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When I’m attending an outdoor cocktail party, most people will laugh or snicker when I tell them that I genuinely still love what I do. It’s funny to them because I’m CEO of an online form-building company. Not the sexiest work in the tech world, I must admit. I am no Steve Jobs. Yet, still, each morning I wake up excited to go to the office every day.
All of this entrepreneurial energy didn’t come out of nowhere — I’ve spent the past 16 years honing and developing it. There have been ups and downs, of course, like in any other aspect of our lives. But I’ve found specific ways to harness my mental, physical and emotional energy to keep me motivated, and I’d like the same for you.
Protect yourself from energy-draining activities
Many years ago I took on a new mentee, Mike, who seemed eager to learn the ropes of bootstrapping his own startup. I, in turn, was happy to impart whatever knowledge I’d gleaned as a more senior entrepreneur. Things started well at first. We’d meet every other Wednesday for lunch and talk shop.
But then the texts started coming. Every day, I’d receive a barrage of questions about how to run his business. Needless to say, this is not what I’d signed up for. Suddenly, what seemed like a fulfilling mentor/mentee connection turned cumbersome and draining. I cringed every time my phone would ping.
In hindsight, I can say that this wasn’t a Mike problem — it was a me-not-setting-boundaries problem.
I give this as one example of how we unknowingly sap our energy. It’s also one of the biggest lessons for new entrepreneurs who need to start enacting this principle ASAP. “Learn to know your limits, establish clear boundaries and then communicate those limits,” writes Medium contributor Victor Mong. “Recognize that relationships are based on ‘give and take,’ and be firm to saying no when you’re not up to something.”
Cultivating relationships with mentees has been one of the biggest joys of my career. But keeping my energy high has meant better communication from the get-go. And this goes for the way I operate inside and outside of my business as well.
Stop overthinking and start trusting yourself
Entrepreneurs are a special breed of overthinkers. We’re constantly making decisions, so we have to think fast on our feet. But we also must take the time to weigh our options out properly. And so we think up all possible scenarios: the good, the bad and the ugly.
This used to be one of my biggest hurdles when starting. What if this client falls through? What if users aren’t satisfied with our product? What if we can’t attract enough attention and be sustainable? What will I do? My mind was my biggest enemy. Consequently, after a long night of tossing and turning, I’d wake up unmotivated to start the day.
Here’s the thing I’ve learned since: energy thrives on confidence. And confidence only comes when you believe in your abilities.
As co-authors Linda Bloom, L.C.S.W., and Charlie Bloom, M.S.W.. write in Psychology Today, “Self-trust is not trusting yourself to know all the answers, nor is it believing that you will always do the right things,” they explain. “It’s having the conviction that you will be kind and respectful to yourself regardless of the outcome of your efforts.”
Knowing you can survive your mistakes is the foundation of self-trust.
In some ways, it’s part of the allure of entrepreneurship — knowing we can fall and get up again, and that we’re more than capable of reinventing ourselves.
Overthinking isn’t a habit we can easily break. But the more self-compassion we can cultivate, and the more we understand that to err is human, the more we can learn to trust ourselves.
“The feeling that certain things ‘shouldn’t’ be happening makes us feel both shamed and isolated,” writes self-compassion expert Kristen Neff. “At those times, remembering that we aren’t really alone in our suffering — that hardship and struggle are deeply embedded in the human condition — can make a radical difference.”
Harness your magic hours
We’ve heard the same advice from productivity gurus everywhere: waking up at 5:00 am is the key to becoming successful.
But…is it really?
Hear me out. I love a great morning routine — chugging down a protein shake following a rigorous workout with my personal trainer. And afterward, writing in my morning pages.
It’s great…if you’re a morning person.
The thing is, that’s not the case for many founders, entrepreneurs and CEOs. I’ve met more night owl leaders in my industry than I can count. Their secret for conserving and elevating their energy? Harnessing their magic hours; their internal prime time of the day. They don’t pay attention to that 5:00 am advice, but instead listen to their body clock — when they’re feeling most alert and productive.
If you’re low on energy, chances are, you’re not taking advantage of your prime time. The traditional working style tells us to wake up at a specific hour and schedule as many activities as possible. But if your peak hours happen at noon or 7:00 pm — make sure to seize that time for your most important tasks.
Final thoughts: don’t lose your passion in the name of rapid growth
How am I able to tell people all these years later that I still love what I do?
Because I put my passion for creating the best product possible for my users ahead of my desire to scale quickly. I am not in a race to be on the headlines of TechCrunch. My process has been slower, but way more fulfilling.
If you ask me today what I believe truly boosts our entrepreneurial energy, I’d say this: Creativity, the freedom to explore, finding meaning and purpose in your work — these are the true engines that propel you forward.
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