Should you work harder in a recession?

When the markets tank, I start acting in odd ways.

I vividly remember the last time this happened. It was the 3rd quarter of 2020.

Day after day, the market would be down. Down 2%. Down 7%. Down 5%.

(BTW, even with this drawdown, what a 5 year run!)

It didn’t seem like there was an end in sight.

So here’s how I changed.

Instead of reading fiction (Gilead by Marilynne Robinson), I started reading business books (Zero to One by Peter Thiel).

Instead of listening to music (“This is Tool”), I started listening to business podcasts (How to start a startup).

I swapped meditation, for an extra cocktail.

And I became emotionally closed off towards my wife and kids. (“Hey. Hey. Daddy’s gotta get back to work.”)

Thankfully, the market rebounded.

And I went back to my healthier behaviors.

Yet with the S&P 500 down 20% YTD (and 25% peak-to-trough) – some of these behaviors have returned.

I feel like I’m fighting a rip current that’s pulling me deep into the scary infinitude of the ocean.


Being caught in a rip is a scary thing. The current violently pulls you away from the shore. You frantically watch the lifeguard station get smaller and smaller.

And here’s the ultimate rub.

If you fight the rip by swimming towards the shore – you lose.

So I wondered, is this an apt metaphor on surviving my first recession as an entrepreneur?

Resistance is futile

Ok, time for a few more ocean metaphors.

If you get caught in a rip. Do your best Anna impression and:


Yes, its terrifying it let the ocean exert its merciless will on you, but eventually the rip peters out.

You then can effortlessly swim parallel to the ocean and then back to the shore.

Another example is if you get “held under” by a wave.

It’s the equally terrifying situation of being submerged by 10+ feet of water without knowing when (or if) you’ll catch your next breath.

Once again, the key here is to go FULL-ANNA.

Let it go.

Wiggle your toes.

Slow down your breath.

Give the water a little fist bump.

In both cases, not only is resistance futile – resistance could kill you.

Not only are thrashing, flailing and struggling a bad outcome.

They’re the worst outcome.

So back to the recession

The shape-shifting economic environment has not been easy to navigate.

This is my first recession as a founder and CEO. I stress about meeting payroll and our customers scrutinizing their purchases amidst economic uncertainty.

So my first impulse is to buckle-up.

Get into the Zone.

And “fix it.”

It’s the “brute-force approach” to problem solving (that is customary with immigrants and scarcity thinkers).

It’s my approach to “outworking” a situation that makes me uncomfortable.

But let’s be honest.

Is working an extra hour really going to help me better position our products?

Is another episode of My First Million going to improve our conversion rates?

Or is that just the thrashing, flailing and struggling that leads to the worst outcome.

What’s really happening?

Whenever there’s this level of thrashing, I turn to what our learning community calls The 5th Why.

It’s one of the core frameworks from our SYP course. And it creates an instant perspective shift behind a recurring fear or insecurity.

Having done this exercise countless times, I know that much of my angst comes from a tight group of related sources.

First, I fear irrelevance. The fact that we’re nothing but cosmic dust is terrifying, and it makes me strive to “leave a mark.”

Second, I crave safety. I’m always afraid that there’s always an imaginary shoe that will drop. And I’ll have to go back (to Wall Street, lol).

Third, I fear the death of my ego. I’m scared of people rejecting me and saying things like, “Khe’s not smart, not a good entrepreneur or not a good person.”

I can intellectually tell you that even in a recession, all of these are off the table.

I’m still a good person, who can put food on the table. (And who prolly won’t have to go back to Wall Street.)

Yet deep inside me, these lingering fears still drive me.

They drive the thrashing. The flailing. The struggle.

They drive a fear that I can’t trust myself to say:

Regardless of what happens. You and and the girls will be ok.

Note: Come introspect with us and enroll in the upcoming cohort of SYP. You’ll instantly get access to one of the most moving 5 Why responses we’ve ever experienced.

For instant Access, Enter your Details Below:

🔒 Privacy Protected by our “Zero Spam” Policy

For instant Access, Enter your Details Below:

🔒 Privacy Protected by our “Zero Spam” Policy