Dr. Julie Gurner — Founder Mental Health 101

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Arvid Kahl 0:00
Hello everyone and welcome to The Bootstrapped Founder. Today, I’m talking to Dr. Julie Gurner. She’s a performance coach and a doctor of Psychology. We’ll talk about dealing with imposter syndrome, burnout, how to deal with the avalanche of advice on Twitter and why it’s so hard for founders to cope with stress. Here’s Julie.

Our first interaction on Twitter was a pretty interesting one, I feel. I said that imposter syndrome will never go away and you vehemently disagree. And I immediately thought, I liked this person. And here we are having a chat. So let’s start with the ever so controversial imposter syndrome and in the context of founders and creators, what is it and how common do you think it really is?

Dr. Julie Gurner 0:44
I think that imposter syndrome can be common, but I don’t think that everyone suffers from it. So when you do say that, you know, you see on the internet, it’s very common that people will say things like, nobody knows what they’re doing. Everybody is just, you know, and I don’t really feel like that’s an accurate representation of everyone. I mean, I hope that your surgeon knows what he’s doing. I really hope that your attorney knows what he’s doing or she and I really do feel as though people understand their seat of expertise. And that it is, it’s fun to say, but most of the individuals that I would say that I work with, they do understand their seat of confidence. And the thing that’s fascinating about impostor syndrome to me is that it requires confidence to exist, right? If you actually don’t know what you’re doing, you’re a novice and that’s perfectly okay. If you’re someone who is intentionally deceptive, then you perhaps are an imposter. But imposter syndrome really requires that you have the seat of expertise. And that, you know, you are somehow misaligned with understanding or seeing that seed of expertise. So, I mean, I do believe that it exists and that it is fairly common, especially as people are working their way forward when you’re talking about entrepreneurs and creators and, you know, early stage founders. But as things move forward, people begin to discover more and more about what they can do, about who they are, about what their potential is. And you know, from taking small risks, they begin to develop a lot more confidence. So I do think it exists. I think it exists more in earlier stages or with new ventures or with new leaps. But I don’t think that it can never go away. And I certainly don’t believe that, you know, everybody suffers from it. So that’s my general take. And I’m glad that we had that exchange on Twitter because I think it really gives opportunity for a deeper dive and discussion on this.

Arvid Kahl 2:42
Yeah, what I found very interesting in researching this topic a bit more in preparation for this. And generally, because I wanted to understand it better, is it’s not a recognized disorder, right? It’s not a disease. It’s not something that is diagnoseable. But a lot of people self diagnose it and consider it as something that they are afflicted by. And I always wonder, is it just like, a version of self doubt? Or is it something that an extension of that that goes deeper?

Dr. Julie Gurner 3:10
That’s a great question. I do think that there are a lot of different possible routes, right? I do think that for some people, it is around self doubt and confidence. I think for other people, it can be around things like, you know, anxiety, stress, feeling and being kind of hypersensitive to you know, social judgment, awareness and things like that. I think also, at its core, for most, it’s around, it involves some type of thinking pattern that tends to be off of it that they have an evaluation of what an expert looks like. And it varies from who they see themselves being. So for example, if you’re a new founder, you look around and you say, oh, you know, this person just raised their A or you know, they’re really successful, they have really great traction. And so we make these assumptions about that person, that like, oh, they knew exactly the path. They, you know, had it all mapped out in advance. So they have some secret expertise and that somehow they are falling short of what their perception of other people are, when in fact, you know, most people, whether on social media or otherwise are presenting their very best self. They’re not saying hi, my name is Tim and I struggle with X, Y and Z. And I really almost made a big mistake last week and you should have heard about that, you know, so nobody starts off that way. We all lead with our best foot forward. And so it also creates this mismatch between what we perceive reality to be and what it actually is.

Arvid Kahl 4:41
Yeah, I always consider social media to be the place where other people present their highlight reel, only the best thing, right? And you compare it to your full lived experience, which is there’s obviously a discrepancy there because you’re missing the part that they don’t show unless they are actively trying to balance these things. A lot of people who are building in public and I really wish more people would do this building their business in public. They share the vulnerability as well. They share the losses, the failures too in a kind of ex post facto situation where they talk about it as it has, like shown some sort of consequence. And then they deal with that, right? It’s not like in the trenches, often, hopefully, people are busy on actually doing the thing that they want to do even if they’re failing.

Dr. Julie Gurner 5:23
Yeah. Well, you know, it’s interesting, you and I would probably disagree on building in public because I feel as though building in public is something that opens you up to come more second guessing, more hesitancy, more social feedback. I think that that is a double edged sword. I think you can gain a lot of support. But I also think that it opens you up. I remember when I was first beginning, people would make all sorts of comments about the types of work that I was involved in. And, you know, if I would have gone deep into that or I would have kind of put myself out there, I think that you know, people smell blood in the water and they love, love to dive in. And it’s a way of feeling, I don’t know if it’s a way of feeling superior. I mean, or it is a way of kind of asserting some type of power. But on social media, I think that you face a lot of individuals who feel they know best but have never built anything in their life. And so we listen to unreliable reporters about what our product should look like, what our company should look like, how we should operate. And I think we do that all the time, sometimes because they have a large following, sometimes because you know, they just say it with great assertion and authority. But I often feel like building in public can be really challenging for certain types of people. And I also feel as though when you do that, you have to be very cautious about how you do it, right? So sharing the general like, this is what I’m up to, this is what I’m doing, very cool. But you will rarely see people who are kind of larger operators saying, well, you know, I’m working on this deal. And we’re having this conversation. And this is how I’m approaching the negotiation. And you know, the minutia and the details are where people I think can face incredible criticism, start developing hesitation. And ultimately, it can be something that ends up taking them in the wrong direction.

