When Success Looks Questionable, Fake It ’Til You Make It
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, “How do you stay optimistic when your company is struggling?” is written by Cat Lincoln, CEO and founder of CLEVER.
If you don’t get freaked out once in awhile, you’re probably coasting—at least a little. And yes, that means that sometimes you’re going to flounder and struggle. But if you expect some discomfort to be part of the process, there are several ways you can plan ahead to deal with hard times:
Use your support
First and foremost, have your support system in place and use it. I have two co-founders, and we always half-jokingly/half-seriously say, “Thank God there are three of us!” We acknowledge that bad days happen, and when one of us struggles, the other two are available to step in and help. We agree to ask for and accept help rather than suffer in silence until the problem gets too overwhelming. It’s useless to have people ready to lend a hand if you don’t have the trust and confidence in the relationship to be able to rely on them.
Focus on what you can do
Next, remember to focus on actionable items, not the problem. A few years ago, we had a serious cash crunch. I would log on and inspect our checking account balance a dozen times a day, hoping it had magically grown bigger in the past hour. The stress was paralyzing—until I sat down with our CFO and started to work on a plan to raise enough cash to get us through that lean time. Shifting my focus from the fear of, “Oh no, this situation is terrible!” to the problem-solving mentality of, “Here are the steps to bridge our cash flow needs” put me back in control of the situation.
Fake it ‘till you make it
Finally, know that “fake it ‘til you make it” actually works. It’s a cliché, but positive thinking really does change your behavior, and even your experience of the situation.
Early in my career, I had one of those sudden, involuntary job changes that come with mergers. Without any training—or natural ability—I was suddenly responsible for making hundreds of sales calls a day, and meeting a weekly appointment-setting quota. I was miserable, and it showed. My energy was low, a constant frown lived on my face, and I was ready to complain to anyone who would listen.
Finally, my outside sales partner pulled me aside and bluntly told me that my attitude sucked. He said that I could either start acting positive, whether it was true or not, or I could start looking for a new job. I was shocked. But at that moment, I needed that salary, so I put a smile on my face and in my voice. I used all of my improv class skills to put on an Academy-award winning performance of a person who absolutely loved her job.
Unsurprisingly, I never got especially good at inside sales, but I was amazed to discover that just by acting like I was happy to be there, I started to feel exponentially better. What started out feeling like an ill-fitting costume became my second skin. My day-to-day life improved to the point where I really felt happier, thanks to making myself behave as if I were satisfied with the job. This, in turn, gave me enough space (and breathing room) to make my next career move.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t lie about your situation, especially not to your coworkers or staff. You don’t have to paint the full, gory picture, but outright lying about your company’s health makes a bad situation worse. You will get through your rough patch (one way or another), and you want your reputation to stay intact.
Frankly, it’s a lot harder to stay positive when you’re engaging in bad behaviors. Instead, focus on the good. Remember why you started. Keep your eyes on the prize. And always have a plan B and C ready for whatever might come next.