The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What’s one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made?” is written by Erik Severinghaus, a Kellogg MBA and serial entrepreneur.
The best business decision I ever made was practically forced upon me: joining a peer mentoring group.
When I closed my second round of institutional capital for SimpleRelevance, one of my VCs asked if he could introduce me to Gregg Kaplan, the former CEO of Redbox, who was putting together a group of CEOs to do structured peer mentoring. While I knew and respected a couple other members of the group, I was skeptical. Frankly, I was arrogant enough to believe that I was too good for this type of session, and there would be little I’d learn from other startup founders sitting around talking with each other on a monthly basis—much better to use that time to keep grinding away, building SimpleRelevance. After talking with Gregg, I reluctantly agreed, more out of my tremendous respect for him than being sold on the concept.
Perhaps because of my arrogance, I didn’t even realize how the pressure and stresses of entrepreneurship were building on my psyche. As the stakes rose, so did my blood pressure. I slept erratically, drank too much, and developed a persistent twitch in my left eye. One evening, my girlfriend had her head on my chest while we were watching TV, and she asked why my heart was racing. I told her that was pretty much a constant thing—whenever I thought about work.
My body was screaming at me to take care of myself. Literally, from my eye to my heart, I needed to do something.
The most pernicious thing about stress is that it narrows your vision and self-awareness. So, when I most needed to be thoughtful and take action, I was blind to the need, telling myself, “This is just part of the job—this is what it means to be an entrepreneur.” And while everyone deals with stress, for a CEO, the loneliness can be particularly acute. You usually can’t talk to anyone about what you’re going through.
Investing four hours in meeting with similar CEOs on a monthly basis was transformative for me. When you realize that 10 other people are going through the exact same ups and downs as you are, it absolutely changes your mindset, allowing you to contextualize the challenges into “these are things CEOs deal with” rather than blaming yourself.
And while I’ve been part of innumerable “startup groups,” there were principles that made this experience so powerful:
2. Commitment to the group—not missing more than one session a year
For me, the experience became a gateway into lots of research I’m doing on how to use mindfulness and self-awareness to improve outcomes for entrepreneurs professionally, while mitigating the sometimes family and health-destroying effects of starting and running a business.