STEERus Soft Skills Academy

There are only a handful of blog posts and articles with founders talking openly about being tired and how the grind is wearing them down. Understandably, being vulnerable is hard for most people – doing do publicly as a founder gearing up for a fundraising round is downright risky and pretty much unheard of. But there’s a story and context to everything. Being tired doesn’t mean I’m giving up! Au contraire: the party is just getting started.

When you believe in something with a level of conviction that is so deep, you’re not going to stop. Of course there will be a zillion speedbumps along the way that do everything from exerting a soul-crushing blow to thwarting your confidence at every turn. But, when your “why” is inextricably linked to the core of who you are, you are determined to persevere no matter how tired you are.

Because your team is counting on you. You’re building something that’s bigger than you, bigger than your team, and even more grand than all the collective BS spewed by the naysayers telling you that it can’t be done. They tell you to just give up. Surrender.

The grind is grueling and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And I’m a tough cookie. Battling breast cancer and an abusive spouse – at the same time – was so much easier on multiple levels. Here, I’ve bet the farm. That’s right, I’ve mortgaged my family’s home and depleted all my savings to do this. I cannot fail. There is no margin for it.

I can err but I must learn quickly from the errors that I make. Regroup. Pivot. And move forward.

The pace is relentless – there are no days off and time for self-care. I read blogs about taking an hour-long bubble bath each night, allowing yourself 30 minutes to meditate on the day, and to take time for yourself to doodle, dream, and to simply “just be.” Maybe that level of self-care is worth aspiring to. I don’t know. But it currently eludes me.

On the average day, I’m trying to wade through a few hundred emails. Keeping up with my network is nearly a full-time job and made more challenging given all the e-communications channels that I subscribe to. From Slack to Basecamp, WhatsApp, LRT, Lunchclub, Upstream, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Linkedin, and texting, there are days that I want to throw my phone into the Hudson River. But, without my network, which is correlated to my net worth, I have nothing. So I grind. But keeping up with everyone is getting harder as my network grows along with the number of disparate e-comms channels that I correspond on.

And then there’s that whole password thing and double verification that tries to take me out at my knees on a daily basis. I just want to stick a chip in my eye and be done. It’s the “death by a thousand cuts” crap that really takes its toll on a person.

Plus, I have a family to grocery shop for, cook for, and clean up after. Along with two rescue dogs and ailing in-laws. Not to mention a 125-gallon fish tank that needs more attention than a daily sprinkling of food (which is automated, of course). There isn’t a lot of time for indulgent bubble baths.

I follow all the principles, like categorizing a task as urgent or important. Regularly, I’m asking myself if what I am doing is producing value or consuming resources.

My team is tired, too because it’s really hard operating as a lean, boot-strapped startup. Everyday, I go to bed grateful for all that they’ve done. And every morning, I wake up before dawn and walk my pupster to greet the day with joy and gratitude, steeling myself for the grind ahead of me the rest of that day. Intrinsically, I know it’s not going to be easy but I refuse to quit. I am one with my “why.”

Failing is okay: quitting is not.

Giving up because I’m tired is like kicking sand in the face of all the people who believe in me, who have given their time and effort to get behind my vision. They want to help me close the gap between education and work. And they Iove how we’re tracking to equity as our North Star making our soft skills training available free to students, educators, and underserved communities around the world. I can not – and will not – surrender. What we are building is soooo much grander than anything that can be measured by hours of sleep or work.

Even in the face of hardship and a cash stream that’s dwindling rapidly down to fumes, I will not stop trying. The negative Nellies out there talking smack about how my soft skills academy is this or that and somehow less than their standard hurts me, but I move on. I dig in and recall being bullied as a kid, then recite that child’s morality chant, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but your words will not hurt me.” And to the upstart that has neither innovation nor integrity but ripped off so much of what I’ve created at STEERus, I have this to say: F U. You are anything but magnificent.

Entrepreneurship has been overly glamorized in recent times. High school students that I’ve spoken to or read about firmly believe that they can go to the market with an idea, generate $1 million from investors within a month or so, and quickly rise to 6-figure incomes within months. When you ask them about their anticipated success trajectory, their answer is unanimous: “I will be a unicorn within three years.” Self-confidence is fabulous but I’ve personally watched arrogance and hubris take down more than one giant in Silicon Valley.

So where do I go from here? I do not stop. They say that only 2% of the population is cut out for entrepreneurship. Those of us that have the tenacity, the hutzpah, the physical and emotional stamina to manage the relentless pace are few. But we are mighty – albeit tired. And when we are connected to our “why,” we are unstoppable.