Anxiety for innovators

As far as I can tell, nearly every startup leader, innovator, entrepreneur, intrapreneur or other change-maker experiences bouts of anxiety. You almost can’t help it. Whether it’s the urgent needs of the present, the ghost of past crises or an uncertain and uncontrollable future, creating something new and worthwhile seems to require some level of anxiety.  

For some people, that manifests in paralysis, in another a periodic stomach ache or the sleepless nights that are part of the entrepreneur stereotype. Sometimes we don’t realize how anxious we really are until some relatively minor issue, like a traffic jam or a glitching computer, seems to knock the lid of of our internal well of unease. And of course, for some people trying to control that anxiety seems to pave a path to unethical decisions, substance abuse, depression or worse.  We’ve seen plenty of examples of those.

The awareness that some level of anxiety is almost inevitable when doing something that matters provides a little bit of comfort.  We can think of it as sort of the cost to participate in the adventure that we have undertaken. We know that there’s probably an easier route, but we also know in our guts what price that route would exact from us.  

I suspect that for most of us, the big challenge we face is in learning to manage our anxiety, learning to live with it and be with it and accept it as a part of the process.  Mediation types talk about accepting thoughts and feelings, not trying to judge them or control them, which is apparently why you have to “practice.” Living with it without controlling it does not seem to  come naturally.

For me, simply acknowledging that I’m anxious seems to help.  I’m not routinely self-reflective, and I can be very much on edge without having any conscious awareness of how anxious I really am. Ironically, people around me can usually spot it before I can.  But once I know it’s there, I can usually manage it down to a dull roar.

But it never truly leaves, and I think that in itself is a useful recognition.  Perhaps we don’t need to expect it to leave. Perhaps managed anxiety has a value to the work we are trying to do.  

And if nothing else, writing about it might help you feel more at peace with it.  


***NOTE: I am nothing resembling a psychologist.  I don’t know where clinical, chemical/hormonal anxiety starts and life anxiety-type anxiety begins.  I don’t actually know if there’s a line between them or is it’s a mix of both or what. If you have anxiety that’s interfering with your life, get counseling.  Your experience may vary… a lot. And while some anxiety might be inevitable, your life should not suck. If it does, you may need more than deep breathing and a positive perspective.  Get help.