How To Brave The StartUp Rollercoaster

The Smart Train Rollercoaster

Liz Barron has written a guest post for the blog on learning to ride the StartUp Rollercoaster. I think all entrepreneurs feel like they are on a rollercoaster at times. It’s a great analogy that one of her clients knew only too well. Enjoy the read…

One of the big personal risks for any entrepreneur (apart from blowing their finances, eating too much takeout food and never seeing their family) is whether they have the ability to survive the massive demands on their emotional and physical resources over a sustained period, and to avoid burnout.

StartUp burnout – a real problem

The Smart Train Rollercoaster

Harvard Business Review describes burnout as a “prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stresses, characterised by exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy” – not exactly a good thing for any business, or for the entrepreneur’s willingness to keep going.

An entrepreneur’s first venture may or may not be successful. Generally it can take a few failed attempts and lessons learned, before they find the right business and opportunity. These guys and girls need to be able to survive a couple of loop-the-loops without falling off.

Burnout is a “prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stresses, characterised by exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy”

In startup businesses, huge effort, money and time goes into developing:

  • the business concept
  • the product or service design
  • sourcing funding
  • legal aspects and so on

Typically though, the other success factor which usually gets minimal support is the entrepreneur’s confidence, self-belief, and their ability to make things happen. They need the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively, to lead others, to manage themselves and their stress levels and to have resilience and mental toughness to survive the intense peaks and troughs of the startup world.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

My client Jack* is running a high potential startup business at a critical stage. Jack wanted to take preemptive action to address the constant rollercoaster of emotions, and periods of intense stress and potential for self-doubt.

Following an assessment of his Emotional Intelligence skills which produced a Leadership report, we identified two key areas to work on; improving his self-regard, and how he manages challenges.

These were:

  • Not being able to switch off properly, in the rare moments when not actually working
  • Needing a better way to manage the dizzying emotional highs and the sometimes paralysing lows when something doesn’t go to plan, and to find some balance in between

He used the phrase “rollercoaster” so I asked him to sketch the rollercoaster on paper, and he noted that on a “high” after a good meeting this might score +10, and that the “low” perhaps later that day might be on some technical challenge with the product – sending his emotional level to -11!  We agreed that he wanted to range between +6 and -3.

Awareness and processing thoughts

How does he achieve this? Simply by being present and aware of his reaction in the moment, pressing the pause button and checking in with how his internal “gauge” is reading. If the level is higher or lower than he wants, he found it helpful to consider a balancing thought to enable him to manage his responses more effectively, allowing him to roll with the punches on a more sustained basis.

In tandem with this, he is  finding simple ways to switch off completely such as using mindfulness or meditation apps like Headspace, take a walk for 15 or 20 mins just to clear the head, and also to eat a healthy diet and keep up his hobbies.

The alternative to the StartUp rollercoaster

So instead of coming off the rollercoaster dazed, sick and disoriented, develop your emotional intelligence skills, notice your response and stress levels in the moment, and take care of yourself. You can enjoy the ride more and be ready to go round again and again for as long as it takes!

Liz Barron is an Executive and Career Coach, working with leaders and teams to realize their full potential. Liz was awarded ICF Ireland Career Coach of the Year 2014. You can find Liz on 

Have you suffered from burnout in the past? Have you learned to ride the StartUp rollercoaster? Have you further tips to share with our readers? The best place is in the comments section below…

6 thoughts on “How To Brave The StartUp Rollercoaster

  • March 31, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    Nice article Liz and on the button!…Mental resilience is everything, without it all the technical skills and know how will not get you over the inevitable ups and downs of the self-employed rollercoaster. The capacity to cope, and cope with confidence, no matter what, is what determines long term success.

    • April 2, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Eoin – mental resilience is essential indeed as we know !!

  • March 30, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Hi Liz, this is an important subject so thanks for addressing it. I’ve been on this roller-coaster and intend to go again. Experience is a great teacher but there is definitely way more government/state bodies could be doing to support entrepreneurs as regards the mental challenges. Regards, Niall

    • April 2, 2015 at 6:45 pm

      Thanks for the comment Niall – working with clients who are in startups, and also being self employed, you really recognise how important mental resilience is… people with great ideas given the right support can make great things happen. CEOs of big corporations recognise the importance of executive and personal coaching so why not make it available to support entrepreneurs at the start of their journey…?
      Wishing you success in your ventures…! regards Liz

  • March 23, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for inviting me to contribute Elaine – hope your readers find it helpful!

    • March 30, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      It’s a pleasure Liz. It’s a great post, addressing key issues for people planning a StartUp, or indeed, already on the rollercoaster!

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