Last month, Slate compiled a year’s worth of New York Times push alerts, from Trump’s election last November through the Weinstein revelations that catalyzed countless reports of sexual harassment in recent months. It threw into sharp relief what we’ve come to accept as the new normal: an unceasing onslaught of news.
Speakers at the Women’s March, on Inauguration Day last January, “encouraged us to take breaks from ‘resisting’ or else we’d start to feel numb to all the news,” recalls Bea Arthur, founder and CEO of artificial intelligence startup The Difference. “But I’m still waiting to get numb,” she says, “because I definitely feel beat up by everything that’s happened this year. I mean, there were some moments that were jaw-dropping when they happened, but we barely remember them now.”
For many others, too, the unrelenting news cycle is causing whiplash–and has taken an emotional toll, occasionally getting in the way of getting stuff done. So Fast Company asked 10 CEOs to weigh in on how they’re stayed focused without losing touch with what’s happening in the world.
“I go back and forth between shutting myself out, and then tuning in and getting fed up,” says Arum Kang, CEO of the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel. Others have gravitated to things that anchor them in their personal lives to stay grounded. “I’ve been relying on a few simple things, like consuming news in moderation and spending time with family,” says Matt Straz, CEO of HR software startup Namely. Straz claims his work environment has helped, as well. “I’m also lucky enough to be part of a company where kindness is a priority,” he adds. “One of our core values is to help each other–being surrounded by a positive environment every day makes a difference.”
But if your day is punctuated by news alerts, it can be difficult to maintain that positivity. That’s why Kelly Peeler, the CEO of NextGenVest, a startup that helps students navigate financial aid, has done what I personally (and maybe you, too) haven’t been able to do: “I removed push notifications on my phone,” she told me. How’s that for moderation?
Get To Work–And Practice Mindfulness While You’re There
Many leaders tried channeling their news-related frustration in productive ways. For Shine, a wellness-focused messaging app, that’s literally part of the job. “In a political environment where so many people feel oppressed, it is key to use our passion–and let’s be real, anger–as leaders to fuel change,” co-CEO Naomi Hirabayashi says.
Shine users often turn to the platform for help coping with their own feelings about news events they find troubling. Inside the company, Shine’s team members try to do the same. “We’re honest about what we struggle with. We give people their time and space to process the unthinkable events that we’ve all had to deal with emotionally this past year,” Hirabayashi explains.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by things you can’t control, there may be relief in focusing on things you can. For Ryan Williams, CEO of real estate finance startup Cadre, one of those things is his own company’s work culture. “In today’s business climate we know that as any company grows, its culture can and oftentimes does get strained, so we focus on our business, team, and what we have the ability to directly impact.”
For Melanie Elturk, a Muslim-American woman who is the CEO of hijab brand Haute Hijab, much of the news has felt deeply personal and intertwined with her work. “It’s been a tough year, as you can imagine,” she says. “We’ve been dealing with the onslaught of news head-on, especially as it relates to issues that directly affect our community, like the Muslim ban,” she explains, referring to the Trump administration’s proposed travel restrictions on citizens from several Muslim-majority countries (the order had been temporarily blocked until the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to take effect while legal challenges proceed).
It was important to Elturk to offer motivation and reassurance. “Despite all the setbacks,” she says, “we’re pumping out positive stories about incredible Muslim women who contribute to their communities in incredible ways,” she says. “We want to keep our community motivated, positive, and inspired.”
Jopwell CEO Porter Braswell strives for something similar at the diversity-focused recruiting platform, which connects black, Latinx, and other underrepresented minority candidates with job opportunities. “When we get a thank-you email from one of our users about the amazing new job they landed through our platform, or a story they read on our digital magazine that really resonated, it keeps us motivated and focused on the impact we are making,” he says. “I feel hopeful knowing we are doing something to help ensure the workplace of the future is representative of different backgrounds and perspectives.” In the current political climate, it’s hard not to see that work as a political statement in itself.
Put Your Spin On The News
In short, many CEOs look for ways to do something good to counterbalance some of the bad, and find that it helps them stay optimistic.
“I put it in the proper perspective,” says Reham Fagiri, the CEO of used furniture platform AptDeco. “The truth is there are so many positive things happening everywhere. There are countless technological advancements that are improving the world,” she points out. “I do my best to apply the appropriate weight to things and not be swayed by fearmongering or sensational headlines.”
Ben Rubin, CEO of video chat app Houseparty, does much the same. “I take solace in the fact that some terrible news also exposed really shitty stuff that should’ve been addressed a long time ago,” he shares–with the flood of sexual harassment being one obvious case in point. “Other times, I turn to my pizza oven,” Rubin explains. “This year I built a pizza oven brick by brick, fermented dough old school-style, and made pizza. It’s allowed me to take a break from exhausting news cycles and instead, share food and memories with people who make me feel good.”
You might not have the space, time, funds, or even interest in undertaking a side-hobby on that scale, but Rubin has a point nonetheless: If you can pour yourself into a passion project, you’re less likely to boil over when the next news alert lights up your phone.