Being an entrepreneur, or the leader of any company, requires a level of mental resilience that can seem like a Herculean task at times. No matter what hand you are dealt personally or professionally, you have to develop the mental toughness to not only survive, but also thrive.
I am going to share a very personal story, but not because I want your sympathy or attention. Rather, my intention is to use my own life experiences as a conduit to give you an access point to building mental resilience.
How you respond to the hand you're dealt is everything.
Everything started with a surprise, naturally-conceived, identical twin pregnancy that went horribly wrong. At 26 weeks gestation, I was diagnosed with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, a rare, serious condition that can occur in pregnancies when identical twins share a placenta, causing blood to flow unevenly between my twins. Two weeks later, I was rushed into an emergency C-section and delivered my baby girls.
Meanwhile, over the past 10 years on the work front, my husband and I had founded our business, raised venture capital, and scaled operations. Shortly after the birth of the twins, we received four offers to buy our business. Given what was happening personally, we pursued an acquisition.
What followed next was nothing short of devastating and miraculous. Here's what a 180-day hospital stay, two heart surgeries, 210 days of respiratory support, 300 days of feeding tubes, and getting my company acquired taught me.
Develop the mental muscle to deal with extremes.
This is how a typical day went. On Tuesday, my twins' health was more or less stable and the acquisition was on track. On Wednesday, doctors would tell me that both daughters had developed pneumonia at one month of life and weighing in at 1.7 lbs. and 2.4 lbs. Then my husband would call me to say the acquisition deal might not go through, which meant failure for us when it came to our employees, shareholders, and family. Some days were unbearable.
At my lowest point, I would pick a rock to sit on in Central Park on my way to Mount Sinai hospital, close my eyes, and just breathe. These meditations didn't fix everything, but they allowed me to come up for air when things felt like they were falling apart.
Succeeding in business often requires a thick skin, one tough enough to withstand the inevitable trials and tribulations you'll be required to overcome.
So, what can you do to combat the negative emotions that come with adversity? A good place to start is with a strong body, mind, and spirit.
At that time, just making sure that I ate was key, and my daily 45-minute walk to the hospital was a breath of fresh air (literally and metaphorically).
Whatever works best for you to manage your well-being, do it. It will help you to develop the mental toughness needed to navigate some of life's most difficult events.
Resilience starts with your internal dialogue.
"Why me? Why now? This is not fair. I can't believe this is happening," that was my internal dialogue--initially. Then, I realized that thinking like this was a death trap. The more I had these thoughts, the deeper down I went.
Then, I started changing my thoughts to build mental resilience: "Bad things happen to good people all the time. So what? That's life. Perhaps there's something you can learn." That's what I reminded myself, and this mindset allowed me to experience tremendous growth.
You've got to remember you alone control your thoughts. Those thoughts guide your choices, which determine how you invest your time--and time is the most valuable resource. So, ask yourself what will best serve you?
Compartmentalize your emotions in healthy ways.
In December 2017, I was informed that both my 5-month twins needed heart surgeries. Alya went first, and as they prepped her in the NICU, with a computer in hand, I simultaneously prepped for an urgent board meeting to review our company's four acquisition offers. Some of the potential acquirers gave us a letter of intent to purchase with a 24-hour expiration attached to it. This had to happen.
When Alya was brought to the operating room minutes before the board meeting, I told myself that I would pause my personal feelings, have my meeting, and get right back to her once this was done. I also let my board know what I was dealing with. Being transparent gave me the courage to continue. It was one of the toughest moments for my family and our business, but mental resilience helped us get through it. And it can help you, too.
Although I don't believe our personal and professional lives are distinct from one another, developing the mental muscle to segment intense emotions and move forward effectively is paramount to being a great leader. That will take time to get good at, but be patient with yourself and commit to intentional practice.