The Next Fyre Festival? Dealing with Uncertainty
The Next Fyre Festival? Dealing with Uncertainty
Uncertainty is a constant in life, yet most of us struggle to cope with it.
Entrepreneurs are at the mercy of the unexpected, meaning we need to know how to handle unforeseen circumstances with calmness and clarity. However, it turns out that entrepreneurs are humans. We are prone to mental health issues. We can feel anxious when we dwell on the what-ifs of the future and depressed when we dwell on failures we’ve experienced in the past.
To compound matters, entrepreneurs NEED to overthink about the future. While stressing about scenarios that haven’t happened yet may be a detriment for others, for entrepreneurs it is a business skill.
What’s the difference between anxiety and planning for uncertainty?
Host Andrew Hong recounted an experience in which he and his partners planned a music festival on the island of Guam. After putting up quite a bit of money upfront for fixed expenses, there were not as many pre-sale tickets purchased as anticipated.
It came down to uncertainty: how many people would end up buying tickets at the door? There was no way to predict this. The anxiety was causing both physical symptoms and mental ones, with Andrew making rushed decisions in a stressed-out state. Could this period of intense distress have been avoided?Can we get better at handling uncertainty, or are we bound for burnout?
Fortunately, there are some tools for handling the innate uncertainty that comes with entrepreneurship:
1. Meditation: The practice of meditation has been growing exponentially in recent years, and there’s a reason for this. Meditation can calm uncertainty in your mind, but it takes practice. Try a meditation app like Calm or Insight Timer.
2. Journaling: Write about what is making you feel anxious. The act of putting it on paper can really help you put the uncertainty in a new perspective.
3. Move your body: Exercising or playing sports can help your mind move out of a “stuck” space. Additionally, it creates chemical buffers in your brain that enable you to manage stress and anxiety more productively.
4. Stay positive: Try talking to yourself. Yes, really. Tell yourself that it’s going to be ok. Entrepreneurs are often pretty self-reliant, and you should be able to rely on yourself for a good pep-talk every once in a while.
Andrew Hong: Hey everyone. Welcome back to the second episode of Entrepreneurship Sucks. The podcast where we talk about the mindset, tactics and skills that entrepreneurs need to succeed, but most suck at. In today's episode, we're going to talk about the concept of dealing with uncertainty. So, uncertainty is something that we all know is kind of a constant in life, right? And the reality of it is, is that I think most people suck at dealing with uncertainty, but to keep your sanity as an entrepreneur, you need to deal with uncertainty well. Uncertainty is a really weird thing because it has a direct effect on your mental health. And I sort of see, we always talk about anxiety and depression, especially we're recording this episode in October of 2020. And we're in the middle of a global pandemic right now, and anxiety, depression, all these kinds of mental health things are at the forefront of a lot of people's minds, whether we consciously talk about it, feel it or not right? And the reality of it is when you think of depression, anxiety, there are definitely words that are brought up in the entrepreneurship and startup community very often. And I sort of see depression as sort of a result of people dwelling on the past and anxiety as a result of people dealing with uncertainty and thinking about the future too much, right? And I'm going to step off my psychologist's soapbox right now because someone out there is probably screaming," You have no idea what you're talking about," but that's how I think about anxiety and depression. And I think a lot of times entrepreneurs, we're always trying to figure out like the future, right? We're optimists. We think about," Hey, we're thinking about forward earnings. We're thinking about what can we achieve in terms of valuations in the future? Where are we scaling to in the future?" Right. So we're constantly thinking either in our minds or on spreadsheets or on presentations or strategy decks or whatever about the future. But here's the thing, if you're a person who doesn't deal with uncertainty well, and you're always thinking about the future, what does that mean for your mental health, right? You're probably going to have a shitload of anxiety and I am someone who lives with anxiety on a daily basis. I would say I'm someone who probably early on in my life. I'd never really realized what the cues were when you are anxious. I never really understood that, hey look, you don't always have to be worried. You don't always have to be concerned about what's going to happen next. You don't always have to be worried about controlling everything, right. But the reality of it very early on as an entrepreneur in my career, I didn't deal with uncertainty very well. And what happened was that that manifested itself in the form of anxiety in me. Physically, mentally, just how I interacted with people. And I want to