Sherry and Rob talk about the downside of good things. Sherry uses the example of founders experiencing growth and success in their businesses but it also causing disruptions. They talk openly about the reality that even really good things can still cause stress and what to do, and how to prepare.

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Episode Transcript

Sherry Walling:Hi there.
Rob Walling:Hey. How are you?
Sherry Walling:Good. How is the sound and all that stuff.
Rob Walling:Yeah. I think we’re good although I’m hearing your nose breathing.
Sherry Walling:That cannot be. I have no nose and I am not breathing.
Rob Walling:This seems like an odd error then. I guess it’s a feature, not a bug. Much better.
Sherry Walling:I’ve stopped breathing.
Rob Walling:Good. That was the proper solution to that. Like when you go to the doctor and says, “It hurts when I do this” and he says, “Stop doing that.”
Sherry Walling:Breathing?
Rob Walling:Yeah. That’s how we roll here. This is the ZenFounder comedy hour.
Sherry Walling:Okay. In all honesty though, I just had a bad experience.
Rob Walling:What was it?
Sherry Walling:I was really thirsty so I grabbed the glass of water on my dresser next to my bed and took a big old gulp. And it turns out it was actually the gin and tonic that you made me yesterday that I forgot about.
Rob Walling:Nice and all the ice had melted so it was crystal clear and you just took a swig of gin and tonic right before we record ZenFounder?
Sherry Walling:Day old, lukewarm, totally flat gin and tonic. It was so bad.
Rob Walling:I bet it was. How do you feel though?
Sherry Walling:I feel like I spit it out in the sink. I’m not that into day drinking unless the drinks are really good and I’m on vacation.
Rob Walling:Oh man. Yeah. I guess it’ll be an interesting episode. Oh, if you spit it out, there’s going to be no fun impact. See, if you already tasted it, it was in your mouth, you might as well just swallow it at that point.
Sherry Walling:I’m going to leave that alone and just transition into the topic at hand.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. So gin and tonic’s are good when they’re chilled and fresh and not so good when they’re left out for 12 hours and then consumed by surprise. Yeah. What else is going on? Any other funny stories to tell, Rob Walling?
Rob Walling:Not at the moment. Not completely right off the cuff without any preparation. We are leaving for Microconf in a couple days. I suppose by the time this airs, it will either be the week of or the week after Microconf. Hopefully we were able to connect with you, our listener, if you also made it to either growth or started edition.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. Please come and say hi to me. Everybody says hi to Rob. Say hi to me if you listen to ZenFounder. Rob, I don’t know, I know you aren’t on Twitter that much these days, but I did post a picture of you in our break dancing class and wondered aloud whether there might be a brief break dancing performance on the Microconf stage. I think you should do that instead of magic tricks this year. I feel like the magic tricks are a little worn, but break dancing is always fresh.
Rob Walling:Yeah. That’s not gonna happen.
Sherry Walling:Why?
Rob Walling:Because I wear nice shirts and I don’t have the proper flexibility, range of motion is the right word. My shirts are too tailored and I won’t be able to swing my arms wildly and do the robot. Popping and locking takes a good range of motion. So does the moonwalk. We’re gonna dive into something?
Sherry Walling:Yeah. Let’s do something meaningful.
Rob Walling:All right. We already lost half our listeners.
Sherry Walling:So that people are like, “These guys are jerks and they boring and they’re lame”. Yeah.
 Today, I thought we would talk about the bad side of good things because lots of good things have a downside. My little anecdote of this is that, in addition to taking break dancing class, I’m learning something new. I’m learning to do aerial yoga and trapeze and lots of aerial arts. They’re super fun and I love it. I’ve been doing yoga and teaching yoga for a number of years, so this is the next level of learning for me, but I come home covered in bruises. It’s this really great thing that I love and then I come home looking like I’ve been in a bar fight because I have bruises from everywhere, either the trapeze bar or the silk makes contact. That’s what happens when you’re learning something new and you’re not very good at it but still very eager. You sort of bear the war wounds of this new thing, this good thing. That is the downside of aerial yoga, is looking like you’ve been in a bar fight.