Arvid Kahl 7:26
I actually fully agree with you on this, like, the idea of building in public to me and many people are quite naive. They think like, I have to share everything. It’s like oversharing in many ways, right? What you could do in social media. What is also quite harmful in many ways to the ego, obviously, if you share everything, people will always find something to latch on to and destroy, which is, I guess, why we have to teach our children to use social media responsibly, right? To understand the implication of oversharing. But I think founders, they have a sense of what is too detailed. And it’s funny to actually see this in the data. Because if you track companies, over time as they share, you will see that at a certain point around $20,000 of monthly recurring revenue, that seems to be the switch, they turn off the details. They share only general direction at this point because now all of a sudden and that’s something you just alluded to, the details are the potential points of interference. Like if you share the deal with that company, somebody might just sweep in and offer a better price, right? It doesn’t really matter if it’s just yet one more customer that pays 10 bucks a month or something people won’t go into that much of an effort to snatch up customer. But if it’s a five figure deal, whoo, yeah, that’s not something you share until after you actually close the deal.

Dr. Julie Gurner 8:43

Arvid Kahl 8:44
So there’s a kind of a modal change. People approach building in public differently after it actually is a risk to the business to share. And I would say that it is very important to understand that vulnerability is not just like a means of just sharing everything negative at the same time, right? It can be an intentional choice to be vulnerable with this one thing and still not disclose the other things that you also struggle with, right? It’s not a one size fits all approach.

Dr. Julie Gurner 9:17
I love that. It’s very tactical and it’s very, you know, you approach it with a lot of intention. And I think maybe that’s the real difference between sometimes what you hear people saying and what you see kind of people doing which can sometimes be very disruptive or challenging for them.

Arvid Kahl 9:32
Yeah, generally I think, you have to understand if you are on social media as a consumer, that what you see is put there intentionally everything, right? Even people who share whatever comes to mind do that with the intention of building a brand that a person that shares everything that comes to mind, right? There’s a meta layer on top of this. Yeah, I love the idea of making it very clear that building in public is yet another strategy of talking to your audience to your potential customers or your founder peers or whatever. It’s something that I really think is interesting because it gives people the chance to get feedback loops, right? You set that yourself, you get feedback. I can share a story here because I wanted to, I almost wanted to share interrupt you earlier with it. But I don’t do that. So here’s that story. I wrote my second book in public. And it was a very interesting thing because I invited 500 people as a beta reader for that book and managing the feedback of 500 individuals that read your book and comment on every section that they may like or not like or think needs a tiny little change. There was like the worst herding of cats that I ever had to do in my life. It was bizarrely complicated to just understand is this something that matters to me? But it certainly matters to them, but doesn’t matter to me that they thought this phrasing is a little bit off. And the good thing in this egard was that quantity informed me as well. So I used a tool called helpthisbook.com, which was written by Rob Fitzpatrick, the author behind the Mom Test, which is an interesting book in itself for customer feedback and customer conversations. But he built this tool because he wanted to write other books. And then he essentially you put your manuscript and you invite people into the tool. And they can mark certain passages and say what they didn’t like about them. And as an author, you see all of this overlaid on top of each other. So if you have 500 people, you see people like 10 people said this section is too so. 100 people said, I don’t understand the section. You really see the quantitative data of what people think. And I think that’s the most interesting part about building in public, not the individual feedback. But the quantitative, like, how many people do talk about this? Is this something that really matters?

Dr. Julie Gurner 11:51
What I absolutely love about that and why is that nice is that it’s an incredible experiment. It’s a kind of, for somebody as yourself who does talk about this, you know, kind of upfront and all the time, I found, you know, I released that newsletter Ultra Successful on substack. And so when people give feedback on that, I’m always fascinated to know what resonates, what doesn’t, what do people want more of, what do they want less of? And oftentimes, I’ll run it by other people that I know and say, hey, what do you think of this? But the thing that has been most challenging for me is that I would love to have a heat map. I would love to know where do people spend the most time. What are the areas that they are really kind of absorbing? And so with your books and kind of putting things out in public, I wonder also, you know, getting 500 people for feedback, if you were able to expand sections, if you were able to really kind of go deep into some areas really kind of bring them more of the content that they wanted. And it ended up kind of making the entire thing better at the end of the day.

Arvid Kahl 12:56
That’s kind of why I did it. And that’s how it worked as well. So the first script was, I think, a quarter of the size of the final version of the book just because I was still writing. It was the whole idea like to have people involved in the process. But the areas where people said, great, this is something I care about, those were the areas that I spent way more time on than the others. And the consequence of this was just, it’s obvious in retrospect but I wrote the book for the people who wanted to read it the way that they actually wanted to read it. Like that was something that I never considered as an author, like you think, okay, I have all these thoughts and I can put them into this shape and I deliver it to the people, but that’s really not what it is. Like, you asked me what do you want to know? They tell you like, here are the three things I really care about and then you write about them. And then of course, they will buy the book like it’s very much an audience centric or a customer centric approach to the conveying information. It’s weird that this is not the norm. I feel like when I look at fiction, which is probably different, but I read a lot of Brandon Sanderson like the fiction books that he writes a lot of fantasy novels. And he has a beta reader squad of like 20 people. And then or yeah, probably less than that and a couple of alpha readers and then some obviously editors and proofreaders. He has a continuity team, which is interesting, but doesn’t matter. You know, like, he doesn’t have that many people to read his fantasy books. So I think if one of the most prolific authors that is selling millions of books has a team of beta readers this small, are we under utilizing the capacity of your audience to tell you what they like and don’t like before they buy your book?

