100% Of The Time It’s 90% Mental

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s as it’s typically time to get unburied, to take care of things far down on my to-do list, and ideally, also reflect on my goals and hopes for the upcoming year.

As I look back over 2012, I’ve had my share of challenges both in terms of the objectives that my clients had but also in terms of my personal goals. It’s hard to admit, but I didn’t come close to accomplishing the objectives I set for myself. In fact I missed them by a lot. Thankfully I did have a strategy for what to do in the event that happened. But as I reflect back on deconstructing all of the specific situations, it is clear that I spent more time worrying and obsessing about them than I did actually doing something to address them.

The biggest challenge to being an entrepreneur is keeping your mental game in check. Not everyone verbalizes it, but everyone feels the anxiety, fear and occasional shame of not knowing what you are doing. One of the best posts I’ve ever read which exposes this issue is from Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz. It’s called “What’s the Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing Your Own Psychology”. I don’t know Ben Horowitz, but I hope I get the chance someday to work with him. Just based on this post alone he seems like a VC who really gets it and proves my thesis that the best investors are the ones who have actually been startup CEOs because the empathy connection is critical. But I digress…

Every startup business (maybe every business period) faces struggles:

Technical Risk Will it work?
Product Development Can we build it?
Market Risk Will anyone buy it?
Finance Risk Will we run out of money?
Team Development Why aren’t we working better as a team?
Competitive Pressures Will we get to market on time?
Business Model Risk We have a product that people want, but we don’t have a profitable business.
Personal Financial Risk What will happen to me financially if I fail?
Reputational Risk Will anyone ever hire me again?


To deal effectively with the challenges, regardless of the particular issue, you must keep your head on straight.

  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t feel shameful if you feel as though you don’t know what you are doing.
  • Stay in action. Focus on doing something.
  • Stop complaining.
  • Seek help from mentors and trusted advisors or a coach.
  • Be responsible and accountable, but don’t be emotionally culpable.
  • Separate the issues from how you feel about the issues. Then deal with them as Mr. Spock would.

I have a friend who wants to write a book. He has the knowledge to do it and a good thesis. The problem is, he’s his own worst enemy and critic, and he’s been unable to produce anything that he considers good enough and worthy of his name.

I’ve been a mentor to a nascent startup that has a good idea for a niche market, but the founder has never gotten past the understanding that to be an entrepreneur means to take risks. Not everything will be perfect and not everything will work out. The art of a startup is to be nimble, not to have the perfect plan. You have to be willing to step into the darkness and deal with the risks described in the table above.

My wife once gave me a plaque for my desk that says, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

Like Randy Pausch said, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

As you make your plans for 2013, consider these words carefully. Chances are you know what you need to do. Just get out of your own way.

Neil Kane information

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