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Confession: I’m an Anxious Achiever

Illustration depicting anxiety

I’m convinced that one of the best qualities you can have as a founder is to live in a state of constant anxiety. People call it being an anxious achiever. If it sounds unhealthy and counterintuitive, it’s because it is. And it certainly isn’t sustainable. But in the early days, it’s a survival mechanism that must be embraced to succeed.

This baseline unease means a win lasts mere moments before the luster fades and you’ve moved on to the next challenge, always reminded of the need to hit your next milestone. And the anxiety that comes with the fear of failing always leaves you feeling like you need to do more, sell more, write more, think more, lead better, manage better, and move faster. This constant state of baseline anxiety is a powerful tool in a founder’s toolbox, but if not managed it will eat you and your team alive. And while it isn’t sustainable forever, the fuel to succeed requires that nagging unease in your gut almost 24 hours a day.

But while that baseline anxiety may drive you to always do more, if it isn’t contained you can grow too fast, put your entire organization at risk, and ruin yourself in the process. I’ve made that mistake at times in the past, and if you don’t recognize it early on, you may grow beyond your team’s capacity and erode the trust and goodwill you’ve built with customers as well as inside your organization. So, here are a couple recommendations on how to harness and control this anxious achiever syndrome.

Hold recurring “truth sessions” with your team

Checking in regularly with your team on company growth and the velocity of new opportunities coming through the door is critical. I start with these questions:

o   How much new business is too much?

o   Can we or should we take on more customers?

o   Are the new sales opportunities in line with our roadmap?

Answering these questions allows you to stay focused on what matters most and keep everyone else in your organization aligned on priorities.

PRO TIP: Encourage candor at all costs early on. Your employees and team members need to know and believe that they can be honest with you about what they are seeing inside of the organization, otherwise you’ll never get the brutal honesty from the trenches that you need.

Say No

The best way to overburden a team, lose sight of long-term goals, and burn yourself out is by chasing every shiny new opportunity. One thing I’ve learned is that while it is humbling to receive an outpouring of support, recommendations and new ideas from friends, family, colleagues, and others in your network as you grow your business, sometimes you just need to say no. You will inevitably receive advice ad-nauseam from folks who genuinely care, but that doesn’t mean you should take it and, in some cases, you shouldn’t even entertain it.

Say no to things that your gut clearly tells you is a distraction. And if it still seems intriguing, put it on your list of “opportunities for future exploration” to discuss with your team during spitball sessions at an offsite.

PRO TIP: Even when you white-board new ideas with your team, be very clear that these ideas are not a new roadmap per se, and that any new opportunities discussed are just that: a discussion and not a concrete roadmap. New team members may look at these sessions as a shift in strategy which can create confusion or concern, depending on their personalities.

While there are lots of great resources out there for anxious achieving founders, these are the two things that work best for me. Your mileage may vary; however, staying on top of this “condition” is critical to building a sustainable business and healthy work environment.

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