Dr. Julie Gurner 14:35
What I think is fascinating is I read a lot of philosophy. So we’re very, I was a philosophy minor in college. And so I think about, like there was an educational philosopher called Paulo Freire and his philosophy was, you know, we all come in as teachers thinking that people are empty vessels to be filled. And that, you know, that’s how we approach it right here I am to impart my wisdom upon you. But in truth every person sitting in your audience brings their own unique lens, experiences and you know, into play. And so for me, when I hear you tell that story, it makes me think about all of the people in your sphere or in the sphere of the science fiction writer who, you know, they are coming together over this one variable, but they’re bringing such diversity of perspectives and interests and people to the table that have unique histories. And so where there is overlap there, clearly, I think he would assume would be large scale overlap. And then, you know, kind of where things are not resonating may be very individual. But I do see even on social media, people have the belief that, you know, I’m gonna put something out there because everyone’s an empty vessel willing to be filled. But if you’re able to see your audience and other people out there as unique as you are, you understand that they have, you know, criticisms and things that they like and don’t like and things that resonate and don’t resonate. So I love the fact that you think about that so deliberately.

Arvid Kahl 15:57
Yeah, that’s also why I’m such a big fan of building in public because that’s essentially the formalized version of that, right? It’s sharing your story with each other with your peers who have definitely overlap. Like, the whole thing about the imposter syndrome thing that got us talking was that this is, in some capacity, a commonly shared experience. People have self doubt, right? No matter what you call it, people particularly founders doing a thing that has never been done before in this particular way, they will wonder, am I the right person to do this? And, oh, I feel like this is too much or am I a fraud, fraudulent? Like, is this something that I’m just acting like I’m doing this and I shouldn’t be? Like this kind of talking about it in public in the community, I feel is enabling people to find common ground to see other people experiencing similar things and thereby not feeling as bad about their own emotional upheaval in that moment, so.

Dr. Julie Gurner 16:54
It’s interesting because I think we have to parse out moments of doubt from imposter syndrome, right? A syndrome is something that is all encompasses a lot of things. Whereas a moment of self doubt, I think that people can experience you know, you even have a very large scale, you know, person who has this moment of self doubt before they sign the contract, before they do a particular adventure. But you know, when you talk about impostor syndrome, the thing that is so damaging about it is that it often prevents taking the risk to begin with. It prevents asking for the raise if there’s someone who works within a startup. It prevents, you know, kind of asking for more equity. It prevents effective negotiation. It prevents them from being effective, I mean, even in their own relationships, right? So imposter syndrome, when I think about that it’s a syndrome is really kind of much more all encompassing than those brief moments where someone goes, yeah, I doubted myself for a second there. And then I was really back on pace. I mean, that’s how I would think about healthy and effective functioning is that people do have moments of self doubt. But then they kind of push at their edges. They have a positive experience and then they gain increasing confidence. People who have imposter syndrome often will not take the chance to push it that edge then they hesitate. And you know, the thing about hesitation is that it creates an increasing lack of confidence, right? It completely erodes your ability to trust yourself. Because then as you are hesitating and not moving forward, you watch your peers moving forward and taking those chances. And then they look even more effective and you look even less effective. So there are kind of even if you aren’t comparing outward, you see yourself stuck in the same place. And sometimes, you know, literally years will pass and you have the same idea that you wish you could bring to fruition or the things that you wish you could share and you’re not doing it. And then eventually, those are the individuals who will, you know, stuff that down into the side and just kind of never kind of move forward on that. And that’s an incredibly challenging burden to bear and a way of seeing yourself that will impact many other things in your life.

Arvid Kahl 19:04
It’s quite a vicious circle, right? Like this kind of self denigration, what I found in many people who I’ve talked to many, many founders who experienced something like this, they feel isolated. They isolate themselves from their peers who are so much smarter, so much better, so much faster than they are. And then as a consequence of that, they then feel unable to accept praise and recognition either because they feel like they’re not deserving of that because compared to all these other people, they don’t make the progress that they would like to make. And that then feeds back into this loop. Like what would be a good way for a founder to either completely avoid falling into this thinking loop or at least find a way out of it? Do you have any suggestions?

Dr. Julie Gurner 19:50
I think that when I think about that, I think about people you know they’re I’m not a big fan of push. I talked about this a lot. I’m not a big fan of push. I’m a really big fan of pole. So I think that there are only certain times that you should really push yourself. But I do think that if you’re in a situation where, you know, kind of you’re in the loop, I think there are a couple of things to do. One is to challenge your assumptions because often they are not based in reality, right? Like, a lot of times when a founder will tell me something like, you know, they are having these sorts of doubts about themselves that are more all encompassing, I’ll say, well, can you get and usually they’ll make self statements that are somewhat derogatory. And I’ll say, well, can you give me the evidence for that? You know, I would love to hear the evidence for that. So somebody who is, for example, absolutely incredible in their technical skills telling me that they cannot do X, Y, or Z or they don’t feel they’re capable of doing X, Y, and Z when they’ve done something that is far more complex. So, you know, like, forcing yourself to look at the evidence is sometimes I think, really interesting. I think limiting comparison is also incredibly important, that everybody’s journey is going to be different. And I know that’s a really cliche and terrible thing to say, but it’s true, right? I mean, we see that. And I think also the media gives us a very false picture of what success looks like. In fact, you know, with founders, they always look at the outliers. So they look at people who are 20 and 30 years old, when in truth, you know, the majority of founders we know, statistically find success in their 40s, right? So you have a lot of time. And, you know, you gather a lot of expertise in that time. So I would say you know, a few things, challenge your thinking, see if it’s factually true evidence, is this actually accurate? Limiting comparisons, I think is really important. And also, this is one of those times that I would say, push yourself to do something that’s at the boundaries of what you think is in your purview. You know, if it feels like you’re doubting yourself a little bit, do it anyway. And if it’s at that edge and you end up with a win, that’s going to start to build your confidence a little bit. It’ll start to disprove some of these theories you have about yourself, but if you never take the chance to disprove the theory, you hold the theory. And so you know, like, that’s a very challenging place to be because then you you’re locked, you don’t move. So oftentimes, you know, set up a challenge for yourself. You know, I’m going to make this one call. I’m going to get in front of this one person. And it actually fulfill that promise, it can be something very small, but just move the needle a little bit and prove something different to yourself because that begins to fuel other motion.

