1. Have multiple components to your identity.
Startup life is consuming. It's time consuming, emotionally consuming, physically consuming, and financially consuming. In the startup space, it's easy to feel like you are your company. When someone says, "tell me about yourself," you begin your answer with your startup and don't know how to depart from there. Your work owns your watch and your wallet and your wellbeing. The best talisman to ward off the all-encompassing startup identity? Have lots of parts to you. Spend time with friends who don't work in your same office (or spend time with work friends far, far away from the office). Pursue hobbies in a different field than your work. Take a class in a skill that doesn't fit into your job description. Train for a triathlon, start a blog, join a book club, take a painting class—do something, preferably many things, that help you build a multifaceted identity. That way, if one part of your identity is threatened (i.e., if you sprain an ankle and can't train for the triathlon), you have many other things to fall back on without feeling empty. You're still whole and fulfilled. You're still legion.
2. Find your environment.
I worked in a coworking space with an open office plan—we're talking whiteboards for walls, rolling chairs in the most abrasive shades of yellow and lime green, and long, open tables. While this environment was conducive to friend-making, it wasn't ideal for my productivity. Toward the end of my college years, I stumbled across my most productive environment: sitting crosslegged on my bed with the curtains drawn (as to not be tempted by the siren call of a sparkling, sunny day), a candle lit, soft music playing through noise-cancelling headphones, my golden retriever at the foot of my bed, and a tall glass of water next to me. When I worked for a startup, I couldn't always work from home, but I learned to discern which tasks I could complete from the office and which tasks I needed to save for my home environment.
3. Don't linger over emails.
I used to struggle with email anxiety: I'd spend an exorbitant amount of time penning, editing, and rereading my emails, paralyzed by the thought of making a grammar error, or spelling someone's name wrong, or leaving something out, or accidentally hitting "reply all." With each subsequent reread, my anxiety would grow, until my emails would take up permanent residency in my drafts folder, doused in cobwebs and unease. Last summer, my job at an indie publishing house helped me acclimate to sending rapid-fire, cold emails (part of my glamorous job was sending upwards of 500 marketing emails each week). However, those emails were largely the product of cut and paste. Once I quadruple-checked my email script, all I had to do was copy and paste it 500 times. And so, the bulk of my anxiety remained. When I transitioned to working at a startup, I had to become comfortable with sending emails that were personal, time sensitive, and sometimes just distasteful. I didn't have time to linger over each email, and I didn't have the luxury of letting them grow stale in my drafts folder. So, I strong-armed myself into a new system. I imposed the triple-check rule upon myself: write the email all at once, never letting yourself pause for more than a few seconds. Then, do three re-reads, editing along the way. Once the three reads are up, hit send. The end.
4. Say yes, then figure it out.
I didn't have any formal training in design before I worked as a designer for a startup. But I had a good eye, the proper tools, and an interesting opportunity, so I said yes and made it work. I watched countless tutorials and spent even more hours learning through trial and error. My lack of experience made my work slower at the beginning, but I quickly caught up. Learning on my own ended up being deeply satisfying (and sort of addicting).
5. Have a side hustle (or two).
A startup stipend + pricy housing + indulgent trips to Trader Joe's meant that I needed a side hustle to keep me from burning through my cash too quickly. Throughout college, I worked as a freelance videographer and voiceover artist for startups and nonprofits, so I dusted off my camera, updated my version of Final Cut Pro, and got back into the freelancing game. The extra couple hundred dollars here and there helped take the edge off of the financial strain.
6. Clock out.
It's easy to let entrepreneurship set the rhythm of your days, as you scramble from one moment to the next, barely making a dent in your to-do list but a deeply cut gouge in your savings account. Startup culture is fast paced, frenzied, and frustrating, but don't let this pattern your days. Slow down. Take evenings off. Take weekends off (...or most of the weekend—I do find early morning work sessions on Sundays to be a soothing way to prep for a new week). According to several studies, and most notably, a 2016 survey of 1,989 office workers in the UK, the average employee only spends two hours and 53 minutes actually working during an eight-hour work day. If you are like most people, you are doing yourself a great disservice by pulling long nights and early mornings, eating your lunch at your desk, and perforating your work time with social media. Aim for a few hard, no-nonsense hours of work rather than a very looooong, sluggish day of half-assing (pardon my French). On his productivity blog, my brother recently wrote,
7. Realize that not everyone is a right-brained, perfectionistic, introverted internal processor.
Give grace and be flexible. (I'm still learning this.)