In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about questions to ask yourself during this crisis.

In times of crisis, especially one like the COVID 19 crisis, where anxiety is so universal, it’s important to ask yourself certain questions so that you recognise when you might be exhausted and there’s no good answer or solution to a challenge you’re facing.

In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about what the concept of a wartime CEO means, why there’s no such thing as a peacetime CEO, the right way to think about this concept and much more.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About today’s topic.

00:36 Why this topic is important.

02:56 Why this particular crisis is unique.

03:53 Questions to ask when you think you’re tired.

04:50 How we sometimes ask ourselves questions that don’t have an answer.

05:57 Good questions to ask that can be helpful.

07:54 A question Steli asks his mum now.

10:00 Why Hiten switched to focusing on luck rather than gratitude.

12:03 The difference between gratitude and luck.

13:28 How focusing on what you feel lucky about can give you a new perspective on life.

3 Key Points:

  • I can’t tell you why I’m exhausted.
  • When you go through a time like this when anxiety is so universal, it’s literally in every interaction.
  • We’ve never had a crisis at this scale before.


Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. Today on The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about good questions to ask yourself during these uncertain times. I think this is a important topic. I will tell you why and get personal, but we always get personal on this anyway. I had a friend text me the other day, text me something of the nature of like, “I don’t know, man. I’m just tired today.” He was like, “I feel like I’m tired every night.” And it’s a friend of mine that wouldn’t tell anybody else that. I texted him and I’m someone who really wouldn’t tell anybody else that either.


Steli Efti: Yes. [crosstalk 00:00:52].


Hiten Shah: I told him, “You know what? Me too.” Then I texted him and this was the night before last, literally very fresh. I texted him last night and I’m like, You know what? I feel the same today as well.” He’s like, “Yeah, me too. He’s someone like you Steli, where I’ll tell him anything privately and we’ll chit chat publicly sometimes and stuff like that. I understand where he’s coming from when he says it to me because there’s a lot of… He’s just resilient. He’s seen lots of different things in the past. Someone like you, right? We just have this common either experiences or way of dealing with the world. I’ve just been wondering, how do you still… Of course it’s okay to feel that, but how do you ask yourself questions to just recognize when you might just be exhausted and there’s no good answer. Because I can’t tell you why I’m exhausted at night. He can’t explain why he is either. There’s just a lot going on in the world.


Steli Efti: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s not just a lot going on in the world in the abstract. I think that when you go through a time like this where anxiety is so universal and uncertainty is so universal, it’s literally in every interaction. It’s in the hello goodbye. It’s even in small interactions that seem harmless and positive. The underlying energy exchange between all humans right now in varying degrees is always, no matter what we’re saying, we’re also probably communicating, “I’m anxious. I’m stressed. I’m worried. I feel uncertain. I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.” That, we’ve just never had that at this scale where almost everybody we interact with feels that, right? And therefore also communicates that verbally or non-verbally with each other all day long and all that is raining onto us and is amplifying those feelings. One thing I just remembered a long time ago, I think I had told you once, because you are in the small circle of people that I will tell things to that I won’t tell to most people. I think I told you that day like, “Dude, I’m tired.” You’re like, “Dude, you’re not tired. You’re just bored.” I’m like, “Huh?” Just think about it differently. When I say I’m tired, I just tell myself maybe I’m bored. “Are you bored?” I was like, “Huh?” It was such a mind twister. I’ve never forgotten that. That made such an impression on my fucking mind that any time, any time I think I’m tired, I go, “Am I bored?” Sometimes I’m like, “Damn you Hiton. I’m just tired. I’m definitely not bored today.” But I always check myself, “Are you sure you’re not bored?” I love it because it’s one of those ways where you just reframe a feeling or a situation in a way that can just create a different spotlight and create different possibilities. Right? Not always [crosstalk]


Hiten Shah: I like that. Good reminder. I forgot about that.


Steli Efti: Yeah, I love that. I literally have not been able to forget that anytime. I do believe that there’s probably also, another thing that’s probably going on, is that we are most likely asking ourselves certain questions consciously or subconsciously that we don’t have good answers to and that might cause more tension in our bodies than we’re used to. That tension translates then into exhaustion. It translates into people breathing more shallow, people holding their breaths more, people tensing up their muscles more. That exhausts you even if nothing happened. That all comes from this consuming information that is scary or gloom and doom or thinking and asking yourself questions that cause you to either not know what the answer is and therefore cause you to feel uncertain and unsure or cause you to give yourself answers that probably make you worry. They’ll make you afraid and anxious. What have been some good questions that people have asked you or you have asked others or yourself that have helped in one way or another? I’ll go first actually. Because I have something that’s not… I have some questions that are very positive but I want to come up with something that’s actually not positive but still very helpful during these times. There’s two questions that I’ve started asking that have been helpful. One is, what is going on in your family life and in your personal life right now? One thing that we do in our team meetings now, whenever we do a director sync or whenever I talk to any of the people that I work with, any meeting I’m in right now over Zoom, we always start with a personal minute where it’s just like, “How am I feeling? How is my family? What is going on in my city?” A quick update in my world. What’s going on in my world and that has been incredibly helpful to release anxiety and tension and to make these meetings much more human, much more connected. A. It’s a release. People are able to say, “Well, we ran out of whatever water and my in-laws live with us now. It’s very stressful and I’m having a hard time to be productive right now.” Just being able to say it out loud in a group of peers can be very helpful. But it also gives the peers, all of us, it gives us information that help us work better with you. Right? Maybe we’ll support you a bit more. I had one person that three weeks ago they told us, “Hey, my father-in-law was just hospitalized and is now on a ventilator and is in a coma.” Now this thing has gotten really real for us and we’re all like, “Whoa, holy shit.” But knowing that helped me work with him and push him to take some days off and I just had context of what was going on in his personal life versus just going, “Is everybody fine? Yeah. Cool. So let’s talk about work.” Right?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah.