Arvid Kahl 22:35
I like that, incremental steps forwards. And then yeah, what I’ve noticed I do the same way, I don’t do big things. I don’t try not to do big things because they, too much work.

Dr. Julie Gurner 23:59
I think the baseline I look at, well, what’s effective, right? If you are not sleeping, if you are in it, like you’re going to work. It’s funny because if you approach your work when you are tired and I’m sure many people in your audience have done this, right? You’re so tired, you’re trying to pull in these longer hours. And it literally takes you if you have to even respond to an email, it will take you 15 minutes to respond to an email that if you were well rested, well fed and on your game, that email is three minutes max, right? So by working tired, you are literally extending your working time. So the more you can be well rested and kind of take care of yourself, the more effective your working hours are. So the shorter they can become in some ways, but I think we have to be realistic. You’re not going to build a business. There are like a lot of ways in which I think it’s important to look at the realistic demands of what a business requires. And also know that you are the most important asset of your business. And you have to treat it that way. If this was your top engineer, you would treat that person like gold or at least most people do. So you mean you are the driver of all things. If you want to make the most effective decisions, have the most productive workday be able to operate the fastest, make the best kind of calls moving ahead, you’ve got to be in a certain zone. And so it benefits you and your company to operate within that zone. So that’s why I kind of I look at things like I mean, I understand people have to put in longer hours than they’d like. And I understand that it’s going to take more from you than you probably want. And that sometimes it’s going to be boring and sometimes it will be dry. But at the same time, being able to say okay, I’m going to make sure that I get at least between seven and nine hours of sleep. I’m going to make sure I move my body at some point throughout the day, go for a walk, do something that you will be able to respond to your emails quicker. You’ll be able to get back to people faster. You’ll have better ideas about strategies moving ahead. You’ll have a clearer head. We know that when people are sleep deprived, for example, at some points, they can operate similarly to intoxication. Like, that’s not how you build an effective company. So you do I mean, you want to give yourself every single advantage you can so why not leverage biology? I think that that’s an important way to think about it and to think about yourself too around, you know, just being the most important asset of your business and how you want to care for that.

Arvid Kahl 24:01
I guess a lot of people, a lot of founders would like to really optimize many things in their business but are too stressed with recurring things that are going on in the business. Again, another vicious cycle, right? But people are so in so deep that they can’t even detach and look at the bird’s eye view for an hour because they’re always in the trenches. I experienced that with my last business with Feedback Panda, that I fortunately sold right at that point, right? It was great that we had built a business to the point where it was valuable enough for people to want to buy it. And I was the sole technical founder in the business, we were just, my girlfriend and I essentially ran the business and that we had 1000s of customers and I was the technical person. It was a anxiety inducing just to wake up in the morning because what might happen today. Is it gonna break, right? And at the same time we had the other stress level of this is the only valuable thing we have because we both didn’t have much money. So all our essential wealth was locked into this business that if I didn’t perform, might just break away. And that was incredibly stressful. And I wonder, do you have any strategies, actionable, tactical strategies for people to get distress and anxiety under control, so they can zoom out and start optimizing?

Dr. Julie Gurner 27:47
I think that you have to build in time for what is important, right? So you know, they say that, you know, your calendar reflects your priorities. So what are the top priorities in your business? And I think sometimes what I ended up seeing are that people spend so much time in the fires that they aren’t doing the things that actually push the business forward. And it’s because you feel like, you know, I’ll do that later. I don’t have the time, you know. So you know, Kim Scott talks about this as well, she’s great, who wrote Radical Candor. You know, she talked about, you know, building in strategy time or think time. And I’m a really big fan of that, that like, if you are a founder, part of your job is really thinking about the strategy moving ahead and building processes so that things begin to operate more smoothly if you can do it. And so, you know, along with funding and all these other things that are also your responsibility, but you will never have time to see a clear path forward if you do not create the time to do that strategizing, to do that type of work. So I will always advise people to say, look, give yourself if you can 30 minutes to an hour to just work on strategy, work on the things that will push the levers that will push the business forward. And to make that sacred time you’re not responding to messages, you are not on email, you do not have 40 tabs open, you know, like you actually kind of shut down those notifications. And you say, all right and you put something in that slot, right? Like, I’m gonna think about customer acquisition strategies and I’m gonna put that on my Tuesday hour slot. On Wednesday, I’m going to think about, I don’t know, building something with onboarding or whatever wherever stage you’re at and you know, depending. So it is really important that you spend that time and that you make it deliberate and that you make it planful and that you take it so that you can push things forward, whatever stage that you’re at. And if you’re somebody who is, you know, kind of further along, making sure that you’re finding ways of, you know, I think about founders as a journey of pulling yourself away from these kind of roll up your sleeves aspects of the business increasingly so as you move forward. And so to me, I see founders who every six months, their job looks different. You know, it always looks different as they move forward. And finally, you know, you get people who now they’re finally at the point where they’re making, just making the large scale strategic decisions and worrying about funding and you know, some of the very 30,000 foot view places and you finally get to a point where it feels a lot better. You deal with problems and other things. But I mean, that’s a nice place to be at and it’s earned. So I think in the earlier stages building in that time is incredibly important.

