For many founders, having something to prove is a rallying cry. Fuel to start and to keep going, even on the darkest days.
Founders can often feel misunderstood by family and friends. This misunderstanding gets converted into a feeling of having to prove people wrong. The naysayers, the doubters and the haters. Can having this need to prove something be a good thing for Founders?
It can be helpful to a point. Founders who remain extrinsically focused, however, don’t evolve well or fast enough and ultimately get held back by trying to prove something to others. I think this is especially true for under-estimated and under-represented founders.
When you’re underestimated and people don’t believe in what you’re doing, it can be incredibly motivating early on to prove them wrong. The need to prove people wrong is a powerful feeling that can become the catalyst a founder might need when they are starting out, but founders must move beyond the motivation of proving others wrong and instead focus on proving themselves and the people that do believe in them right.
Founders who stay too focused on the detractors and disbelievers end up putting too much time and energy toward proving them wrong which could otherwise be applied more positively and constructively elsewhere. If a founder remains in a ‘prove them wrong’ mentality and doesn’t mature past the negativity and disbelief around it, it will eventually fatigue them. I use the word mature because I do think the evolution from proving other people wrong to proving yourself right is mostly about maturity. Founders who remain held back by a prove them wrong mentality are damaging their self-image and self-esteem in the process. It doesn’t seem like it because wanting to prove people wrong seems like a self-affirming act, but over an extended period of time it has the opposite effect. Operating in a prove them wrong mentality fosters negative, limited, and scarcity thinking. It also ties a founder too closely to the success or failure of their company. Founders need to be able to separate themselves from their companies. Having to prove people wrong links a founder’s identity to that of their company, which is unhealthy for both.
Founders who move beyond proving other people wrong to proving the people that matter right, have a much greater chance of success. Often, the people that founders want to prove wrong have little impact and consequence to their company succeeding anyway. The people to prove right are the people that matter as part of a company’s growth and success. The customers, team, investors, and advisors. A founder’s supportive family and friends also matter as most founders benefit greatly from a strong personal support system in addition to a professional one. So focus on proving them right.
If you are a founder who finds themselves trying to prove people that don’t matter wrong, pause and come to terms with the fact that this is wasted energy and time. Be intentional about focusing your efforts instead on your supporters and backers. They’ve earned your time and energy. Choose your motivation wisely and then leave the others behind.