Steli Efti: That has been very helpful. Then another thing that I want to say that’s counter-intuitive, but it’s been very powerful for me personally. That’s why I want to share it is, I try to call my mom every single day now. My mom is older and she lives alone and so I’m overly worried about her and two times a week or so I’ll drive to her place and I’ll, she’ll be at her balcony with a lot of distance, just hang out and chat with her just so I can see her and she can see me. The last couple of times, anytime I talked to her, I would ask her, “How are you?” She would be like, “I’m fine. Believe me, I’m doing well. I just went on a walk and I’m reading a book and everything is fine.” Then I was like, “This sucks. This question never gives me what I really want to get to.” So this week when I went to her, I didn’t ask how are you doing. I said, “What are you worried about these days?”


Hiten Shah: Oh, that’s good.


Steli Efti: When I asked her that, she looked at me, she paused and she was like, “I mean, I’m not worried about much, but I’m worried about your sister-in-law. She was not feeling well the last couple of days. I was talking to her and I’m a little worried if it’s this or that and I’m also worried about this other cousin of ours.” Now all of a sudden for 30 minutes she was telling me about all these people she’s worried about. Right? Then we were able to have a conversation about it and I knew none of that stuff. I didn’t know about all these people having all these problems. Right? That I knew and I didn’t know that she was worrying about it all day long because when I asked her, “How are you?” my mom is such a grateful, grounded person. She would be like, “I have food. I have sunlight. I’m healthy. I’m fine.” But when I asked her, “What are you worried about?” She was like, “Well, I’m worried about this person and that person, that person, that person.” That allowed us to have a conversation where we could connect better, but also she could say some of these worries to me so we can talk about it and she doesn’t have to just have all those worries live inside of her. Those are weird examples but that’s why I wanted to start with them.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. No, that’s really a good one. I think the one on the positive side I go for, which is related to what you said is, I recently flipped from focusing on gratitude to focusing more on luck. Still into the gratitude. Gratitude’s great and there’s a certain feeling when you feel how grateful you are for things. Recently, even when people ask me, “How are you doing?” I’m like, “I feel lucky.” I feel lucky because my family is healthy. I have a house to be in right now and lots of space, enough space with four of us at the house. Again, everyone’s healthy and for the most part our family is very used to being in the house so nobody really gets too crazy together. I think my six year old daughter sometimes goes nuts at night because she hasn’t been out in a while but she’s been doing that since she was a little kid where she has a second burst of energy in the evening and sometimes really intense but that’s once every few weeks. That’s minor for kids and stuff right now, at least from what I hear. So I feel lucky. I feel lucky for lots of things and just ask yourself, literally look at your situation and think to yourself, “How lucky am I? Why do I feel lucky?” Even assuming that you do feel lucky and figuring out why you feel lucky, I think, is useful. Especially at this time, I feel like there’s a big difference between gratitude and luck. Gratitude is a approach that helps you feel gratitude, feel grateful for the things in your life and all that. Like I said, I think it’s very powerful. Luck is a little bit different where it helps you remove yourself from attachment in a different way. I think gratitude is still some form of an attachment. I think there’s no bad there. Luck though is almost like, “Well, I didn’t have anything to do with it.”


Steli Efti: Yeah, that’s the interesting one about that. I love that because I think that’s a big difference. Gratitude, you’re putting yourself often into the equation. Where luck, you’re not part of the equation. Right? Luck is like, this has come to me with no doing of myself versus gratitude. Many things I’m grateful for I had a hand in. I created for myself. Right? That’s super interesting. I do ask myself a lot around… I start my days with making a list of things I’m grateful for and every night when I put my boys to sleep, we have a ritual where first I tell them a story based on two random words they give me. Then we tell each other what we’re grateful for. Then when my son asked me the first time, “What is gratitude, dad?” I told him the best thing I could think of that moment, which is it’s like saying thank you with your heart for everything that’s good in your life that you acknowledge. But feeling luck you’re saying, “What is luck in my life?” I love that. It does have a different viewpoint. It’s a different angle. I love that. It’s really good.


Hiten Shah: Yeah. That’s the one that’s been, I think, helpful and possibly hopefully inspires people to think differently about something. Yeah.


Steli Efti: I love that. All right. We’ll take that. With that, we’ll wrap up this episode. We’ll wish all of you a lot of luck and stay safe and sane. We’ll hear you very, very soon.


Hiten Shah: See ya.