This article was first published by SmartCompany on 4th November 2020.
The ability to be mindful — to hold space without passing judgment and stay tuned-in to the present moment — is a tool that can benefit all areas of your life, including professionally.
In the startup ecosystem, the benefits are clear. Mindfulness can increase self-awareness and help cultivate leadership, as well as build resilience to tolerate the stress of startup life.
By enabling founders to look within, mindful practices such as meditation can help them to accelerate their personal growth and level-up, ultimately to the benefit of the company. From experience, a company will grow to the extent that its leadership can grow.
The benefits extend to investors as well.
As a venture fund partner, I’ve come to realise that investing is much more about people than it is finance.
Consider the role investors play in the early stages of a startup’s life: beyond providing financial support, many investors take a very hands-on approach in guiding founders through difficult decisions and the emotional rollercoasters they encounter along the way.
The work of a VC involves dealing with uncertainty, pressure, and at times, isolation. Market conditions change, headlines fluctuate and volatility continues to increase.
Learning to accept the storms that come and go is something that comes with accepting discomfort and being able to sit comfortably within that discomfort and uncertainty.
How do you, as an investor, maintain a steady hand to guide founders in times as tumultuous as the past year has been?
Certainly, building a support network is a good place to start.
The Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship’s VC Catalyst program is centred on connection, whereby it gives those new to VC a community of other VCs, angel investors and industry experts to develop the tools and skills needed to make successful investments.
Other startup bodies such as StartupVic or accelerators such as Startmate can also be very helpful in building networks in the startup community.
Beyond that, I’d encourage new investors to consider mindful practices, such as guided meditation and breathwork, a part of their daily lives. Or simply taking the time for a few deep breaths. We encounter so much stimulation on a daily basis, it can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise.
My own journey with mindfulness started over 20 years ago because, like so many who work in high-stress roles, I couldn’t sleep. Around this time, rather coincidentally, I was taking a leadership course through work and the course’s host would end each session with a guided meditation. ‘The teacher arrives when the student is ready’, as the saying goes.
Now, I host mindfulness sessions over Zoom, where CEOs, investors and startup founders from around the world sit together in a guided meditation. In addition to that, I provide deeper mindfulness mentorship to founders and investors on a one-to-one basis.
Part of my work as a mentor and a mindfulness teacher is to demonstrate the value of slowing down and turning inwards.
In my personal experience, meditation has been a great tool to help me learn to be present and aware, moment by moment, regardless of whatever circumstances I encounter in my day.
When I am able to look inwards and acknowledge my own behavioural biases, I can then amplify that wisdom externally. Rather than acting or reacting out of impulse, I tap into a mindful perspective to create space between any stimulus and my response.
However, meditation is hardly an easy proposition, especially in the VC world.
When you’re juggling portfolio companies, new investment conversations, raising capital for your next fund — which often feels like it all happens at the same time — you get busy. So taking even 15 minutes out of your day away from your desk seems like a difficult proposition.
And yet, through my work as a mindfulness teacher for the last 13 years, I’ve helped other investors as well as founders achieve this through a range of mindfulness tools and practices, and obtaining a level of self-awareness where they no longer need my guidance.
The work we do together helps them to evolve beyond their habitual fight-or-flight mechanisms, to sit through the discomfort that can arise, and to ultimately find clarity.
The act of sitting in stillness, giving yourself the time to breathe, can uncover greater balance and a more holistic sense of self. And this can help in so many ways, such as making better decisions, including investment decisions, and giving you more space to help others such as your portfolio companies and the startup ecosystem more broadly