Arvid Kahl 30:35
Do you see a lot of mindfulness and self reflection routines and founders who are tackling these things? Because I’ve been journaling for quite a while, particularly in those moments where it was very stressful. I took 30 minutes, just train of thought journaling. And that really helped me just like clearing my mind allowing for, you know, my thoughts to figure out their place. Is this something that you see?

Dr. Julie Gurner 30:59
It’s not something that I see commonly. I wish I saw it more. So I think that you have, that was a great practice that you incorporated. I do encourage people as they’re moving along, I call it like, just like playing tape. Like, you know, if you’re playing a sport, you always look back on the plays, whether they’re successful or they’re not so successful. And you say, okay, what did I do right here? And how can I repeat that? And what did I do that wasn’t really so fantastic? How could I run this better? How could I have done that in a better way? Not that you sit in it. I never want anyone sitting in problems or, you know all of those things, but to kind of notice it and to be intentional so that you’re not repeating the same mistake over and over again. But at the same time, also looking at the great things and saying, like, hey, why did that meeting with so and so go so well, this time? And it was because oh, it’s because I asked about this or I connected with, you know, this person around that. And it really like changed how we interacted with each other or positioning. Whatever it happens to be, I wish people were a bit more intentional. I think that, you know, your example is a really good one. If you have that kind of awareness and you’re able to say, okay, this has been a really stressful moment. I’m going to kind of map that out and write that down. But I don’t see it as often as one might anticipate. I think they’re so busy. They don’t think I can stop for a moment.

Arvid Kahl 32:18
Yeah, that’s exactly the problem, right? Because it’s a matter of priorities, like people, I feel any kind of self care for the longest time before I met Danielle, my co founder and partner which she’s the best person I’ve ever met. Fortunately, she introduced me to what I would have described as esoteric stuff at some point, right? I would like anything that was written with spirituality or self reflection meditation, I was like, yeah, yeah, that’s for those other people. And I’m not a regular practitioner of this at all. I situationally, I use it, but I found it to be an actual tool. And that like understanding that it is a tool for the mind that all of a sudden fit the concept well into my engineering brain, right? Because I’m thinking of tools and algorithms and strategies. And understanding that a meditation state can be a reflection tool or journaling is essentially the Empty Trash button of your mind. Like, putting it into a way of understanding it from an engineer’s perspective, all of a sudden open it up to me. And that reprioritize it in my mind because I understood that if I take care of this, my mind, then what my fingers type becomes better, right? And what comes out of this, the code, the product, the relationship with the customers, the amount of money that we make, whatever the goal of the business might be, that is a direct consequence of me spending time on the very first thing, which is the brain. So it’s this reframing issue for many people. They don’t understand what it actually means and in which context they can integrate it into their busy founder lives.

Dr. Julie Gurner 33:54
No, you’re right. And I think that people have to kind of approach this in ways that resonate for them. You know, a client that I had, who was incredibly hard driving incredibly, like, successful guy would always take an hour every day to walk around New York City with a cup of coffee, right? Like that was his ritual. That was how he meditated, you know, if you’re gonna say meditation, but he would just, you know, take that moment, take that walk, walk around the city, think, not be attached to his phone in it like that was the way in which he grounded himself and really, like kind of got rid of all the other stressors. So I think people have to find a way that works for them and not everyone’s going to connect with everything. I think sometimes we try to do that, like people will say, oh, this is my morning routine and it’s like, meditate and I do this and I do that and it’s like this five step morning routine. If it works for you to just have a cup of coffee, take a break, read the paper, if it works for you to just go for a walk, whatever works for you. You know, do that thing because I can guarantee you that you know a lot of people who reached these really high levels don’t have those morning routines. They really don’t. They do what works for them. Some of them are not getting up early at all, you know, because they don’t have to anymore. And maybe other people on their behalf are getting up early. And that’s really a nice place to be at. So I do think that sometimes we were trying so hard to find the things that work that we’re trying to fit into a box, that isn’t the right box for us. And we have to really create our own that’s going to work for us, that’s going to make us feel great and is going to put us in our best place. Because when you’re trying to fit into these other people’s boxes and it doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t feel good, that’s another way of making yourself feel terrible about yourself, right? Like, oh, you know, all these people are talking about cold baths. And I hate that. And personally, I hate that, honestly. I don’t really think that it’s a test of mental strength to stand in an uncomfortable shower. I mean, I can’t do uncomfortable things. So I mean, there’s a lot of things that you can choose to do. But to not put that kind of pressure on yourself to do the things that work for you. And you know, everyone’s going to find their own way. When you look at people, whether it’s Steve Jobs or anyone else that people tend to idolize, the thing they all have in common is that they are, you know, kind of relentlessly themselves. I mean, they don’t fit in other people’s boxes and that’s what makes them stand out. So if you want to be that kind of person in the future and maybe not your family life, but if you want to be that kind of person in your future, you know, an innovator, a kind of a large scale, successful founder, recognize that all of them do it by being themselves and really like drilling down in that. And I hope that people feel free to do that, too.

