Owning a business or starting a company is a wild ride. And while I've personally always been a fan of roller coasters, there isn't enough anti-nausea medication in the world to mitigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurial self-esteem. Even small setbacks can turn my "I can do anything!" confidence into a "What was I thinking?" wallow.
I know I'm not alone.
Managing the rollercoaster of confidence is a critical business skill and though success in doing so may seem elusive, there is one strategy proven to strengthen confidence and reconnect you to the grander plan.
The strategy: Knowing the stories of your family history.
Stories as the self-esteem secret
The importance of having a core narrative in business is not a new concept. However, recent research at Emory University reveals another side of the power of story -- this time, in building confidence.
In the study, researchers were interested in determining the role story played in a child's sense of confidence. To study this, they administered a "Do you know?" test to elementary students. The test was comprised of simple questions: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?
The more stories the children knew, the stronger their sense of control over their life and higher self-esteem.
The "Do You Know?" scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children's emotional health and happiness.
The story you tell yourself on a bad day
You're no child, but if you've found yourself easily shaken by the ups and downs of business, you could be suffering from a storytelling-deficit. Knowing the stories of what your family has gone through can help add perspective on the darker days.
Several years ago I met a young entrepreneur who was struggling through the 2008 recession. Sales were (way) down with no end in sight. As we casually chatted about the situation, he seemed more confident than others in his same boat.
"Well," he said, holding a glass of whiskey. "It's tough, right now of course. But My grandfather was a sailor and back in the day, he ran his sailboat aground in Baja, Mexico. There were a bunch of people on board and nobody to come rescue them. Festooned, my grandfather grabbed two cans of Coca-Cola and set off across the Mexican desert to find help... They survived, so..." he shrugged as if to say, "If he can survive that, I can survive this."
The kind of self-esteem you need to survive an economic downturn, a bad launch of a product or they myriad of other business pitfalls requires more than positive self-talk. It requires stories that are generations old.
3 quick tips to getting your family stories
With your family gathered this holiday season, it's a perfect time to fill in the gaps of your generational history. You're likely cut from a tougher cloth than you thought.
Of course, getting those stories can be difficult. Here are three simple tips for getting the stories you need:
1. Keep it casual. You may work well under pressure but Grandma probably doesn't. Pick a time when everyone is just hanging out--maybe over dinner, maybe in the post-dinner afterglow or while the dishes are getting done. Don't make a big deal of it. Don't set a formal time to "interview" your family. If you do it right, as far as your relative knows, it's just another conversation.
2. Do not record it. With so many recording options available now, we are obsessed with documenting. Resist this temptation. A recorder of any can will deter the stories (unless your relative is a Kardashian or was on The Bachelor). The additional benefit to not recording is it will force you to actually listen! Knowing this is your one chance to hear the story, you'll listen more carefully than if you had a back up plan.
3. Ask specific questions. Our stories attach themselves to the people, the places and events in our lives. If you want to know about your grandmother's childhood, ask her about her childhood home or a childhood best friend. By keeping the questions specific, you will unlock memories your grandmother didn't even know she had.
If you are fortunate enough to spend time this holiday season with the generations that have come before, don't let the stories go to waste. Gain more than just pounds this holiday season -- gain insights into who you are and what you're capable of as an entrepreneur. The more stories you know, the better you'll be at riding this wild roller coaster.