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“I finally gave myself permission to think: where is the intersection between what the company needs, what you need, and what your family needs, and how do we get to that point? I’m eternally grateful for that because it saved my family.” – João Barros

I’m always a bit shocked when I hear the infamous statistic that “90% of startups fail.” The beginning of any entrepreneurial endeavor can seem like a good idea at the time. And, so much work and human power goes into the making of the thing. Do we ever see failure coming? With all the growth and growing pains, influxes of capital, decisions upon decisions, and general entrepreneurial delusions, is there a feeling of failure that we try to avoid? What happens if we don’t realize the full potential of the company? What happens when the doors close in front of us?

When the end comes (of anything really—a company, your position, a relationship), it doesn’t seem to matter how prepared you were for the final verdict. The traffic of thoughts in your mind can reel between “It’s over” and “It can’t be over.” There’s often a plaintive gasp: “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.” You rewind memories that retrace the past steps leading to now, and mutter preferred cuss words at all the wrong turns: If only I’d done this, that, or the other, I’d still be in the game. We’d have succeeded if only…As if things could be fixed retroactively through the rearview mirror. Other thoughts can spiral into a whirling vortex of self-doubt, inadequacy, loathing, and loss. It can seem as if reality shows up swiftly, and so radically different from where we thought we were and where we wanted to end up.

Pema Chödrön writes in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times that, “Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

How can we make room for all of it—what’s happened, what’s happening now, and the rush of feelings in us? How can we learn to be okay with how things unfolded? How can we relax our ’aftermathing’ (crunching the numbers, how-comes, whys, and coulda-beens) in the wake of the outcome? How can we find peace with what just went down, and with what is?

The key in times like this: acceptance. Said Reboot-ily: This being so, so what? Resisting, fighting, and denying what has happened keeps us at bay from a more easeful flow, and instead keeps us holding up a wall in front of us that increases our struggle. So much of our tension can be released by including all of our experience with the act of acceptance.

Acceptance, a key quality of resilience, is also at the core of mindfulness, which “teaches us the ultimate resilience—to trust in our capacity to wisely and compassionately meet whatever comes our way,” as therapist and author Linda Graham notes in her book, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-being. “Mindfulness—the steady, non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of experience—leads to self-awareness and to shifts in our perspectives that allow us to see clearly what’s happening and how we are reacting, to respond to triggers and traumas with far more open-mindedness, and to face the process of necessary change with far more flexibility and tolerance.” Together with empathy—“a wholesome practice of connection and acceptance that expands our awareness of resources we can draw on, both within ourselves and from others”—we begin to see the hallmark qualities of emerging resiliency.

Employing both mindfulness and empathy will help us along in the acceptance department. Here, we work to recover our own resilience in those moments when we find ourselves mentally aftermathing scenario calculations that we can’t retroactively fix. We can breathe with what is—right now—and make room for everything. And in so doing, we can find a sense of peace that allows us to gather up our inner resources and move on unencumbered from the past, and make fresh choices for the future. In other words, if we remain stuck in the quagmire of what we wish would have happened, we limit our capacity to move beyond it and therefore limit ourselves.

Acceptance allows us to honor and accept an entire event and integrate it into our sense of self—no blame and shame allowed. We must come to understand the narrative of what happened, what we did to survive it, what the cost of that survival may have been, what we learned and can bring forward with us, and how we’d like to respond to life now. What resources can we rely on as we move forward now that we’ve parsed the equation from this aftermath?

Being able to move through these steps, with the matter-of-factness as if you were reading the back of a box of cereal, involves compassionately meeting not only whatever comes your way but compassionately meeting yourself. That is an act of acceptance and inclusion that is befriending, gentle, and present.

Self-acceptance fortifies your emotional foundation to endure what happens so you can enhance your capacity to handle the detours, plot twists, and uncertainty of what’s next in life and work. And in so doing, even in the aftermath, you connect with your truest self—a place of inherent goodness, a place that exists in the background of the post-event aftermathing figurations. Catching ourselves, and returning to that place, steels us in a way because we know we can return home there when the going goes haywire.

Resiliency is the ability to overcome all kinds of challenges—trauma, tragedy, personal crises, all the stuff life throws at us—and bounce back stronger, wiser, and more personally fortified. There’s something alchemical about it: taking everything you experience and transforming it into something useful.

When I think of resiliency, I think of the ability to show up every day and be present for what shows up to meet me. In the ups and downs of startup life, this is a turbulent adventure we’ve chosen to embark upon. It’s a wild ride with as many unsuspecting blows as there are boons. A client once said to me, “Some days I tell myself I need to get back up on my horse and keep going. Sometimes that’s really hard.” It takes courage and grit to keep on like that and to face everything as it comes. It requires the capacity to cut through your own tendency for self-delusion and the ability to pick yourself up and harvest all the useful information the experience has given you. 

The art of resilience allows you to be transformed by the experiences so that you emerge as a truer expression of yourself. I see that to be very true in João Barros’ story in this podcast conversation with Jerry. In the winding journey of his startup, he began to feel disconnected from himself. In the face of the Silicon Valley Mythology of what it means to be a successful startup (and all the stress that comes with that), he forgot what his version of success was. Yet, it’s in the act of finding closure and recounting that he was able to piece back together what happened, gathering lessons learned, and ultimately reconnecting once again to himself and the meaning he gleans from his work in the world. 

If you’ve been in a similar situation, give yourself as many cycles as needed to pause and recollect: What happened? What will you bring forward from this experience? How did it shape you? 


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