I just read an article on CNN on how social media have turned us all into professional pretenders, broadcasting a fake image of happiness and perfection to our friends, family members, and colleagues.
This also affects our professional lives. We need to show we are so fulfilled and happy with our jobs.
In the entrepreneurial world, and especially in the startup ecosystem, this pretending just reaches stratospheric heights. We live in this world where, if you are a CEO, you are not supposed to work harder, but smarter (I am probably one of those dumb guys who had to do the former as I didn’t know how to do the latter), read 52 books per year, and be always inspirational, truthful to their vision, ambitious and strong.
Let’s stop pretending
But that world is a fantasy. In the real world, we are imperfect, we go through bad times often, tough years. We do mistakes, not because we “fail” or “don’t try hard enough” –that’s also sweetened bullshit– but because we are unwise, stupid, and irrational. We are not always nice, or do what we are supposed to do. We don’t have perfect bodies and 6-pack abs.
And pretending won’t help us. It will only alienate us and create a gap between our perfect digital avatars and our pitiful real selves. I’m gonna break down, and let it all out, sings Nina Simone in her famous 1966 song, and I think it’s something healthy we all should do from time to time. We need it. The pandemic has affected us all, one way or another. But we are afraid to break this illusion to ask for help.
I am lucky. I don’t have social media, and I don’t need to project this perfect image of myself. I have never been shy on my blog about my health problems, stress, or simply when I have gone through bad times and even stoicism wasn’t able to help. I am a flawed, imperfect person.
One of the hardest years
And 2021 has been one of the harderst years of my life.
In summer, the CFO of my company resigned. It’s been a tough year for everybody, we all have been going through a lot, so I can’t blame her. However, her resignation came at the worst time for me. She told us some days before leaving to Turkey. After one year and a half in Bulgaria due to the pandemic, it was the first time we were going to travel again, and our first holidays in two years.
Her resignation caught us by surprise and caused me a lot of stress. I spent most of our stay in Antalya sick and worried. She was the person who was looking after our HQ in Estonia, so we also had to change our plans of getting back to Bulgaria. We looked for a place in Tallinn and canceled the rent of our apartment in Sofia.
Why? One of the reasons of the resignation of our CFO was the alienation during the pandemic, working alone in the office. Other people were working from home, and she just felt disconnected. As much as we support remote work, we wanted to prevent that, so we decided to build a strong team in our HQ and know there are people there carrying on with the spirit of the company even if we are away.
We arrived in Estonia in September, rented a new office, and looked for people to grow our team there. And it’s been hard. Really hard. After years of traveling, we are not used to working in an office anymore. Even if it is my office, and we designed it to feel like a coworking, having to go there every morning felt a bit like going back to the 9 to 5.
And this is a self-inflicted punishment. I am the boss after all. I don’t have to go there every morning if I don’t want to. But I felt obliged to be there and led by example. I still do, even if I don’t completely understand why.
It’s also a very stressful period in my company for a number of reasons that make the previous CFO’s resignation a minor hassle in comparison. We have grown a lot, almost reaching one thousand customers. We are now looking for our series A round and, as you may know, it’s a tiring, time-consuming activity that has added a lot of extra pressure for me.
Fortunately, I have enrolled an amazing CTO and COO. But it will take up to one whole year until I can free myself completely from the operational side of the business… You can’t simply turn completely away from what’s going on with your company when you are the CEO anyway.
It’s been hard. Some days I got back home completely exhausted, unable to speak or eat anything. Other times, I would just sit down on the sofa and cry for no reason, sometimes for hours.
Add some personal issues, health problems, etc… And you have a not-so-nice 2021.
And the worst part for me was having to go to the office the next morning with a smile on my face, being inspirational, and making sure everybody in the team feels good. I’m supposed to do that since I am the CEO. But some days it was so hard that I felt as if I was wearing a mask with the face of a completely different person.
Estonian winter has not helped at all. It’s harsh. I don’t mind if it’s cold, rains, or snows often, but I need sunlight. Estonia is dark during the winter months. In December, there are only 5-6 hours of sunlight a day.
But you don’t even get to enjoy those hours. Most of the time, however, there’s a thick layer of clouds that covers everything. It really feels like an eternal night. For days, you don’t see the sun, or the blue of the sky. And it eventually takes its toll on you.
Estonians are obviously ok with this, and maybe it’s just a matter of getting used to it. But when you have had the privilege of choosing where you want to be during winter for years, being forced to stay mostly inside throughout this dark Estonian winter… is hard.
Break down, and let it all out
Miguel and I talked the other day about it while having a beer. And I am so happy we did it. I somehow was keeping it to myself and trying to project this image of “everything’s alright”. I realized that was wrong, not just for me (nobody can get through that for long), but also for Miguel. He was going through the same stuff, and also trying to be strong. I was not being fair with him. We were not ok.
So we let it all out. We talked about how we missed our freedom, traveling, the sunlight, our friends in Bulgaria, being outside, working from a co-working or a café every day…
That talk was an eye-opener, and at least we know now what we want, what we need, and what we miss. The future ahead is uncertain, but at least we know where we are, and where we would like to head next.
And you won’t probably see any of your Instagram friends saying something like this alongside a picture of a sad face. That’s the way those platforms work, and it’s not ok.
Not everything is darkness
Everybody had a hard year, everybody had a good time, everybody had a wet dream, everybody saw the sunshineThe Beatles – I’ve got a feeling
But not everything’s been darkness, and that’s also something we need to remember. We’ve experienced a beautiful spring in Bulgaria. I’ve been able to play the piano with my friend Petya, and also enjoyed talking about work, art, philosophy, or just life with my friend Dave. I’ve had a coffee and laughed with my friend Tenley, and learned how to ride a skateboard again.
Despite the stress, the business is growing every day, and I have been able to delegate and get a lot of workload off my shoulders. We have the right product, the right growth, and the right team in place to get the investment we need to skyrocket our operations. The future of Companio looks bright.
Everybody’s had a hard year, yes, but everybody’s also had a good time at least once, a wet dream, or saw the sunshine, even if for a short period of time.
We don’t need to hide our struggles and problems, pretend we are perfect, and broadcast a fake image of ourselves. We need to acknowledge these problems, talk about them with people we love, and do something to change our lives for the better. Don’t hide, you’ll find out all of us are like you, imperfect, scared, and in need of help sometimes. Don’t be afraid of reaching out.