The TFD (Tough-Founder-Days) Syndrome and how I deal with it

On some days, such as today, I wonder what I’m doing. I started out a year and a half ago, with this dream of creating a local food discovery platform. I’ve come some distance but it’s been slow and challenging. An end is in sight, but I’m not sure about the means required to reach it, and whether I’ll have what it takes. I’m not sure about where my career is heading and whether that is the direction I saw it going.

It’s just one of the fairly-common, recurring, Tough-Founder-Days (TFD) Syndrome. TFD is perhaps as common as PMS. And as irritating and draining. Just that the manifestations are slightly different.

In my definition, TFD is an internal syndrome that occurs when the wiring of the founder’s mind goes off, making him or her, think of the darkest, most depressing outcomes for their startups. It can come anytime, anywhere, sometimes right in the middle of some super-exciting work and progress. It can last from anywhere between a few minutes to a couple of months. How long it lasts is usually a function of how quickly the founder acts on it, and the environment around. It is connected, but not necessarily, to the number of external challenges facing the founder.

The toughest part about TFD is interacting with people – team members, direct reports, friends and family. Most people are reclusive during a TFD patch. I personally could do without any interaction, preferring to remain in some sort of shell. But that’s really not an option as a team leader. Not only do I have to interact, but my team members have to feel like they were hit by a wave of inspiration after the interaction. That’s unlikely with TFD raging. In addition, there’s not much desire to get things done and no joy in doing stuff. Uh oh.

But I’ve learnt not to chide myself anymore for TFD. For one, every founder worth their startup, goes through it. Also, with all the uncertainty, it’s normal to wonder where you’re headed while leading a expedition of this nature. Over a period of time I’ve learnt that the path to my vision is long, tough and at times, exhausting. So it’s ok to have days when everything looks dark.

However, here are some small tips and tricks to needle out the darkness and get the fun and positivity back faster.

1. Accept that it’s ok. Really. All founders get TFD. All of them feel lost and directionless at times. Accepting that it is part of the journey and not a personal weakness is a big step.

2. Remember it’s a phase. It will pass. Just as it came without announcing, it will be gone, and the days will be bright, cheerful and productive again. There will be many possibilities and some of the successes will materialize. That’s exactly how it has worked with me in the past year and a half.

3. Focus on the tasks at hand. I tend to have action paralysis when I think of everything that needs to fall in place to get to the big picture. But instead of pushing me harder, it only slows me further. I need to think in terms of accomplishing the small, everyday goals. Every small item ticked off brings a feeling of accomplishment and many of these together often translates to good stuff.

4. Imagine what success for your startup will be like six months down the line. Though difficult to do with a negative mind, it’s important to keep imagining what success will look like. For Talking Street that means having a community of foodies across the globe, using and contributing to making this a rich, database of local food experiences. And get granular with the imagination. I imagine my friends whipping out their phones and checking to find distinctive food around them. I imagine them eating at these places and thanking God for Talking Street. 😛 (Ok, that’s a bit much.)

5. Think of what I was doing before I started out. This is a superb trick. I remember how doing stuff of my own was a dream on occasions when I didn’t want to do office work. Heck, I’m living that dream right now. I’ve loved parts of it that let me create exactly what I wanted to create. This is exactly what I wanted to do. I need to give it all the positive energy that I have now.

6. Speak to other founders. They’ve probably been through or are going through similar stuff. Their perspectives and experiences are good to hear.

7. Speak to friends and family openly. It’s ok to feel low and talk about it. Sometimes the intensity of TFD diminishes when we speak up.

8. Reach out to people who might give fresh ideas and perspectives. Again, this is tough to do in the troughs but hearing a different, unbiased perspective and totally new ideas, could be just the motivation boost that closes the door on TFD and sets the positivity rolling again.

Ok. So that’s TFD. Recognize it and attack it before it starts the sinking!

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