I left corporate in mid 2020, and wandered jobless for nearly 6 months, followed by joining a seed stage startup as a founding team member.
Prior to then, the notion of a startup meant a “fast paced and (potentially) stressful environment.” I thought it meant a TON of work to do, lots of chaos and lots of expectations.
It was precisely that, but also an experience that became redemptive and healing to me in that season.
Prior to leaving my corporate role, I went through a heart-wrenching breakup, a huge falling out with my church community and a friendship breakup. Talk about my life crumbling.
I sought safety and comfort through attempts to find new friends and new community. Nothing worked.
A part of heart break and feelings of betrayal from community that makes it so difficult, is feeling disempowered as an individual. I lost so much of my sense of worth and confidence, and felt rejected and un-welcomed wherever I went. I wanted to feel like I could give in my own ways, be challenged to creativity and do something of my own for once, but the structural expectations of established friend groups, and churches I was seeking, didn’t allow for that.
But joining a seed stage startup did.
I really didn’t know what I signed up for, but the ambiguity ahead was a huge part in driving the experience as a whole. It gave me the opportunity to define my role, seek what I wanted, gain skills I had never been able to exercise in corporate or experience, and have full ownership over my work. The most important one yet, was the personal growth I gained in what it meant to be resilient, yet passionate yet empowered.
Startups are like a never ending HIIT workout class. Every day is a curve ball. One day you’ll have an employee demanding for higher compensation, then the next day you have a lawsuit, then maybe the next day your product breaks down. But there’s happy days too — like your product going viral from some random reddit thread some user posted organically. The highs are very high, the lows are very low. It’s intense.
In a non-technical role, I dealt less with product, but more so with people. Whether it was acquiring new users, scouting future partners, selling to whoever it was that was interested in our product, or even managing internal relations within the company, you come to realize every man is truly here for himself. Everyone will have their own needs they want met, and everyone will have their own opinions that they sometimes think is greater than it really should be.
But that’s the part that was empowering and redeeming. I felt like I had the opportunity to choose the relationships I wanted to build, and it felt exhilarating to sense the excitement from the other party when we pitched our product. Having someone believe in your product, ultimately felt like we were accepted in what we were building, and that we weren’t crazy for putting our heart and minds into it.
One of the most difficult aspects of going through a season of heartbreak and betrayal was feeling like I wasn’t accepted for who I was in that moment. No matter how broken I am as a human, I simply wanted to be accepted. Something about an opportunity to have ownership over your work, without anyone reviewing or critiquing it to the tee, felt rejuvenating and comforting in that season. It simply felt like it was my own.
I remember one of my favorite moments of joining this startup was when I was given the opportunity to build communities. Not just one, but multiple, and to oversee the operations of them. The opportunity was especially redeeming, after coming out of a church community prior to this where I felt pushed out, unheard and betrayed. But now I had the opportunity to build communities in such a way where others could feel included, heard and accepted. And that in itself felt empowering because I felt purpose in what I could actually give, knowing that others could receive in a way that I wish I could have.
There’s also nothing that gets you more fired up than an entire team working with the same goal in mind. Having been part of multiple sports teams growing up, that camaraderie spikes your adrenaline in ways you need, to achieve whatever it is you have set out to do. I remember the day and the weeks leading up to our first-ever PR release and launch on product hunt. It was nerve wracking and exciting, but also unifying. It felt like as a team, we came together and put in the blood, sweat and tears we did, and finally we were getting our chance to shine and be recognized by the world. It wasn’t the recognition we sought for, but the feeling of feeling like we did something and we did it together type of feeling.
That feeling was healing and redeeming for me in so many ways. In a season where I felt like I had nothing to show to the world, and the world shut me out, I had this product and team I was a part of building secretly behind closed doors. No matter what our product growth looked like, no matter if we looked shiny or rusty to the public, I had a team that had my back. I had a team that knew the work I put in, and acknowledged me for that. And that acknowledgement, felt so redeeming of the past, because regardless of what my output was, they recognized me as a team member who was valuable and here for a reason.
Startups are not easy. But they sure are rewarding. In the moment, I often thought, “When will this end” or even, “When is it time to call it quits.” But in retrospect, I sometimes wish it lasted longer. It was rewarding not because we IPO-ed or had a successful exit, but because the journey in itself spurred on personal growth as much as professional growth, in a way that was healing and redeeming to other areas of my life that could not offer the ownership and empowerment an early stage startup could for me.
In one season, I lost community, relationships and all hope I ever held onto, but in the next, I given back all that was lost, different than I imagined, but nothing less than what I imagined.