Today on The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to handle private life challenges while running a startup (forgiving yourself).

One thing that is inevitable at work is that there’s going to be personal issues that will happen to team members. This could be as a result of health issues, loss of a member of something as simple as relocating to a new place. Managing life challenges at work are crucial as if poorly managed can lead to a lot of stress in the team.

In today’s episode of the show, Steli and Hiten talk about what life challenges are, how to handle challenging issues at work, why great communication is key when these issues arise and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

02:15 About today’s topic

00:42 Why this topic was chosen.

02:00 How to handle challenging issues at work.

02:31 Why great communication is key when issues arise.

03:33 Why you and your family should always come first.

04:25 Why companies should be proactive in helping team members through life challenges.

06:05 Practical ways companies can help manage life challenges.

08:30 How team members can be overly optimistic about their situation.

09:38 The importance of being transparent in difficult times.

3 Key Points:

  • We’re all going to have challenges at work but how we deal with these issues is what matters.
  • It’s really about communication.
  • Everyone knows that life happens and family is super important.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah, and today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about this concept or this idea where like, how do you deal with things that happen in your personal life that are debilitating to some extent or that really cause you to have to focus on it. Maybe in some ways cause you to really have to put a lot of your energy towards your family or your personal life compared to your work? And what do you do about it?


Steli Efti: Yeah, so the reason why we wanted to talk about that was that just recently, I had a number of people, both on my team but also friends, going through just personal challenges, right? Somebody’s father dying. We had just started. So a new team member works with us for a month or so, then his dad passes away. And so that is obviously a super dramatic personal life event that affects work as well. But also people with less traumatic things happening to them of just like moving, and how interrupted that can be to life and therefore also to work. And the common theme that I saw in many of these situations was, most of the advice and most of the work and energy I had to invest in those people was all about giving them permission to deal with life and be okay with the fact that work will have to take a step back for a little bit. Just telling people, “Hey, it’s okay. Take care of yourself, take care of your family, work will still be here in two weeks, in three weeks. It’s okay if you’re not on your A game”. And seeing how much people struggle with giving themselves permission, to be out of balance at times, to be struggling. We’re all going to go through phases where we struggle, but how you deal with that struggle if you’re giving yourself permission and if you deal with it with forgiveness towards yourself or if you make it even harder because you create this pressure and stress of thinking, “Oh my God, I’m behind on work”. And creating this extra pressure and destructiveness that ultimately I think will lead to even worse results in work as well.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. I think it’s really about communication because remember, you’re not the only one on our team. So being able to communicate with your team, even if it’s a highly personal matter and you don’t want to share what it is, you should say, something personal is going on in my life and these are the… You wouldn’t communicate it this way, but essentially these are the rules of engagement with me, for this amount of time until this is over. Right? Or until I get my head straight on this. And so talking about your availability, being vocal about it in a good way, right. And not being embarrassed, and making sure you are actually communicating, right. Because most of the time, in your company, people are just going to be concerned and they really care about your wellbeing. And so it’s really important to communicate regardless of what the situation is. Even if you don’t want anyone’s help or anyone’s sentiments or anything like that, just communicate. It’s where I see people really, really screw it up, especially in those times when everyone knows life happens. And honestly family first. It’s super important to take care of yourself and your family. And when things happen to be able to take the time, and I haven’t found a company that’s actually not okay with that and not accepting as long as you’re communicating. What happens is when you don’t communicate, people just start guessing about what’s going on. That’s the last thing you actually want.


