In Eating and in Business
The Importance of Listening to your Body
Written by Taly Matiteyahu (CEO of Blink, an audio-only blind speed dating app)
“Trust your gut.” A common phrase, usually meant as a reminder to trust one’s intuition. I’ve learned, however, that it should also be taken literally. While sometimes we have a little shoulder angel and shoulder devil voicing our inner thoughts and debating with one another, other times it's our bodies trying to send us a message and tell us that something is off.
Let me explain. Starting a company is a lot like having a baby — a lot of the time you have no idea what you’re doing, it keeps you up all night, and everyone will have an opinion on the right way to do something. As a first time founder, I’ve had to learn so much in a short period of time. Some of the lessons were welcome and expected ones, such as how to wireframe, how to develop a marketing strategy, and how to be super crafty with a small budget. But some of the lessons have been hard ones and, to be honest, ones I wish I never had to learn. I have had to deal with unexpected development issues, navigate obscure banking rules as the recipient of crowdfunding, and separate from a co-founder. Those hiccups are mentally draining and emotionally taxing to the point of physical exhaustion.
I knew starting a company would be hard and that I was likely to experience burnout and feel deep frustration and potentially hopelessness at times — most founders experience that trough of sorrow at some point. But for a time, I was also feeling physically ill from it. I was exhausted, yet I was having trouble sleeping. When I did manage to sleep, I had nightmares. It wasn’t because we were short on funds (although we certainly weren’t swimming in it), it wasn’t because we made a terrible mistake and couldn’t figure out how to fix it (indeed, we weren’t far enough along), and it wasn’t because I was regretting starting my company (I loved that I finally took the plunge and started building it after years of thinking about it). I was feeling physically ill because I was in an unhealthy business relationship with my co-founder.
Business relationships are like romantic relationships — they require reciprocal respect, open communication, and a mutual commitment to the business and the relationship. In the early stages of starting a company in particular, they require alignment on core values and ways of working. And just like a romantic relationship turned sour can trigger anxiety, stress, and other physical symptoms, so can a professional one.
Despite feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained, I tried to make the relationship with my initial co-founder work. I wanted to believe she was committed to the company’s mission and to building the business. Additionally, Silicon Valley investors have a preference for founding teams (especially if you are a female founder… which is another topic) and tend to disfavor solo founders. Besides, wouldn’t it look bad if I separated from my co-founder before even launching a product? These thoughts swirled around my head, making me feel worse and worse.
I worked to salvage the relationship, raising and trying to talk through issues with her multiple times. But it never stuck. It just wasn’t working and the stress and discomfort began to affect me physically. I started getting ulcers from trying to balance expectations with the gut feeling and the inner knowledge that it was not working out. Eventually, I broke. My brain, my heart, and my body were telling me something was wrong and that it wasn’t sustainable.
The day I separated from my co-founder was incredibly stressful. If I spent too much time thinking about our upcoming meeting, I started to shake uncontrollably. I could feel my heart racing and my blood pressure rising. To center myself, I forced myself to breathe slowly and deeply. I talked to friends and family to remind myself that I was supported and loved and that no matter what happened, it would be ok.
While the breakup was and is hard, my body told me in no uncertain terms that it was right. Since the separation, I feel lighter. I don’t struggle to focus or sleep. In the weeks after the breakup, I was able to get more work done and enjoyed every long hour and tedious task in a way that I hadn’t for months. In escaping the constant stress and anxiety of the unhealthy relationship, I freed up my mental and emotional energies for other things. I completed a virtual 30 day yoga challenge in January (thank you, Adriene Mishler!) and biked every day. I took long baths and took a stab at candlemaking (I still can’t seem to get my homemade candles to make my rooms smell anywhere near as nice as store-bought candles do).
While I still wish things had played out differently in my relationship, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. My brain and my heart might get muddled with thoughts and feelings, going back and forth on what to do, but my body doesn’t lie to me. And if my gut tells me something is wrong, I will listen to it.
Learning to Listen to my Gut Learning to Listen to my Gut Learning to Listen to my Gut