As a startup founder, I've spent the past year soaking up information from other founders: reading books, listening to podcasts, and attending fireside chats. After a few months, I realized that the majority of the content was no longer inspiring me - it was actually draining me. It wasn't until I read Nat Eliason's excellent Medium article that I was able to really explain what was so disheartening: the content that drained me was all "struggle porn."
If you're not familiar with the term struggle porn, it's the idea that struggling, in and of itself, is good. In the startup context, it implies that you should be working all day, every day, barely sleeping, and sacrificing everything for your dream. In a struggle porn world, if you aren't struggling, you are failing.
I've seen this concept play out in countless corporate experiences as well. Put in long hours, fight a draining fight, react immediately to every "urgent" (yet often irrelevant) request - you will be rewarded. Work efficiently, prioritize tasks appropriately, maintain a work life balance - you will be seen as an uncommitted slacker.
I believe in working hard to build something great, and I am passionate about executing a vision. However, struggling does not mean that you will build something great. Working long hours does not mean you are executing your vision.
The content that excites and inspires and engages me is content that focuses on real, helpful information that I can use to improve my business and myself. It helps me understand what is truly important, what will help me achieve my mission, and what is clutter that I should ignore.
So how do you avoid becoming a struggle porn actor?
Know and grow your differentiators.
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who doesn't have an inspiring differentiator. You saw a gap and a creative way to fill it, so you did.
I've met many businesses, though, who lose track of those differentiators as they grow. Your client asks you to do something that's outside of your niche and you do it - just this once! Then another client asks you to go a little further away from your vision, but they're a great client and you really want the business and what could it hurt? A few months or years later, you've gone down a winding path of distractions. Your original differentiators are nowhere in sight, and you're battling to stay alive in a niche you never wanted to be in to begin with.
Know what makes you great and prioritize it every day. Stay on your path. Work hard - towards your goal. And if you need to pivot, pivot with purpose.
Track your actions and measure results.
Your goal isn't to work hard. Your goal is to see results. If you aren't measuring your results, you don't know what is a good use of your time and what is just struggle porn.
Go to a networking event every night - but keep track of where you meet contacts, and stop going to events that don't give you good leads. Spend time each week on your social media strategy - but watch which channel performs best and minimize the time you spend on low performers.
Lose the waste.
You know your vision and your differentiators. You are tracking results and prioritizing actions with the biggest impact. Now it's time to take an inventory of everything else.
Purposeless meetings? Inefficient process? Correcting the end result rather than the problem itself? Make a list of time-wasters and find ways to eliminate them. Understand that it will be a long process to check items off the list, and, sadly, new items will be added to the list. But your time is valuable and your mission matters. Eliminate distractions.
Struggling, by itself, won't make your business a success. Know what your vision and your differentiators are, and prioritize them. Measure your results, and spend your energy on things that work. Stop wasting time on things that have no value.
Work hard - on things that will drive your business forward.
Not sure where to start?