Self-Care for Founders: Tips for Staying Sane and Preserving Your Relationships
By Grace Stoneman
Running a startup can be lonely, exhausting, terrifying, and thrilling all at the same time. Managing the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship is a skill that all founders must develop in order to bring their vision to life.
Burnout and self-doubt are two of the greatest barriers to success for any founder, but for women, society layers on even more expectations that lead women to question whether they are smart enough, or experienced enough, or determined enough to be entrepreneurs.
That’s why we devote the first phase of our Triple Threat Venture Training to getting real with yourself. What are the strengths you as an individual bring to your venture, and what are the gaps you will need to fill to be successful? And which entrepreneurial activities drain you, and which ones will keep you motivated on those long, hard days?
Over the last few years, we’ve written several articles about self-care for founders, whether it’s tips about overcoming the negative messages the world sends to women entrepreneurs, proactively dealing with interpersonal conflict, or managing romantic relationships as a founder.
We’ve pulled together some of our best self-care tips for female founders.
Stop listening to society’s expectations of what motherhood should look like
One issue that women entrepreneurs face is the social pressure to be a good mother. We've all heard of the question "How do you balance running a business and being a mom?" You can have a healthy personal and professional life, even if the current ecosystem doesn't push this idea.
No matter what society tells us, whether or not you work doesn't determine how good of a parent you are.
You can be a good mom even if you don’t dedicate all of your time to your kids. You have many needs, intellectual, emotional, and social, that parenting doesn't fill. Creating a healthy separation between your identity as an entrepreneur and as a parent can help fulfill your need to create.
Separating your work and kids makes it so you can also create a healthy separation between each responsibility. You are able to focus your energy on what really matters at the moment. But being a parent can also make you a better leader. It can teach you how to set aside your personal agenda and needs for the good of others. Parenting teaches you compassion and patience in a way no other job could.
Society fills women with thoughts that they are failures before they even are given the chance to prove themselves. Society shouldn't be telling us that mothering will end in failure. As a parent, it's not your job to change your kids into who you want them to be. It's your job to help them discover who they are and guide them into their best selves.
We need to transform the narrative from failure and inadequacy to one of support and joy.
Get ahead of co-founder conflict with these three conversations
Many entrepreneurs find people who have the same ideals as them and combine their knowledge to become co-founders. Having a co-founder can be a great way to bring more cash into the business and split up the duties.
But there is a big difference between running a business yourself and with a co-founder.
Even though it is rarely talked about, co-founder conflict is normal and healthy. It isn't a shameful or unusual problem that people face. Being able to look at it and know that you need to improve in your relationship is the first step toward building a better venture. Communication is key to succeeding, and with a co-founder, that is sometimes challenging.
Even though it may be difficult, having intentional conversations is the first step to breaking down barriers that can get in the way of your future success. Here are a few of the questions that co-founders should consider.
Does your workplace work for both of you equally?
When starting a new venture, it's unlikely that you'd be able to afford a big office or workspace for yourself. There's no shame in working in a coffee shop (unless you’re living through a pandemic!) or your home.
No matter where you work, it is important to make sure that space works for both of you.
Some people like to work in silence, thinking through ideas in their head, while others want background noise and talking through ideas out loud. This can create a situation where you and your co-founder start resenting each other for creating a workspace where neither of you can be productive.
Make sure that you both are comfortable working in your space. Otherwise, it will become a source of conflict that can ripple into other issues.
Are there specific words/phrases that cause unnecessary conflict?
If tension is building up between you and your co-founder, it might be because your communication styles don’t match.
You might want to meet with a relationship coach to help work through the tension. If you don't have the funds or time to meet with an advisor, you might be able to identify a couple of words or even phrases that trigger a negative response from the other person. Working to eliminate those words or phrases from your vocabulary can be an easy solution to everyday conflict.
Even taking simple tests to figure out each other's communication styles and strengths can help you figure out how to work together.
Do you both respect each other's time?
Once you begin working with one another every day, it's important to make sure that you're communicating properly even when your calendar starts to fill up and you’re in different meetings constantly. As your venture grows, your calendar will get busy with meetings with members, sponsors, investors, board members, and more. Even if you are both at the same meetings every day, scheduling a one-on-one meeting with your co-founder is important to make sure you’re communicating properly and are on the same page. Having these meetings is important to make sure that there are no issues being ignored lurking in the background. Setting an agenda for the meeting makes sure you both get to prepare your thoughts and makes good use of your time together.
Get on the same page with your romantic partner
If you’re a startup founder who also has a romantic partner, you’ll save yourself some heartache if you get on the same page with them early on about a few key topics.
What standard of living are you both comfortable with?
Starting a business takes money. You and your partner should be comfortable with the potential loss of financial security that can come with launching a new venture. It's important to realize that the change of financials may change how your lives look. You may not be able to go to the 5-star resort for your next vacation. Make sure you and your partner are okay with your money being invested in the venture.
How are you and your partner going to divide household duties?
Starting a business takes time. Household duties may shift as your business grows and your schedules change. Especially for heterosexual couples, antiquated gender norms can also make it harder for women to make time to focus on their venture. Being an entrepreneur might mean you don’t have a set 8:00 AM work start, but it doesn’t give you more free time or flexibility. Managing a household is a lot of work and it can definitely take away your time and energy you want to devote to your venture. Each couple separates their household chores differently, and they may not have to change. It is still a good idea to discuss, especially if your work schedule is going to change drastically.
Do you want advice from your partner?
Your partner wants you to succeed. They probably want to do everything they can to help you. But you may not want advice from them 24/7. Sometimes it's nice to keep your business out of your home life. Other times, it is helpful to be able to bounce ideas off of someone who understands how you think.
Making sure that there is a way to set boundaries with the amount of feedback your partner gives is the best way to prevent conflict between you and your partner.
Always remember: You are enough.
While you’re out there having hard conversations and giving the middle finger to society’s expectations of you as a woman, just keep this one thing in mind: You are enough. You are smart enough. You are talented enough. You can figure this out. You might need some help along the way, but there’s nothing about you that is deficient or incapable of bringing this thing to life. Take a deep breath, step back, return to your plan (or work with a coach to create one in the first place), and just keep moving forward.
You are enough.