tell a story today about a business that I worked on that was a very good example, and for me personally, kind of a tipping point for myself and looking at how I dealt with anxiety and how I dealt with the uncertainty that kind of led to that anxiety. So the experience I went through was basically, one point in my life, if I was in the electronic music industry, I ran a promotion company. I'd worked with a number of partners. We were doing events, we were doing media, we're doing stuff in Los Angeles, we're doing stuff in Asia. And we decided that we wanted to plan and promote a music festival on the US territory of Guam. Now, for those of you out there who know where Guam is, you get an extra point, but it's, for those of you don't know, it's a US territory about three and a half hours Southeast of Japan. The funny thing that they say about Guam is that it's where America's day begins because it's literally on the same time zone almost as New Zealand or Australia, right? It's like a couple hours off. So America's day literally does start on Guam because it is a US territory. Now at the time, my business partner and I, we did a music festival called the Electric Island Festival. And it was the first event that we ever truly spearheaded of that size in another international territory, right? So because this was the first time festival, our goal was to really focus on marketing and bringing people to the event that were obviously local people on Guam. But the real play and strategy was we want to use the Guam as sort of a tourist destination for the people who are already traveling there from Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, or Guam was sort of a normal kind of tourist destination. So think about it. Like a lot of us in California, we go to Hawaii for our summer vacations. A lot of people in Korea and Taiwan and Japan, they all go to Guam for their kind of summer vacations, if you're beach vacation, true American beach vacation, like macadamia nuts and like all the different ABC stores. Have you ever been to any of those at any of the islands in Hawaii? You see a lot of those things on Guam, so you kind of get this American experience in Guam or you get like hamburgers and TGI Friday's and all these things, but you're literally in the middle of the Pacific and Asia, right? So it was a really unique place, really cool place. It was 6, 000 miles away from the US, so that made things obviously very difficult, but because this was the first time we worked with partners in different countries, media partners, production partners, right. Everyone was overseas. There was people of different cultures, the way they communicated with you, everything was new to us, right? The rules and regulations, even the customers, because the customers on Guam, this was the first time anybody had ever brought in an event like this to Guam. And secondly, this was the first time that anybody had marketed an event like this on Guam to feeding countries that would fly into Guam for the event, right. So because it was the first time we did it, there was a lot of uncertainty about us as a counter party with the partners that we were working with. We had to put out a lot of fixed expenses upfront to get started, right? These are like artists deposits, production deposits, venue deposits, all those sorts of things. And this was all before we could pre- sell any tickets, right. So we started pre- selling tickets about 60, 90 days before the event. And let's just say, the tickets didn't sell that well. And as I'm looking at the amount of money, I wasn't even running like a proper P& L or QuickBooks or anything like that. But I just look at our bank account and I'm like, holy shit. Like we just paid this amount of money out. We got this amount of money in for pre- sales, how the hell are we going to do this? And so at the time there was just so much uncertainty, right? Like how many people are going to buy tickets at the door? How many people are going to buy tickets in the week leading up, are any of these additional sponsors going to come through? How many people from Korea are going to come and buy our travel packages? How many people from Taiwan are going to come? The partner that we have in Japan, they decided that they don't want to promote the event anymore. So what does that mean for our P& L? Let's just say that this being the first time I really had my ass on the line financially, there was a lot of uncertainty around the future of this event and the overall financial performance of the event. And what it all really came down to was holy shit, how many people are going to show up at the door? And if you've been in the promotion business before, like you've been through that kind of calculus, and it's pretty heart- wrenching and gut- wrenching to deal with that. In hindsight, looking back at that time period in that sort of 30 days, between getting those pre- sales in, we were short on revenue or pre- sale revenue, and then actually getting tickets sold at the door and launching the event. I was a complete wreck, right. