Comfort through normalization

Anxiety x Normalization graphs for ACL & Founder Journeys

One of the most active, atypical and surprising communities I feel strong affinities for are my ACL Recovery Clubs on Facebook & Reddit.

Since joining almost a month ago now, I check the feeds almost daily.

We share:☀️ A sense of hope (you can do it because I did!)💬 A common language (3w p.o. flexion at 110; ROM steri strips; hamstring graft)💪 Wins only we understand (i raised my leg today! i can bend to 90 today!)🤕 Comfort through normalization (this is painful, is this normal?)

I have no idea who these people are. I don’t remember their names. All I know is (save for my therapist & doctor) I’ve found the most comfort about my condition from these strangers. That sliver of connection is even more powerful than some other communities I'm a part of. How fascinating.


Comfort through normalization

The moment I felt something was “abnormal” with my injury, something that my PT or doctor didn’t necessarily point out as expected, I turned to my groups to crowdsource whether my condition was “normal.”

I started at the bottom of this graph. Every additional comment of “It’s normal” from my fellow ACLs moved me up.


Anxiety x Normalization for the Founder Journey

I noticed I felt the same way with the founder journey at the “idea validation” stage.

We were in our weekly with our mentor at SPC and had a regular pulse check on how we were feeling. I mentioned I felt anxiety & tension with our speed. Sure, It’s important we’re intentional about the idea we’ll pursue. On the other hand, the official program at SPC was ending but here we were, with tons of rejected ideas, many lessons learned but still not one thing we’ve decided to go all-in on. Two months in, and I felt we were too slow.

He pushed back on that — we’re actually still at the very beginning of our journey. Turns out we might stay in this stage for at least 9 months. Perhaps even beyond a year. And that’s normal, and that’s ok. In fact that’s the partly the reason they decided to shell out $400k to pre-idea, pre-product founders — to give peace of mind to pursue the right idea. So long as we’re validating ideas quickly & compounding lessons as we go.

As a 2x founder & VC that’s encountered many a founder story, he understood the journey well. He normalized the tumultuous, multi-month journey. After that conversation, I moved up the graph.


Fake normals

It’s natural to think the idea validation journey is short.. or non-existent! For a couple reasons:

  • Media portrays founding stories as clear, linear journeys (“we found a problem, we built something, we raised money to fix it!”) No one stops to think about the time it took to iterate until an idea actually panned out.(In general, let’s not forget how what the media portrays ≠ reality)
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  • Founders are incentivized to tell a good story. (Save for the moments you get to extract the truth in more intimate conversations.) Why? People glorify the good stories. (See samples below)
  • No one really writes or documents the journey in this stage as it’s rife with many pivots. Too much energy to share updates that are constantly changing! Also, probably better for the founder to focus on their startup.

Some examples:

  • Airbnb’s founding story is a good one — rife with ups and downs.
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    Nate Blecharczyk (CTO of Airbnb) came to SPC to give a talk to the founders fellows. Their story is portrayed as if they hustled their way with high conviction on this particular idea, when in fact, it was through simultaneously (dis)proving many others. I was surprised to hear that from the moment of the “conception” of Airbnb in a design conference until their official stint with YC, the founders were validating a couple ideas simultaneously. “Airbnb” was only one of the many they had to build conviction for over a period of a year!

  • Xiaoyin Qu’s story of founding of Run the World is another good one. Read about her story here.

Ways to Counter Fake Normals

  • Join communities! You’ll find the honest, vulnerable and true insights from people that are going through the journey with you. Whether that’s the founder journey or an ACL one. (Plug for SPC!)
  • Talk to people who’ve experienced it before. I found comfort from our awesome set of mentors at SPC & other experienced founders who understand that it takes time to find the right next step for you.
  • Don’t take stories at face value. A friendly reminder to discount what media tells you. :)

Nudges of the week 👀

Still validating, Mika (