My product is not good enough, clients are not buying. It’s easier for the competition, they are better than me. My team is not good enough. My pitch deck is not good enough, investors are saying no to me. My idea is not good enough. My startup is unworthy of success. Etc. We’ve all been there. When we project the “not good enough” label to something around us, it is mostly a reflection of the core belief “I am not enough” that is the root of it all. And we live in a culture of “never enough” that just makes things even worse.

It is a particularly dangerous belief and I have seen it completely paralyze people in their lives and being an obstacle for meaningful connection, meaningful work and meaningful life. I have, myself, been there. It took years of psychotherapy and reading all of Brené Brown’s books to start engaging differently with my life. While there is no way around therapy and reading all of Brené Brown’s books that will lead you to see yourself as “enough”, I want to offer here an attitude that can serve you in your role as a founder. Don’t use is it as a shortcut, but rather as an additional tool that can complement your work on yourself.

Being a founder, means being on the other side of the question “Am I/Is my {pitch deck, team, start-up, product} good enough and worthy of success?”. The very mission of a founder, is to produce results, regardless of (or despite) the answer to that (stupid) question. When you are asking yourself that question, you are stepping outside of your role as a founder. In other words, you can’t at the same time be asking that question and be a founder.

Let me illustrate my reasoning by walking your again through my “drawing story” that was so defining  for me, when as a kid not knowing how to draw and not wanting to fail at the “best drawing” contest I traded my food in exchange for other kids drawing for me:

  • There was a prize for the best drawing. Naturally, the ones knowing how to draw deserve the prize. Unquestionably, not very good at even holding the pencil, I was under all imaginable criteria undeserving of the prize. Have I asked myself the question “was I good enough and worthy of success” I would never have even tried to produce that drawing. Organizing and leading people to produce a result together starts by admitting that you are insufficient to produce that result yourself and then deciding that you are going to try and do it anyway.
  • Another important thing to notice is that, in reaction to the “I don’t know how to draw”, I could have decided to learn how to draw and then beat them at their game the next time. I guess that someone who is an artist, a painter, at some point in their life, made that choice. My talent is a different one and it is essential to what I do today. Organizing and leading people to produce a result together is not about becoming better at reaching a particular goal alone, but about gaining the big picture of who and what is available to you and about how you can combine and organize it all into something able to reach the result you want.
  • Finally, enough or not, worthy or not, it is not about you at all. It is about that drive to make something or be a part of something greater than ourselves. That drive, and not the need for approval and for being enough, is what propels us to aspire to achieve a result, lead others to it, and it is what attracts others to join us in our effort. That drive for connection with something greater than ourselves is fundamentally pure, self-justified and above any notion of enough or worth.

Understanding all this has actually helped me feel more “enough” and channel the sens of worth to other aspects of my life.

In the spirit of “fake it until you make it”, until you learn how to get yourself to stop asking “Am I/Is my {pitch deck, team, start-up, product} good enough and worthy of success?” question, try adopting “no” as the answer. Try to play with “I am not good enough, and so what?”. Embrace that answer (temporarily, just for the sake of getting into the right attitude), and go grab results anyway. It won’t stop you from progressing. On the contrary, what you learn in the process of trying will enable you to grow. The attitude I want to pass on to you comes down to:

“Whatever evidence there was that I/my {pitch deck, team, start-up, product} isn’t good enough and isn't worthy of success, and even if that were true, my mission as a founder is to try and succeed anyway”.

It is only when you adopt this pragmatic attitude that you can actually get curious about the practical improvments you can make and about all the skills you need to develop as a founder and eventually learn how to motivate, persuade, empower, negotiate, coordinate and lead. I feel very lucky to have discovered, early in my life, the passion for those skills and I am grateful for having been surrounded by people passionate about other things (such as drawing).

You will meet a lot of people who will, sometimes with best intentions, give you the “maybe you are not good enough” type of feedback. Sometimes they’ll do it out of desire for you to become better. I would usually dismiss such feedback when I know people have best intentions. And sometimes I would even try and look whether behind “not enough” there is something I can actually improve.

However, with experience, I have become less and less tolerant for the culture of “never enough”. It’s a toxic culture and it’s irresponsible to contribute to it even out of best intentions.

Saying "no" to “never enough” has not stopped me from improving, it actually accelerated my growth. Now, if I feel a connection to the person who brings the “not enough” argument to me, I buy them a Brené Brown book. If I don’t, I run away from them as far as I can.

Normalizing self-worth struggle

Everybody struggles with self-worth. Nobody likes to talk about it.

That is probably why normalizing self-worth struggle is hard, and we often face it thinking it only happens to us because we are not enough. Failures, disappointments, the founder myth and other typical founder experiences are definitely not helping.

Moreover, there is something called learned helplessness that is defined as behavior exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control. I think that every founder can recognize themselves in “enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control”. And learned helplessness theory is the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may result from such real or perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.

Dealing with issues around self-worth often requires professional help, which many founders are in fact smart enough to get.

In addition to that, some practical questions that help me navigate the self-worth struggles are:

  • Am I feeling helpless about something?
  • Is my perception of self-worth standing in the way of me taking the actions that I perceive as being part of my job as a founder?
  • Have I told anyone about feeling helpless and struggling with self-worth?

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