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. My back started to hurt of all damn things. And I was like 22 or 24, was I 24? I was like 24 years old at the time. I was a terrible person to be around at home. And the only effing thing I could think about was this stupid event. And because of all the uncertainty, because of the anxiety that I kind of had running through my veins for almost 90 days, right. I realized after the fact that I wasn't really making really good decisions, I was rushing decisions. I was glazing over emails, glazing over documents. A lot of the... I'm a very logical like process driven person, all that stuff went out the door during that time period. And I was just hanging on by a thread mentally, emotionally, and business- wise right. And this was simply because I just couldn't handle the uncertainty around how many people were going to show up at the door. So because of that uncertainty, it resulted in a lot of anxiety. And that anxiety resulted in me not making good decisions. In the end, we ended up breaking even on that event, which was a win. When you launch a festival like that and a new market and a new territory, in a new place, if you can break even the first year, that's great. You're just there to build the brand. And in hindsight, that was probably the best outcome that we could have achieved. But the reality of it was that for whatever reason, I had this doom and gloom in my mind that we're not going to make it. We're screwed. And I literally started to thinking about what would happen after the event. And if I had this giant hole in our bank account, what am I going to do? That was the only thing I could think about. I wasn't thinking about the present. So I bring up this kind of long convoluted story, about a bunch of guys throwing a festival in the middle of the Asia Pacific 6, 000 miles away from the US, because as an entrepreneur, you have to deal with uncertainty well. And I do want to ask you this question now, if you're listening and you're either an entrepreneur currently, or you're thinking about starting your own business, how do you handle uncertainty? What's your first reaction to something that you care about? You're unsure of what the outcome is going to be? And I ask this question? Because the challenge for entrepreneurs that uncertainty causes a lot of anxiety for people, anxiety is a serious mental health problem that only gets exacerbated if you suck at managing uncertainty. And we know that uncertainty is the name of the game when it comes to entrepreneurship. So then what this means to you is that you're going to burn out if you don't manage anxiety, uncertainty well, and it will affect your decision- making ability, it will affect your relationships. Not only with your team, but also with your family, your significant other, your friends, right. Anxious people are not fun people to be around. And so again, I've got to ask you this question, do you suck at handling uncertainty? So What does this all mean for you as an entrepreneur and how do you deal with the uncertainty and what tools can you use to handle these things that kind of just come with the territory? So I think we can all agree that you probably want to be an A plus player when it comes to handling uncertainty. It's probably just a good life skill to have. And the reality of this is that we know that you cannot get rid of the uncertainty, right? That is something that will always be there. Something that you cannot control, but what you can do is that you can teach yourself to manage through the uncertainty. What tools or techniques can you use that when you realize that you're getting anxious as a result of uncertainty, can you use the calm your mind and don't get too far ahead of yourself? The reality of it is that it's impossible to calm uncertainty or get rid of uncertainty without any tools or techniques. Your mind is just going to race on its own without you doing anything. So you've got to do something to stop it, right? So a few examples of things that I've heard people use as well as myself to deal with really uncertain times and to kind of manage their anxiety. So one is meditation. Meditation has made a huge, I wouldn't say comeback, but it's meditation has grown significantly, probably over the past three to five years, you have apps like Calm, you have apps like Headspace, they're getting billions of dollars in funding. Lots of people are taking them up. You're starting to hear professional athletes. You know, golf is a big thing of mine and meditation and kind of visualizing what your shot looks like before you hit your shot is something that they use to kind of calm anxiety and stress. Because golf is one of those things where like, there is a lot of room for you to get into your own head, right? When you're playing football, when you're playing basketball, these high velocity sports, where there's a lot of transition, back and forth, there's a flow to that, right? You don't have time to think you're reacting to things, but in a game like golf, like you have, you're walking up to your shot. You're thinking before your shot, you're walking in between shots. There's a lot of room for shit to go wrong. So that's why a lot of professional golfers, like you'll even see a guy like Jason Day. He literally walks up to the tee box, closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, breathe out. And