Arvid Kahl 36:39
Yeah, that would be wonderful if people would understand that it’s not the exact thing that these idolized celebrities are doing. But the fact that they found a thing for themselves that works and then they made a process out of it. That’s the thing you should imitate. When we’re thinking of Steve Jobs, that is a great example, I feel. Like his whole turtleneck and jeans thing. Obviously, you’re not going to be a better founder if you wear a turtleneck and jeans. You might because it might be almost a meme at this point. But the fact that he found such a productivity shortcut in his life that this is good enough for me. I can now take care of other things. That’s the thing to imitate, right? And it starts with meal prep, that’s the thing that people do, right? Or just having a routine that involves something that you would like to do enjoy anyway, which I do a lot of thinking while I walk my little puppy dog. And every morning, she needs to get up for some reason. And then at seven, we need to go out because otherwise she’s gonna yell at me, might just as well. And then on the wall, I get to think about what my day is going to be like, what are the things that I would like to talk about today? What am I writing about, right? Like, am I having a conversation? And what would I like to bring up? So that is the routine that just comes out of my own reality that is very subjective. And I don’t think somebody else should get a dog and take a walk with her or him just to come up with things, right? It’s the unique situation out of which these processes arise. And that’s the thing, the quantifiable stuff is what people want to see, right? They want to see, oh, I need to do this to get this result. And that is already dangerous with productivity advice on Twitter, but it gets extremely dangerous with mental health advice, which is why again, harkening back to our initial conversation, these topics, they are so potentially destructive to what people experienced in their own lives and how they deal with it. And I think it’s really because all advice is essentially anecdotal, right? Like what we have in our lives is what we experience. And we come up with all kinds of justifications and reasoning for why this happened and how it happened. And then we share that and other people think, okay, that’s the truth out there. So maybe let’s talk about advice a little bit, maybe in the mental health space. Is it dangerous to even talk about this stuff at all? Like, do you have this feeling too because sometimes it’s just like, oh, should I talk about this?

Dr. Julie Gurner 39:02
How so are you thinking about that? Could you give me more detail?

Arvid Kahl 39:05
Well, let’s just say I talk about dealing with burnout, which is something that I have been experiencing twice in my life. Once, while I was working for a venture capital funded business in San Francisco, great work, like super enjoyable. We had a ping pong table and everything. But it was kind of work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. And that got me to a point where I stood outside the building that we were in talking to people crying on the street. That was where I was. And I felt, huh, that may be a bit too much. In that moment, it’s like wait, am I just doing my job and crying at the same time? Is that where I want to be? And then I experienced again, like during Feedback Panda at the end of it because I was the only person all the responsibility and we had a lot of integration problems with all the providers that we were trying to support. There was a lot of stress there, but I noticed it that I was getting into that state again and then I took the necessary steps to help facilitate the sale of the business, let’s just say that. So now I could talk a lot about burnouts from my perspective. But all I could talk about was, again, my perspective, my two instances of this particular event. So I’m asking you as an expert, should I talk about this? Is it something that helps people? Or is me talking about my unique perspective actually dangerous to what they might be experiencing right now?

Dr. Julie Gurner 40:28
I think there’s two parts to your your question, really, to me. And one is that I think that sharing that is as beneficial as I think it’s beneficial in that people will understand that it’s not just them, right? When I’m feeling some of these things. I think also in burnout, specifically, a lot of people don’t recognize it’s happening until it’s already at a very advanced place. So you’re standing outside crying and you recognize like, this is not a healthy thing. This is really not where I want to be. You know, the early symptoms are kind of stages of burnout is like, first, you start to get more cynical, right? Your attitude changes about your work. So like, there’s all these like little tweak things that like, you start to, if you can be aware of them, you can notice, but I think it’s helpful for people to periodically be open and candid about the things that they’ve experienced if they’re at a place. And this is a terrible qualifier. But if they’re at a place where they can be vulnerable with their experiences, right? I mean, vulnerability is really only accepted once you’ve gotten to a certain place, you know and that’s a terrible truth. But to me, it’s something that I see is that, hey, if you are a interviewing for a tech job and you talk about all the times you’ve been burned out, it’s not going to work out well for you. It may be true, it may be vulnerable. But if you’re a founder and you’ve had an exit and you’re somebody who is in a place where you can now talk about that and it doesn’t, you know, there’s no kind of negative blowback to that, I think the sad thing about some of these discussions is that oftentimes, it’s positioned by the wrong people as weakness. And that can hurt you in areas. Like if your whole, I feel like you’ve talked a lot about some of these mental health struggles and then you go to raise funding, for example, you know, that isn’t, I mean, as much as people will say the right words, oftentimes, that does impact how people perceive you. And it does impact some of those things. So I try not to be unrealistic about that and say, well, the world should just change. And while I believe that that may be true, the world hasn’t changed and you have to operate within it. So thinking about how you do talk about that is important, what position you’re in to be able to discuss these things. And I think that can be useful. And the kind of on the back end of that, the thing that I do find can be very destructive are people with zero expertise who give advice about how to manage this or deal with it. You find people who have absolutely no training, absolutely no kind of and they speak with great authority about you know, just do these two things and you’ll be fine. And so someone will again, look at that and say, well, I’m doing those things and like, I still feel terrible. What’s wrong with me? You know, like, so there’s a dynamic that I think we have to manage a little bit around that and who you see as an authority. It’s wild because in the world today, everyone believes they’re an authority on everything. And that’s a challenge. But at the same time, people take it seriously. And I’m always surprised that they do, right? Like, one week, you’re an epidemiologist. The next week, you’re an economist. The next week, you know, you can treat burnout and you know all about psychology and the next week, you’re a, you know, markets expert. So it’s wonderful. But you know, be careful about who you trust for information and look to see if that person actually has the expertise to be giving you advice.