 The importance in, seriously wanting to talk about this topic, is because I feel like a lot the conversations that I’ve had with founders recently have been around really great things happening in their business or personal lives, but it causing major disruption. This is a really common story. The reality that even a really good things cause significant amount of stress. I remember being an undergraduate psychology student and learning about something called the Holmes-Ray stress scale. It’s old, it’s from 1967. It’s a couple of researchers were making those initial connections between how stress contributes to illness. They wanted to survey people who were medically ill and try to connect medical illness to the kinds of life events that these individuals had experienced in the previous two years. They made this list of life events and then they ranked them in order of the most stressful. Each of the events has a weighted stress scale, so to speak.
 According to their work, the most stressful thing that someone can experience in the last year is the death of a spouse, which, obviously, is a phenomenal upheaval and incredible stress on every level. Interestingly, some of the other things, the other items that are on this list, are generally regarded as really positive things. The seventh most stressful event, according to this scale, is marriage, getting married. Number nine is marital reconciliation. Number twelve is pregnancy.
Rob Walling:Number ten is retirement, which so many people look forward to.
Sherry Walling:Fifteen and sixteen, one is business readjustment and sixteen in change in financial state. Again, those aren’t necessarily change for the worse or a business adjustment in a negative way. It can be getting a promotion or getting a big raise or, I don’t know, selling a company, having an exit, experiencing major growth in your company.
Rob Walling:Twenty-five is outstanding personal achievement. Think about that. That is the twenty-fifth most stressful thing on this scale. It’s really fascinating to think that we all look forward to certain events in life … Vacation is forty-one. Christmas is forty-two.
Sherry Walling:Christmas makes the most sane person sort of nutty, though.
Rob Walling:That’s true. All the music and being around your family. Vacation –
Sherry Walling:The music, sorry. Don’t say things like … The music of Christmas.
Rob Walling:Yeah. People don’t like Christmas music. I happen to love it. I love hearing Paul McCartney sing “simply having a wonderful Christmas time” six or seven times daily, but it bothers other people. Stresses ’em out.
Sherry Walling:Sorry. I’m not prepared for you to identify the music of Christmas.
Rob Walling:And the crappy family you have to hang out with.
Sherry Walling:Are we talking about your family or my family?
Rob Walling:Oh no. Not anyone’s family in particular, of course.
Sherry Walling:Just theoretically?
Rob Walling:Yes. A theoretical family that may or may not stress someone out.
Sherry Walling:Okay. Getting back to the task at hand. Lots of these conversations I’ve been having lately. I think people reach out and connect with me for consulting when they are experiencing a big shift or they’re in the midst of a decision point or they’re really burnt out. I feel like the unifying theme between a lot of the conversations I’ve had with founders lately has been “there’s so much growth in my business, but I don’t yet have the capacity within myself or within my team to manage the amount of growth”.
 Another common problem or something that’s really stressing people out, we know this well and we’ve talked about this a lot on the show, is that someone is approaching an exit or is contemplating a sale and it’s a really good thing. It’s what they’ve been working for, but it’s incredibly stressful. More personally, I think the third example of this that comes to mind, probably personally for us as well as professionally in a lot of the conversations I’ve had with founders, is children. All three things are really good things, but they’re all really hard things. There’s a downside to each of them, they cause a lot of stress.
 Maybe we can talk about each of them, Rob, and talk through some strategies to coping with the downside of good things and helping people get prepared for that.
Rob Walling:Yeah. I think business growth is one that a lot of folks listening to this podcast will have to deal with in their lifetime or may already be dealing with it. It’s something that you think about so much as a founder. If you’re starting a business, almost inevitably, you want it to grow to some extent and yet, with growth comes change. When I see the Holmes and Ray stress scale, the commonality of all these things, all the things that we were naming, is change, right? It’s change is stressful. These are just different types of change.
 Business growth is another thing where stuff changes. It’s not the same as it was a week, a month, or a year ago. You have to hire more people, your books get more complicated, you feel more responsibility, competitors come out of the woodwork. You can’t sit there and grow a business and have it be the comfortable, solo, single founder type thing. If your business is not growing and it … Let’s say you get to a quarter million ARR and you just hang out there, then yeah, you can keep it in a place that maybe you’ll get bored with, but you probably won’t be stressed out about it. When businesses are going up and to the right, as awesome as that is and as much of a goal as that is for all of us, it’s something that is going to cause you stress.
