To Startup Founders Who Are Grieving: 3 Steps to Get Through It


I didn't feel it creeping up on me, but I was starting to notice that I couldn't focus and it causing me to miss deadlines back in January. I was grieving and didn't know it. It was the first anniversary of my grandmothers passing. As entrepreneurs, we have to just keep going because In this world of startups and scaling up we must always focus on being UP. However I feel like many of my entrepreneurs friends don't grieve when they should and how they should, because well, we don't have time.

I attended a conference in 2014 and one of the speakers talked about her bother being murdered, and she said something that stuck with me. She talked about the weeks and days leading up to her brother passing, and how her body felt and that the body knows ahead of time; that it prepares you for mourning. The December before the first Black Tech Week, I found myself in a big funk, to the point where I stayed at home for a few days in pajamas, ordering take out and just feeling extremely exhausted. I chalked it up as just end-of-year exhaustion and moving closer to my 32nd birthday. I watched countless motivational videos and mixed it with Netflix binge watching.

Then I got the call that my grandmother had a stroke, but I was so busy planning our conference that I didn't travel to Jamaica, family members assured me she would recover. A few weeks later I got the call that shattered my world:
My grandmother was gone.

My body was preparing me for this but my business was not prepared. It was crunch time and I could not mourn the loss the way I needed to; the way I was supposed to. All I wanted to do was turn on my email away message with a note that said I can't respond to your emails, because I don't want to be present in this world today. But I didn't...

So I decided to work and spiral down an unhealthy path that I believe many entrepreneurs take, of not allowing ourselves to feel anything as debilitating as grief and god forbid, we show it.

We operate best when we can control the circumstances and outcomes.

We can't be vulnerable because we have to put up a front of the confident commander focused on positivity and profitability. However, we must pay attention to our intentions, and if our intention is to build startups whose company culture is rooted in transparency, authenticity, and mindfulness then we can't operate in a way that is in opposition to our immutable laws. By pushing pass the pain we make ourselves numb to the world around us and that truly clouds our awareness and invites real danger and risks.

We feel that by mourning we will be met with angry clients, but we need the time for deep reflection and being present.

3 Steps For Founders Who Are Grieving

Don't Push Pass the Pain

Stand in it, lay in it, cry, scream, kick, do all the things that allow the pain to exit the body. No matter how you do it, give yourself up to the grief and do it unapologetically.

Create a "Morning Plan"

Yes that is correct, a Morning Plan, not a Mourning Plan. Keep it in your desk, add it to your canned responses on Gmail. Create a plan that can be easily accessible by your co-founder, assistant, or key person on your team in a time of emergency. Simply finish this sentence: "I woke up this morning and my world has been turned upside down due to a loss, and I am not available today." List the best method to communicate with you or a family member some examples include:

  • Here are the 5 people to notify

  • Here is what to do with my scheduled meetings/events/appearances
  • Here is how to communicate with key clients
  • Here is the person that is able to make decisions on my behalf

  • Connect and Check In

    This time is important to be alone, but make sure you do reach out if the pain becomes too much to bear, as you don't have to do it alone. Often times you can find solace in the comfort of others that are empathetic to your pain and current circumstances.