that's his pre- shot routine. So meditation is a great way for you to calm a lot of that anxiety. That's a result of uncertainty in your mind. And I would recommend that if you want to give meditation a go, download one of those apps and try a guided meditation to start with. It's really hard to do it in the beginning because ultimately what you're trying to get to is to be able to just breathe, focus on breathing for 10 minutes without thinking about anything. You'll be surprised at how difficult that is for most of us. Right? So meditation is a great tool for you as an entrepreneur to kind of manage dealing with the anxiety. That's a result of uncertainty. Journaling is also a really good tool. So just writing down your thoughts, like" Hey, what am I anxious about today? What, what are the things that are uncertain in life that I'm not feeling too good about?" There's this sort of cathartic feeling about writing these things out. It's almost like these thoughts, exit your mind and they kind of get expressed on paper and don't type it out. Literally pick up a pen and a piece of paper and write out on your mind, what is making you feel anxious, right? What are these things that you're feeling uncertain about? You'll be surprised that how, when you physically see them on a piece of paper, that it actually does kind of calm your mind, right? So journaling is a great way for you to, again, to kind of you as a tool or technique to relieve yourself from some of this anxiety or uncertainty. Last one, and this is probably the one that all of us don't do enough is just moving, getting physical, working out, right? A lot of these, if you were, if you can do a 10 minute HIIT workout, right? You'll be shocked at how tired you are after that. And that your mind is no longer thinking about all that uncertainty. So you've got to move, you've got to create motion, right? You've got to workout to get your mind off of this mental vicious loop, infinite loop that it's going through. So working out is probably the thing that we don't do enough of. And obviously during the pandemic, it gets a lot more difficult to workout, but you'll be surprised at what a 10 minute, just get your blood moving, get your heart rate going kind of workout can do for you and helping you calm your mind and get rid of that sort of anxiety that's been kind of related to uncertainty. So, one thing I also want you to kind of realize too, is that you got to realize when you're getting caught up in thinking about the uncertainty, because a lot of times we don't realize that we're daydreaming about all these things and it becomes almost a default mode for us. So you got to be able to catch yourself in that moment and say," Oh shit, I'm starting to think way too far in the future right now, I need to pull myself back." And then usually that's your cue to use that tool or technique whether it's meditation or working out or journaling or whatever, to pull yourself back in. So first you've got to recognize that you're getting caught up in that daydreaming kind of thing. But the second thing is you've got to use those tools or techniques that I just mentioned. So for me, what I usually do is I breathe. Breathing exercises helped me a lot. I distract myself from the uncertainty by that breathing exercise, working out, hell, even punching something. That can help you, right. And I think this actually helps a lot. And it sounds really corny and kind of scared to say this on the air, but you just got to tell yourself everything's going to be okay, right. Because usually in your mind, you're making things out to be a lot worse than they actually are, right. So tell yourself," Hey, I'm freaking out right now. I'm probably making a bigger deal about this than it needs to be. Everything's going to be okay." So to kind of recap, we all know that uncertainty is a part of life and even more so with entrepreneurship. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Anxiety is a huge mental health problem in the entrepreneurship world. It's just that what you do in entrepreneurship lends itself to building anxiety. And in order for you to be a good entrepreneur and one that doesn't suck, you've got to be able to manage this uncertainty. So to manage the uncertainty, you've got to come up with tools or techniques and you've also got to be able to identify times when you're just daydreaming about that uncertainty so that you can start using those tools or techniques. So I hope that this episode helps a lot of you, not just only in your normal business life, but just in your own personal life, in learning how to deal with uncertainty in the future, because there's a lot of things that are uncertain out there in the world right now, but we know that's a constant and life doesn't have to be miserable because of this constant. Right. So that's a wrap. And thanks for joining me on this episode of Entrepreneurship Sucks. Entrepreneurship Sucks is brought to you by the Toby agency podcast network. Like what you heard, please subscribe, rate, review, and share this podcast. And if you ever want to talk about the crazy journey of entrepreneurship, reach out to me on LinkedIn or @Andrewnhong on Twitter. Thanks. And we'll see you on the next one.