When founding a (somewhat) bootstrapped company you suddenly begin to experience life in dog years. Time seems to fly by seven times faster than it used to. Combine that with being born at the end of Generation X and you get an individual who begins to question their own life choices quickly.
How can you survive in your late thirties* in a world that is ruled by the young? Every startup founder is at least 18 years younger, a minimum of 24 hours present on a plethora of social networks daily, visiting every startup event there is and working on one world-changing side-project after the other on weekends.
* I am aware I might not be the oldest entrepreneur out there. Looking forward to my experiences in my late forties, fifties and sixties as well.
The beginning of an existential crisis
The last months were not easy, as I was still picking myself up from a personal low-point in late 2016. Although changing several bad habits for the better I honestly was not where I wanted to be mentally. Not one day went by without frantically scrolling through endless Facebook feeds comparing my life with that of 1000 people from the startup world with whom I connected during the last years. First thing in the morning, last thing at night and surely dozens of times in between.
After months of increasingly compulsive behavior I finally began to question myself. Why did I constantly check on my virtual social networks? What is it about that constant internal struggle? Always comparing my life to the highlight showreel of others? That accompanying feeling of being smothered? Why do I desire constant approval? What does does that say about me as a person?
Soon this kind of thinking progressed into more existential thoughts. Am I the person who I want to be? Who do I want to be? Am I where I always wanted myself to be? Where do I want myself to be? Does what I do matter? Why should it matter? Does it have to matter? What’s the meaning of anything anyway?
To be completely honest that does not reflect what truly happened. Now in retrospect I can summarize it more clearly but it was a kind of messy struggle that built up over time. The questioning was much more subconscious than it might appear in what I wrote above. It was much more an emotional experience than a conscious act. An experience that sent me in subliminal negative thought spirals several times a week. Impulsive thoughts popping up randomly, especially on down-times, like late in the evening or on weekends.
Getting to a better place
Not fully understanding what was going on at that time I instinctively did something very important to get back on the right track again. Out of the blue, one Sunday morning, I deactivated my Facebook account and removed the app from all of my mobile devices.
It was a pretty emotional event — why would I quit something I love doing?
It was very difficult — how can I leave behind more than 1.000 people with whom I have connected during those last years?
It was somewhat scary — what will happen once I am off the bandwagon?
But it was so freeing — finally getting some mental rest.
It was so comforting — knowing that myself has my back.
It was absolutely exciting — the feeling of doing something somewhat crazy.
It was eye-opening.
The questions I had been asking myself did not vanish. But now I could see them clearly. I was ready to tackle them one after the other.
The mature entrepreneur(ial person) emerges
Since then I have won deep insights into myself as a person and derived several personal guidelines on how I want to life my life. These are some of them:
- I want to dedicate all my energy to my business but will strictly protect a certain amount of time for myself and my family.
- Sure as hell you will not find me at any event whose visit does not serve a specific purpose. This goes for business as well as private life.
- I love to deliberately put myself into new situations and enjoy the experience.
- I want to be a good example for others and will dedicate time for continuous self-improvement.
Currently I am still working on some questions and I am sure there will are plenty more to come:
- What unnecessary things are draining my time the most?
I hope to consciously reduce my time spent on them or to eliminate them from my life altogether.
- How to best balance being in the future, present and past?
To remedy my extreme focus on the future.
- How do I want to experience the next 20 years in my life and where exactly do I want to be as a person?
To being able to better focus on my personal goals.
Actions that helped me the most
Re-evaluating my priorities in life
Having a clear picture of my priorities makes it much easier to make decisions and to say no to the things I do not want. Defining ones life goals helps a lot with this. Be sure to include your partner in this exercise.
As I mentioned before I went so deep down the rabbit hole in this step as to start questioning the meaning of life itself. This surprisingly helped a lot too.
I really like Derek Sivers 19 minute talk about what he thinks the meaning of life is.
It allowed me to realize that being part of the startup world naturally is heavily swayed towards impacting the future.
Of course you do find value in lessons from the past and you do try to live in the present too, but instinctively you are constantly obsessing about the future.
For me that is an attitude that put a lot of pressure on me. It ultimately made me always feel guilty when trying to enjoy life in the moment from time to time. Also the following point of view helped me a lot to change my perspective on this topic:
“[…] But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing, or to dance while the music was being played. […]” — Alan Watts (on why your life is not a journey)
Accepting that I am at a different stage in life than my younger peers
I am in my late thirties. I do have a wife. I do have two children. Of course that means I have to live a different life than someone with minor obligations.
I am quite sure that I would work differently if I did not have a family. I even can envision what that might look like. I don’t know if my wife ever thought of it, but I am very confident that we are on the same page in how we see our life as professionals. We absolutely stand by our decision to have children and we accept all that comes with it. At the moment that means that we will not move flexibly. It means we will most likely put more thought into decisions and their consequences. It does not mean that we won’t put all our energy into our careers. We want our companies to thrive with our help and to conquer their respective worlds. We also fully embrace the experience of seeing our children developing and growing into young persons.
Sprucing up my social network hygiene
I am quite sure I am not completely done with Facebook yet but it was quite important to take some time off. For the this time being I am quite happy without it. Although I already needed to create an alternate account to being able to maintain our company presence. I deliberately do not connect with anyone and only use it to keep our company page updated. At one point in time I will have figured out how to best continue with Facebook and re-activate my account.
Facebook is not the only social network out there. In my case I am also maintaining other channels, e.g. Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing. I like being active on Instagram. Almost the same users as on Facebook but very different behavior and intention. In a first step I absolutely cleaned my friend list on Instagram and am slowly building up the new list from scratch. This time with people whose contributions I find truly interesting or with whom I interact regularly. Currently at 12 people.
LinkedIn and Xing are used for business purposes exclusively — quite passively at the moment. Also very passive on twitter for a very long time now anyway.
To my surprise I started using Pinterest. I like the strong visual aspect and focus on a different use case than Instagram.
After 9 years on Reddit I created a new main account with completely newly arranged subbredit subscriptions.
And lastly Medium. An outlet where I plan on contributing more regularly.
Getting rid of instant notifications
In this process I got rid of most instant notifications. Before the big cleanse I was constantly bombarded with push notifications on all my mobile devices and even on my computer desktop.
It is well worth the effort to remove most push channels and to configure important channels to work in the way you like them to work. I can’t think of any digital channel that needs to be open 24x7. In general I do make myself available to phone calls at any time. But even there I formed the habit of not being available constantly — with rarely earth-shattering things missed during that time.
Maybe that’s why I love our industrial customers so much. Heavily competitive environments but a clear understanding of what’s important, always cutting out waste.
- Different people lead different lives.
- Life is always what you think it is.
- You are the one on the steering wheel.
I am enjoying this year a lot. I invite you to share your obstacles and learnings. Always curious to learn from other experiences.
One final request — If you liked my thoughts please share this post on Facebook. I can’t.