“I’m Not Good Enough:” Shaming in Startups

Published in The Startup Couch, 01/20/2016

The fear that we’re not good enough.
Researcher Brene Brown says shame is the most powerful “master” emotion.

Shame is silent, but constant. It’s the founder’s kryptonite.

Founders constantly deal with people. When persuading customers, securing pre-orders, pitching skeptical investors, and defending their ideas to Lyft drivers, there is ample room in a founder’s life for shame to creep in. And many founders have to deal with several more layers of shame than others.

I grew up as a woman in an Asian family where humility was revered. I was praised for telling myself that I am not worth that much – even when I was kicking ass! I ended up becoming a startup entrepreneur, and in this line of work, humility won’t get you very far.

My own shame and shaming goes a little like this…


• You are arrogant. Who do you think you are?

• I feel like I am arrogant and now it is confirmed.

• I must be humble and put myself down, so I can stop being arrogant.

• It’s my fault.


In other words,

• Shame = “I am a bad person.”

• Shaming = “You are a bad person.”

Shaming serves its purpose: to prevent crime, set appropriate social boundaries, etc. But it can needlessly become self-hatred and self-destruction. We often interpret these shameful thoughts as the truth, when in reality these feelings are just noise, distracting us from what is objectively real.

It’s motivating at best, destructive at the worst.

If you want to live at a new level, try keeping this perspective top of mind: Feelings are just noise.

Start with reframing by stating an objective statement of a reality that triggered your feeling of shame. Here are some examples:

• My mother is dealing with her own feelings of shame and disappointment when I could not raise money. This started years ago when my father wouldn’t support her starting a business.

• I said I would raise one million in seed funding for my company by September, and I haven’t. My mother is upset and worried.

• I have a choice to keep going, or to get a job.

• I blame other people and circumstances in order to feel better and feel in control. This is an unhealthy habit. It’s best to instead focus on getting help and objective feedback.

Once you’ve reframed your feelings of “I am bad,” look back at your commitments to get grounded about what to do next.

Your commitments are powerful; not your feelings.

Aim to confront shame constantly. Refuse to run from, or be controlled by, shame – and you’ll kick ass like never before. Do not allow yourself to be distracted. Your feelings are not reality, but your commitments are.

About Minda Aguhob, M.Ed.

Minda Aguhob has always been passionate about the effective use of technology, advocacy, and rigorous research to develop innovative processes that improve performance. Based in San Francisco, California, Minda is leading Peakfoqus (http://peakfoqus.com) a company that's designing digital health solutions rooted in research and advocacy.
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