Arvid Kahl 44:02
Yeah, the last years have been wild. Yeah, that’s interesting. Expertise also seems to be something that has kind of lost some of its actual value and strength as a word, right? Like and that’s in one way is actually quite nice that you can follow people’s journey towards expertise as they are building it, right? It doesn’t make them an expert yet, but it’s kind of an expert in the making. But you still need to, you know, have some and you initially when we talked about imposter syndrome, you said you want your surgeon to be able to operate well, right? You want the driver of your car to be able to know the rules of traffic, like there’s certain jobs where you need this baseline level of expertise or otherwise it becomes dangerous, like obviously, 100% agreed there. But yeah, you’re right. People shift their expertise a lot. And this might be related to the whole T shaped kind of person thing as well, right? Where it’s, you now have to both have a very, a skill set in one particular issue, but you also have to be a generalist and others. And I think there’s some kind of, it’s probably not a Dunning-Kruger like effect, but something where people over estimate their ability in the fields they’re not an expert in because they have some ability in their field of expertise.

Dr. Julie Gurner 45:18
There is something called the halo effect, right?

Arvid Kahl 47:43
I guess a little bit of confidence certainly is helpful, particularly when you’re tackling things like entrepreneurship, right? Like you can be, I guess, neutrally confident and go do the job that somebody pays you to do and you’ll figure it out. But if you’re throwing yourself into a field, an industry that you may not have the most experience in just yet, but you’re trying to figure it out, you have to be confident that you can at least handle it, right?

Dr. Julie Gurner 48:08
Yes, that is the key. I think to a lot of entrepreneurship is not the confidence in your particular area of operation. But the confidence that no matter what comes you can figure it out. That is absolutely locked, solid, essential. I think also being like a self learner being autodidactic, right? Like being willing to teach yourself what you need to know. You are on your own. And I think that the confidence to figure it out is just a foundational element of the best people who end up moving forward. It’s fantastic.

Arvid Kahl 48:42
Yeah, it’s definitely something that I think I develop this early because I’m an only child and I got a lot of positive reinforcement in my life, right? It’s one of those things where my family, my parents, my grandparents, they were always like pushing me towards challenges because they knew that would help me not only get better at what I was doing, but also learning how to deal with failure and rejection and build up self esteem and resilience in spite of failing and being rejected, right? That always has helped me. And it’s kind of it’s almost sad to think that this is not a universal experience in childhood, right?

Dr. Julie Gurner 49:20
Well, I do think that one of the things I know that people like to kind of have negative conversations about education or schooling but one thing that I really like about schooling is it does show you what you’re good at and what you’re not. And you get that comparison point very quickly. You know, if you are really, really solid at one thing, you’re gonna notice it even if and you’ll see where you’re outstanding compared to your peers. Sometimes that’s an athletics. Sometimes it’s in a certain subject matter. You’ll also be able to be sparked in things that you love. And so I do think that there’s great benefit to it. I think, you know, sometimes education is what you make it and the individuals who sit in that classroom, for some people, it will be their first exposure to certain ideas. And those ideas I think are important. You know, we were talking about Steve Jobs and I believe he was talking about going to a calligraphy class. And that’s how he ended up bringing the fonts into development in his own company. So there are things about even the arts and others that we don’t really think about that can inform how we work. And it’s why it’s one of the reasons for example, why I recommend if you are a founder, if you are someone in business, follow people who are not like you. Follow artists, follow people who are in real estate, follow people who are doing all these things because there is something about ambitious people and their ideas and how they approach the world that you can ingest that may make you think differently and will make you better. And if you’re only surrounded by this small ecosystem of founders or the small ecosystem in your particular profession or world, it’s very detrimental. And it will keep you small, I think, in some ways because it’s hard to do something different when you’re surrounded by the same.

Arvid Kahl 51:07
Yep! Oh, 100%. I’ve incorporated that into my own life because I felt that I’m strongest where I’m intersectional between the things that I’m good at and other things that are slightly adjacent, some a little bit of overlap, right? But then as needs to be there can be completely alien. But it has to be just a little bit. And at that point, I find something that I didn’t realize is mind blowing in many ways. Examples would be probably, I have a lot of newsletters in my inbox. And not all of them. A few of them really are about entrepreneurship or software engineering. Most of them are about pasta. I’m a fan. Cooking, like professional cooking with all that kind of stuff, historical financial system analysis and I think aerospace engineering. Like I’m trying to find fields where my technical interests, my intellectual interests, and my culinary interests, they all are kind of intersecting with what I already know something about, right? Content creation and software engineering and entrepreneurship. And it is often in tiny little phrases and tiny little thoughts that come in, in these completely different kinds of information channels that I find thoughts. Oh, wow, here’s something that I can take from my own experience into this other field and help people there right now. It’s these sometimes really nice little things. Practical example would be people in the culinary field, they have problems like keeping an inventory of their I don’t know, spices or something, right? And here I am having built inventory software systems and having understood like optimization algorithms and I can tell them, well, if you really want to stack them efficiently, here is the knapsack problem, a mathematical problem that is optimizing for space in any given container, right? I can transfer my knowledge from one field that is totally normal here, completely unheard of over there. And I can give people a way to improve their own lives just by being in two fields at the same time.

Dr. Julie Gurner 53:10
It’s amazing! I think cross pollination to me is, it’s just, it’s brilliant. It’s thought provoking. It’s often where you get ideas that catapult you above your peers because you don’t like there’s nothing kind of I think more sad sometimes, like, let’s just say that you’re in marketing and all you do is you know, you’re on marketing forums, talking to marketing people, go to marketing conferences. Like, yeah, there are some skills and tactical things that you might learn. But if you really want to think about marketing differently, like what about looking at, I don’t know, Lil Nas, the rap artist to like blew up and, you know, is known as being an incredible self promoter. What can you learn from that? What can you learn from, you know, Melissa Hobley, who’s a great marketer works at, I think, Tinder now, CMO is incredible, but has campaigns that are really, you know, get people talking and are kind of controversial and like, where can you pull in like things from dating apps, things from artists, things from you know? You really, I think, if you stick into tech too deeply and that’s one thing I love about New York City, for example, is that so many different people doing so many different things are everywhere. It is not an echo chamber. Aside from about New York City, I think everybody’s kind of an echo chamber in that way. But you know, you get to capitalize on people who are creative and people who are very engaged and deeply passionate about what they do. And you can always pull lessons from that if you listen and if you’re open. And to me, I think that sometimes those are the most interesting, challenging areas where you walk away from those conversations and you think, how can I integrate this into what I do? It’s also why I think philosophy has been so beneficial, you know, to my own work and why, you know, the history of kind of things that I’ve done have been so informative to my own work. We often draw from things that are not necessarily things others might anticipate.

