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When 50 people say “No”

Imagine you're hosting an online workshop for about 50 people. You've worked hard to prepare for it - figure out what you're going to say, what you're going to ask, how you're going to get people engaged and even crafted a few jokes that you think are going to work.
You think you understand what your guests are looking for, what they need and how you can help them. And since the workshop is free, you also hope to sell something to them at the end.
It's a rickety affair from the beginning. First you can't connect to the session because of a technical glitch. Then your audio cuts out. You start your presentation but looking at the faces, you see people aren't really engaged.
Things you say that should have elicited a chuckle don't even make them smile. You're looking at rows of severe yet somewhat disinterested faces on your screen and you wonder what exactly were you thinking when you set the whole thing up.
Rejection. Failure. Embarassment. Impostor syndrome.
When we buy into the promise of entrepreneurship to get us to personal and financial freedom, we aren't ready for the relentless barrage of emotional challenges that this path entails.
And knowing how to debug a piece of code or sell a product isn't the same as knowing how to debug your mind when it starts spinning dark thoughts.
There are two typical reactions to this kind of emotional downturn:
The first common response is to succumb to the darkness, pull into yourself, and wallow in self-pity. Allow yourself to think that it's never going to work out, that you've failed (again), maybe even that you are a failure as a human being.
This is usually followed by mindless bindging on something mind numbing - either substances or content, and can escalate into a long downward spiral.
The second common response is to resist the urge to get pulled into the darkness, grit your teeth and keep going. Send one more email, write one more function, deploy one more feature. Keep going no matter what, secretly hoping that a good emotional experience will come along to replace the bad one.
While this approach is more effecitive in the short term than the pit of self-pity, it does hide a significant risk. If you repress your negative emotions often enough you'll lose your capacity for empathy and flexibility that are so important to successful entrepreneurs.
Empathy allows you to listen openly and attentively to your customers, understand them deeply, and improve your service to them.
Flexibilty allows you to change your product, messaging, positioning and even mindset and adapt to changing cricumstances in the market.
So here's a technique you can use to deal effectively with emotional drops and still keep your empathy, flexibilty, and productivity intact.
  • Step 1 - Realize that your strong emotional response is natural and completely justified, even when it seems you're overreacting. Maybe there's something in your past that makes you more sensitive to this type of rejection. Maybe your expectations were really high. And maybe you've just accumulated a bunch of smaller setbacks and it's all coming out at once.
  • Step 2 - Take out a pen a and piece of paper and write down your favorite expletive 20 or 30 times. This will get your blood pumping and will often open up a torrent of reflection. Let it pour out of your heart through your hand. Let the paper soak it up. Now tear it up or even burn it. This is a writing exercise, not a reading one.
  • Step 3 - Take a break. Most emotional healing happens in the background anyway and it takes a little time. This could be anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days, but recharging your emotional batteries is essesntial. In particular, try to avoid any additional emotionally taxing situations. Take a walk in nature. Sleep in. Binge a Netflix show. Eat something delicious. As long as you use this time to recharge, and timebox it to something reasonable, you should be OK.
  • Step 4 - Take a small action to get back in the game. This could be as simple as making a list of what you need to do next, responding to a single email or writing a a few lines of code. Don’t expect to instantly get back to the same level of productivity you had before the drop and don’t push yourself too far. Take it slow, be gentle with yourself and gradually increase intensity.
Entrepreneurship is an emotional and financial rollercoaster. It can be scary, exhilirating and frustrating all at the same time. Make sure you take care of your body, your heart and your mind so you can keep going until it eventually pays off.
(And yeah, it’s been one of those weeks for me too).