We spend countless years getting our startups to an “exit.” We all know that once we hit that promised land, everything will finally be OK. We’ll satisfy our investors, our employee stockholders, and finally pay back all that debt we created. We’ll get a vacation — a real one this time! We’ll get back in the gym, we’ll pick our hobbies back up, we may even find out what our kid’s names are (“Chad, right?”.. “No, Dad, I’m Jen.”)
All of this will be an atomic mushroom cloud that lands us to what we’ve always been promised — validation.
We’ll validate ourselves from the haters and naysayers. We’ll walk into rooms full of important people who will all look at us and say “Can you believe what an amazing thing that woman did?” We’ll get instant respect.
Ah, the sweet taste of accomplishment and validation. Once we sell, we get that Willy Wonka ticket right?
Here’s the thing: that’s not how it works… at all. Yes, creating a big pot of cash will solve monetary problems. We’ll definitely pay back that Home Equity line and the thrice-deferred student loans. And that will feel amazing. We’ll do an interview with a few media trades and they’ll tell our tale of victory.
There will be an awkward “we did it” celebration in the conference room. And then just like that, we’ll be sitting in our living room waiting for the “big payoff” that is validation and happiness to come with it.
And it won’t.
What the Hell Happened?
What happened was none of the things that we thought were tied to the success of our startup (and by proxy our own happiness) were ever really connected, to begin with. We convinced ourselves that with validation would come happiness, and we convinced ourselves that selling our startup would lead to validation which must automatically include insane happiness.
But, did we talk to enough Founders who actually sold to find out if that were true? We can’t use the logic of “That’s a lot of money, so it must be true” or fall into the rut of pretending their social media tells the truth. If we talk to enough Founders who have run the full cycle of start to “finish,” we’ll quickly learn that the other side doesn’t bring validation and happiness — it just brings another start.
We Can’t Let Startups Validate Us
There’s a huge difference between getting some validation from a job well done and literally validating our ego solely from our startup. Selling our startup shouldn’t lead to our validation. The real mega victory (that few achieve, including this author) is disconnecting our ego and validation from the outcome of our startup. That victory means finding validation in stuff that actually matters, like the people around us and of course, ourselves.
That’s not me trying to sound like a bad fortune cookie (“True happiness is only found in you!”), it’s to say after seeing countless Founders go through this process, no one ever seems to be validated. That’s not because selling a startup isn’t great, it’s because our challenges around happiness and validation exist all around us, and our startup just happens to be a convenient scapegoat for them.