Arvid Kahl 55:15
Yeah, definitely. It’s the reason why we are talking right now, right? We had a disagreement and I thought, this is awesome. I’m going to follow this person. And I need people who don’t just agree with me in my life. Otherwise, how could I grow, right? It’s a very selfish thought. But in that, it allows me to expose myself and through whatever I’m talking about other people to thoughts that they might not have had before, right? That they might not have access to because their little bubble might also keep them from getting access to those kinds of people and you are one of these people for me. I am extremely fortunate to have met you and to now be able to follow you, have this wonderful conversation with you. And I think more people should follow you as well. So where would you like people to go if they wanted to follow you and interact?

Dr. Julie Gurner 56:08
That’s a great lead in. Thank you so much. People can follow me on Twitter @drgurner and certainly subscribe to my newsletter at Ultra Successful at substack.com.

Arvid Kahl 56:18
That is a good choice. Well, I think people should definitely do that. And I am very, very fortunate to have had this conversation with you. Thank you for sharing all your insights and your knowledge and these wonderful thoughts on just how people can be their better selves and stay, you know, healthy and part of their communities in ways that are empowering all of us at the same time. So thank you so much for being on today. That was a wonderful, wonderful conversation.

Dr. Julie Gurner 56:49
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. You know, it was a fantastic exchange for me as well. I think that on Twitter, sometimes we are so quick to dismiss other people if they disagree. And you and I had like, we just went back and forth a few times just kind of saying, well, how do you think about this? How do you think about this? And we really, I left the conversation with a lot of respect for your openness and for your candor and for the fact that you know, we don’t always have to disagree. And that’s all right. So I look forward to learning more from you as we continue to both use the platform. So thanks for having me on.

Arvid Kahl 57:24
Thanks so much. I very much respect that and you as well. Thank you.

Dr. Julie Gurner 57:29
Thank you!

Arvid Kahl 57:31
And that’s it for today. Thank you for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You’ll find my books, my Twitter course there as well. If you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get to the podcast in your podcast player of choice and leave a rating and a review by going to (http://ratethispodcast.com/founder). Any of this, will help the show. So thank you very much for listening and have a wonderful day. Bye bye.

Dr. Julie Gurner 22:35
Oh, no.

Arvid Kahl 22:39
But I don’t mean this, like in a lazy way. I just feel like I have more control over small steps along the way, right? Small steps, cumulatively building the bigger thing over time. And it’s always easier to look back and see like the steps from which you’ve come. And like if you had only the big thing and you look back and you see nothing happened. I’m still trying to work on this big thing, right? It’s kind of a self sustaining way of small iterative steps. That’s how I approach my work, too. But this is apparently and I’m super glad you mentioned that, like this glorification of the outliers in the space. I don’t think that’s the only thing that is glorified. Because if there is one word in our community that I detest, it’s grind set. It’s this approach, like this hustle, kind of 80 hour workweek glorification that we see like people who work, work, work, work, work all the time. It’s like the work hard, not smart kind of approach, which is super strange. How can we prevent ourselves from comparing ourselves to these people that glorify this and try to throw yet one more hour at the project instead of one more thought to make it cost us 10 hours less? How can we get there?


Dr. Julie Gurner 45:21
You know, like, which is fantastic, where you know, you have someone, a great example, to me that always makes me chuckle is to see, you know, people who, you know, are actors who now are social policy experts, right? Like you play pretend for a living and you are now an expert in social policy, which is, I think it’s, you know, it’s amazing because the leverage works because of the people’s willingness to follow them into that space. And, you know, I tweeted the other day, you know, the interesting thing and I think the great thing about confidence is that people will follow your lead. You know, if you appear confident and you speak confidently, most people will buy it 100%. And that can work for you and against you, depending on if you’re legitimate in your space. But that works with actors, you know, in Congress, sometimes they are not as capable as maybe others could be in those particular areas. It works for, you know, people who are signal authority on Twitter oftentimes, and some people do have genuine expertise that you want to follow. I mean, there’s some incredible VCs that share their wisdom on Twitter. There are incredible founders on Twitter and credible people in their space there. I think it’s a real, it’s an incredible platform that I’m excited to be a part of. But I think we also see this odd effect where, you know, somebody is a thought leader. And if you really think about, you know, where is their expertise, it’s challenging to find, but they do say things in very light kind of ways that get social engagement. And you know, good for them. I’m glad that they’re able to kind of build from that people recognize the gifts that they have. But in general, in psychology, one thing we know is that people overestimate their attractiveness and they overestimate their intelligence. And both things help our self esteem. And so I’m all for it. I would rather people be a bit more confident and feel a bit better about themselves than go the other direction because I think the other direction is where it really begins to impact our lives negatively. If you feel that you’re smarter than you actually are, that’s only going to benefit you for the most part. I mean, there are probably things here and there where it doesn’t. But the general rule is it would trend more positively than feeling that you’re less than you actually are almost across the board.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.