Steli Efti: Yeah. I love that. I think that’s super important. Flipping it to the other side, I think from a company perspective, it’s super important to not just say that you are accepting and understanding of somebody’s personal situation when that happens, but to be very proactive in helping the person and giving the person permission, because in certain situations, one thing that I found for instance is that people that go through these life challenges, they’re not very good at… Or that they’re going to be way too aggressive in the way they are estimating how much time potentially they’ll have to be away from work. Let’s take that as an example, right. So we had a person on the team that had to go through a surgery, a while back and I remember that person saying, “Yeah well, I’m probably going to not be able to work for Thursday and Friday. Just two days after the surgery. But then I’m going to be, after the weekend, I’m going to be back full time.” And I had to step in and tell the person, “Hey, take a whole week, maybe one and a half weeks, and if you feel much better after the surgery, if you actually really feel good, you can come back to work earlier, right? That’s awesome. That’s not a problem. But I think you underestimate how much of an impact a surgery like that can have. And I don’t think it’s a good idea for you and for your team to be communicating. You’re only gone for two days and have all these scheduled meetings and calls and things to do. And then what if your recovery is not as quickly as you hope, right? Then you’re going to create all this stress for you, the team and everybody. So why don’t we take one and a half weeks off instead of just two days. And if you feel much better sooner, that’s awesome. And if you don’t, then that’s also okay. Everybody’s prepared, you feel okay about it.” And it took a lot of back and forth convincing that person, and then when the surgery happened, the person needed the whole one and a half weeks and was very, very thankful and grateful that that was the setup. Because otherwise, she would have struggled a lot and it would have created a lot of stress for her. So I think sometimes people are… And I’ve had the situation with many people where I have to step in and say, “Well, you think you’re only going to need this amount of break from work. I think you should take more”. Because people are just, they’re too hard on themselves and they are making these calculations or estimates that are just unrealistic because they don’t feel comfortable taking these huge chunks of time away from work at times. But it’s important. And you’re not going to be working productively anyways, right? If you’ve not recovered, it doesn’t matter if it says that you are working now, you’re not going to be able to do good work. And it’s going to just create a lot of stress for you. So I’d rather have you not work at all and fully recover, but I feel people are too hard on themselves. They don’t feel they have the permission to do that. They feel uncomfortable asking for that. So I think it’s the responsibility of the company or the managers, for you as managers or founders to step in those situations and protect your employees, and make sure that you give them permission, and that you sometimes even force them to take more time off or take it easy, or take less projects onboard, on their plate so that they can recover and they can regain their focus and energy once the family situation, whatever the struggle is they’re dealing with has passed.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s important to be proactive in those situations as a manager in a company. It’s critical actually, because if you’re not, then honestly bad things happen. People let you down, to be honest, and oftentimes people just don’t realize they’re very optimistic about themselves and their ability to recover from things. So yeah, I think communication is key. I’ve had folks who have had, tragedies happen in their personal lives and they’re able to deal with it just by communicating and going offline, and being very direct about when they’re going to be available and when they’re not. And it’s that simple. I mean, I wish I had more to share on this topic, but you’re talking about the difference between work and your personal life. And both your networks or the people involved around you in those scenarios, they both depend on you for many different things. And so being able to be smart and cover that is really important. And cover it meaning, be able to not let anyone down, at the same time be honest, and be realistic. And the best approach is if you don’t know what’s going to happen, then say you don’t know, and then talk about what the options are, what might happen and then let the people around you know very clearly. I couldn’t say that stronger, because it’s just one of those things where it’s so critical to communicate. You don’t communicate, you end up causing a lot more trouble for yourself than you need to.


Steli Efti: I love it. Yeah, I think proactive communication, asking for help, being transparent and then also from a team perspective or company perspective and management perspective, taking care of people and protecting them from themselves at times and supporting them very proactively and not just saying, well this person said they need this time off, that’s their decision. I’m not going to push them for more. When you are convinced that it’s unrealistic or not good is also I think a really bad idea. So yeah, life happens. If you have hopefully a long life and you have a long career and you work for many years building companies or working in startups and teams, you’re going to have life tragedies unfortunately, in most cases. There’s going to be life distractions. There’s going to be things in your personal life that’s going to affect your work life, and forgiving yourself in those situations for not being the perfect person in work and the beacon of productivity and giving yourself the permission to take it slower for a short period of time at work so you can regain your energy and focus, you can take care of your life, and realizing that this isn’t marathon and hopefully this is something you’re going to be doing for 20, 30, 40 years versus just obsessing over the project you’re working on right now is some a short term milestone or goal you’re trying to accomplish over dealing with what’s more fundamentally important, which is your personal life, your family, your health, whatever it is. I think that that’s super crucial. Just being okay with at times, letting your personal life take priority and having work life, having to slow down a little bit, at those crucial times is super important.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I totally agree.


Steli Efti: All right. That’s it from us for this episode.


Hiten Shah: Bye.