 The thing to thank about to try to help with that, is to number one, be prepared that it’s gonna happen, that as your business grows, you’re going to be stoked that first month that you get an extra 1K of MRR or 5K of MRR. It’s going to blow your mind. You can’t believe how amazing that is. At the same time, be prepared for a lot of things to change and things to get way more complicated. Things that you can’t even imagine. I think a lot of us think about having to scale support and having to scale technology, but there are gonna be things, like I said, your books are gonna get more complicate, you’re gonna have a really big tax bill at the end of the year that you’re not used to. Start to think about the negatives of business growth in the sense of just so you’re aware of them and they don’t blindside you.
 The second thing, I would say, is talk to a founder or two who have experienced that growth within the past year or two. Someone who’s just enough ahead of you that they can give you some heads up. I’ve been throwing things out here, right? Your books and having to scale support and the big tax bill. I’m saying that ’cause I went through all of them and they all created a tremendous amount of stress in my life. Talk to a founder or two. They’re going to have the same war stories. I think that’s gonna be, probably, your ticket towards taking a few notes and then revisiting these things like, “Am I seeing these yet? Am I saving for taxes? Do I need to hire a bookkeeper instead of doing it myself?” To try to think of how to get ahead of the chaos that’s caused by a growing business.
Sherry Walling:Yeah. I think those are all really … You’ve broken down the elements that cause stress within that kind of change. I think those are the things that, if you don’t see it coming, you’re just expecting yourself to be riding on the wave of success. Like, “I’m so stoked that I’ve experienced this level of growth in this year” or whatever your goals are, to exceed them. I think it’s wonderful to ride that excitement, but it’s also important to be prepared for this shadow side, for this downside of what might happen. The challenges that will happen when that major shift comes.
 Of course, the major shift that’s caused a lot of stress in our lives over the last year has been the sale of Drip. I think when you begin to talk about the possibility of an exit or of selling the business, you had a sense, certainly, that there would be nuts and bolts to take care of. It was also this aspirational goal of like, “This is the next step. This is gonna be really exciting”. To be close to or within reach of something that you have wanted to be able to achieve, I think, obviously, there’s lots of anticipation and lots of positive emotion and delight that goes along with that, but surprising, perhaps, on some level, much more difficult and derailing than maybe you expected.
Rob Walling:Yeah. I had heard the stories of founders selling and had heard that they kept saying, “This is the most stressful thing I ever did in my life”. That was the takeaway from hearing folks talk about it. In the midst of it, it was. It was something that even though I thought I was prepared for it, I was not prepared for how much of an emotional toll that it would take on me. I also don’t deal well with change in general. I don’t love it. I don’t deal well with stress. This was a big amalgamation of both of those things, being in a pressure cooker. It’s hard to be someone who doesn’t wanna, kind of like to back yourself into a corner, you know?
 There are certain decisions you can make in life that you can go back on, and then there are certain decisions that are permanent. I think that’s a big struggle that founders have when they’re thinking about selling their business. With each business, you’re going to do it zero or one time. You’re not going to be able to sell that business twice. You have to be extremely careful and diligent and, in some people, diligence is who they are naturally and in others, it makes them stressed out. It’ll add added stress. Some people negotiate very naturally and others, it turns them into a person that they don’t want to be, but they don’t know how else to do that.
 I think that’s a big piece here I’ve been trying to … Founders have been contacting me since the exit nine months ago and I have been trying to give them advice. You want to educate yourself because the more you know, the less stressed you’ll be to hire a broker or an investment banker to help you so that you don’t feel like you’re totally out there on your own making the choice, to be honest, I was twice as stressed until we got the broker involved and then, at least I felt like I had someone knowledgeable to talk to. Derek and I were talking about it, but neither of us are knowledgeable in all the intricacies. That really helped take the stress off me.
 The third thing I would do, is I would meditate pretty much daily, which I don’t do anymore and I didn’t before then, but I was at such peak stress, I knew I needed to do something.
Sherry Walling:You pulled out the big guns, huh?
Rob Walling:Exactly. Yeah. It was five minutes in the morning in the parking lot on the way into work. The other thing I would say is, be less stressed about it. I wished I could have been less stressed about it. I don’t know what else I could have done, but I kept telling myself, “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. You’re making great choices. You’re gonna do this right”, and it felt like I couldn’t convince myself. You know? I just had this constant run of stress for months on end, and I couldn’t convince my own brain that, really, it was gonna be okay. In the end, it was okay. I kept saying, “In a couple months, it’ll be okay”, but my body didn’t believe me. I don’t know that I have advice beyond that, but that’s what I would say to someone who … A lot of folks listening will probably, someday, go through an exit.
