to say he was campaigning against E1. Long story short, E1 could not comprehend how a grudge had developed, much less carried on for this long. That was when he dropped this bomb on me, “I don’t have time for this, I am not his enemy, this startup succeeding is bigger than either of us.”
Embrace the Suck
This is probably just a millenial way of saying that when the “going gets tough the tough get going”. Some days, bugs or projects are going to suck. Embrace it. Tackle the work that is in front of you and keep the finish line in mind.
You’re Going to Have Bad Days, Reset.
When all of the above fails and you feel that things aren’t getting any better, reset. After a turbulent morning, take a lunch hour outside (leave the laptop at the office). After a rough day leave the office as early as you can and spend some time doing something you love after work. After a rough month, consider taking a vacation. As a developer who loves what he does, I think it’s the balance of what I do outside of work that allows me to appreciate what I do at work.