I’ve recently started a new job at a 17-person crypto startup. Things are a bit intense right now because we have quite a few ambitious features on the roadmap. I’ve worked harder in the past three weeks than I ever have in my professional career.

In my first meeting on my first day, I was assigned the task of adding analytics and dashboards for all core features across web and mobile in the next week. My first thought was, “Oh shit.” At my last job, I would have been given a month to do something like this. But, that’s the whole point of working at a startup. You’re expected to think - “How do I make this happen?” instead of “What are all the reasons why I can’t make this happen?” After the initial shock, I got to work.

Gone were the days of taking a week to come up with a system design, back-and-forth review meetings, and leaving work at 5:30pm. I wouldn’t want it any other way though. Now, I feel like my work is instrumental to the success of the company. The difference between shipping a feature in 1 day instead of 1 week is the difference between life and death for a startup because your rate of progress compounds over time. Every day you get one step closer to death or survival. You begin to think much more deeply about how you spend your time. “Should I be working on feature x or feature y?” “What’s the simplest way to do this?” “Do our users care about this feature?” The creativity and agency required is intoxicating.

After spending most of the weekend working, my roommate asked if I was stressed. Definitely. Every day I’m expected to do things that I’ve never done before on ambitious timelines. But this type of stress is “acute”. This means that in small quantities, it can actually help you perform better. Acute stress is what helps athletes “get in the zone” for a big game. Acute stress is a tool that can be used to push you past your perceived barriers. You can expose yourself to acute stress through cold showers, saunas, having a tough workout, and generally doing things that make you uncomfortable. However, the key is that you a) work on things that intrinsically motivate you and b) you give your body time to rest and repair. You can do this through journaling, meditation, long walks, reading, Netflix and chilling, etc.

This is in comparison to “chronic stress”. Which is usually what people mean when they talk about stress. This type of stress is characterized by always being with you. It starts with external circumstances like being in a job you don’t care about, lacking deep relationships, or being unsatisfied with your financial situation. Over time, these external circumstances permeate your internal dialogue which becomes a constant stream of negative self-talk - “I’m not good enough.” “Why am I not lucky.” What’s the point.”. This is the type of stress that stops people from reaching their potential.

So, am I stressed in my new job? Sure. But the stress comes from challenging myself to get more out of myself than I ever expected. Thankfully, programming has quick feedback loops so I can see the fruits of my labor in a matter of hours. As I’m thinking about how to build a tough feature, yes, I’m stressed. But, if I put all my energy and focus into it, I come out the other side much stronger.

I challenge you to find ways to incorporate acute stressors in your life, seek quick feedback loops by sharing your work with others, take time to rest, and repeat.

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Feb 9, 2020

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