Sherry Walling:I think the last area where I’m most acutely aware of the phenomena, the downside of good things, is in having children. If my kids ever listen to this, I think they know that I love them, but it’s definitely something that has been more difficult for me than I thought it would be. We very much wanted our children, we very much decided to bring them into our family and I feel really grateful for them, but I’m also, on the day to day, keenly aware of the limited resources that are available to me in a day, in terms of energy and time. There are certainly things in my career that I have not been able to do or do as well or as strongly as I might have done had I made different choices around family and timing and things like that.
 Again, this isn’t a take-back conversation at all. It’s an honest conversation about, this is a really beautiful and important part of my life and brings a lot of joy and meaning, but also costs a lot. There are some really significant downsides to me as a person, to me as a professional. I’m speaking just for myself, but Rob, you can chime in there if you’d like to commiserate.
Rob Walling:Yeah. No. I feel the same way. It’s like you said, it’s not a take-back thing, but it is a wow, there’s a lot of stress here. There’s a lot of added stress because of this decision to have kids.
Sherry Walling:It’s on the list, so research supports our perspective.
Rob Walling:Yeah. Right. It’s not just anecdotal.
Sherry Walling:It’s not just us. I think that, to just summarize the conversation that we’ve had, I think it’s really important to tell the truth about the difficulties that exists, even in really great things. We have to create space within ourselves and within the people that are around us for some nuance, for some realization that most major life events come with a while bucket load of emotions. That getting married might be the happiest day of your life, but, for many people, there’s also a lot of complexity that goes along with it. Or having a business be really successful to the point that you’re ready to sell it, it might be the thing that you work for for years, but it still comes with this mixed bag of feelings and mixed bag of experiences.
 I would love to create more nuance in our conversations around these kind of events so that we can help prepare each other for the negative sides, for the complexity of positive things.
Rob Walling:I think another thing that you can do is to really give yourself space and time for these adjustments. Like I was saying earlier, these all just boil down to change of one kind or another. Something that I think we’ve done a pretty good job of is, as a lot of change has been gearing up to come at us, like the move and the acquisition and selling our house and all that stuff, we would have conversations and say, “We’re just gonna give ourselves a break. If we need to order dinner out four nights this week, then we need to do that”. It was basically giving ourselves space and permission to deal with it and adjust. We also talked about really giving the kids times and not rushing them around. If one day, they decided, “Boy, I just really can’t do violin lesson” or “I can’t … ” whatever it is, we cut them some slack because we knew that us being stressed meant everybody was stressed.
 I think giving yourself license to do that and to slow down … The idea is to try not to book anymore than one of these changes at a time. If you can space them out, that’s ideal, but if you have two or three of them or four of them piling up on top of you at once, it’s gonna be rough. Realize that and then get out ahead of it and give yourself and everyone around you permission to adjust.
Sherry Walling:I’m also reminded that the original intent of this line of research and very much how it’s continued into the last forty years, fifty years of research into stress and anxiety, is the ways in which it’s connected to our bodies. When you think about making space for yourself and time for these adjustments, one of the best things that you can do is to really, really take very good care of your body because these are those kinds of things. How many people do you know who got sick on their honeymoon because they were exhausted from the wedding process? They’re bodies were just like, “We’re done. Peace out”. Just reiterating what you said, Rob, but even the very specific piece of taking good physical care of yourself when going through any of these changes.
 I think the last thing that I would want to reiterate is to be very intentional about naming and enjoying the good parts of these good things. There are certainly moments when selling a business or big business growth or having kids feels like you’re drowning in it, but once you practice, whether it’s the examine at the end of the day where you’re remembering the high points and the low points, or whether it’s a gratitude list, you’re making the choice to set your mind on the positive aspects and reminding yourself that whatever problem you’re having in the context of these big changes, it’s a good problem to have. It’s a problem you have because you’ve had success in your profession because you met someone that you wanted to have a family with. Those are good things. Reminding yourself about them, I think, also helps to ease the distress of how hard they can be.

 

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