"No one said building a company is easy. But it's time to be honest about how brutal it really is, and the price so many founders secretly pay."
Entrepreneurial ambition among the workforce is highest in India, with 56% of respondents in a survey indicating that they are considering leaving current jobs to start their own business. According to the Ranstad Workmonitor survey, 83% of the Indian workforce would like to be an entrepreneur, higher than the global average of 53%. In an article by Entrepreneur India, it was seen how mental illness may plague entrepreneurs more than other people.
Learning to manage self-employment and be your own boss can be difficult on its own. Entrepreneurship can levy upon a heavy 'Psychological Price' on you and, it can get worse if you have a history of mental illness, as it further adds to the challenges of entrepreneurship. Wait! I'm NOT scaring you off! This is more of a disclaimer, "better be safe than sorry!":
Having to adapt to a new lifestyle, and a different way of working can be a grind. The lack of routine can wreak havoc with your state of mind. Additionally, you’ve got to learn how to adjust to the roller coaster ride that is your fluctuating workload. Sometimes it’s so heavy you feel like you’re drowning, and other times it’s so light that you don’t know what to do with yourself. It’s during these quiet spells, when your mind isn’t as occupied, that depression often strikes the hardest.
As an entrepreneur, you would experience every emotion of entrepreneurship- the adrenaline of launch; the calm energy of focused flow; the brittle, jittery high of riding a 2 a.m. work jag; the terror of feeling the mask slip, of telling an upbeat story to customers as panic churns in your guts; the grief of failure- and the relief of failure, too; the ghostly lost-limb feeling that asks, "Who am I if I’m not running this business?"
In the early 2010, a clinical professor and entrepreneur by the name of Dr. Michael Freeman surveyed 242 entrepreneurs about their mental health. 49% of a whopping 242 entrepreneurs survey reported having a mental-health condition. A growing coterie of scientists - psychologists, economists, management experts, business school professors - are taking a long overdue look at the mental health of entrepreneurs. Their conclusion: Mental disorders are common among entrepreneurs.
Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair - times when it seemed everything might crumble.
Until recently, admitting such sentiments was taboo. Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management - also known as "fake it till you make it." Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions (No. 188 on the Inc. 500), explains the phenomenon with his favorite analogy: a man riding a lion. "People look at him and think, This guy's really got it together! He's brave!" says Thomas. "And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?"
Not everyone who walks through darkness makes it out. A well-known founder Jody Sherman, 47, of the e-commerce site Ecomom took his own life. His death shook the start-up community. It also reignited a discussion about entrepreneurship and mental health that began two years earlier after the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the 22-year-old co-founder of Diaspora, a social networking site.
Lately, more entrepreneurs have begun speaking out about their internal struggles in an attempt to combat the stigma on depression and anxiety that makes it hard for sufferers to seek help. In a deeply personal post called "When Death Feels Like a Good Option," Ben Huh, the CEO of the Cheezburger Network humor websites, wrote about his suicidal thoughts following a failed startup in 2001. Sean Percival, a former MySpace vice president and co-founder of the children's clothing startup Wittlebee, penned a piece called "When It's Not All Good, Ask for Help" on his website. "I was to the edge and back a few times this past year with my business and own depression," he wrote. "If you're about to lose it, please contact me." Percival now urges distressed entrepreneurs to seek professional help:
Reach out to EduPsych's therapists, Mental Healthcare Professionals Here.
1. Minnie Ingersoll, co-founder of Shift
“But for me, it was a very profound experience. It made me more resilient, which I think is how a lot of people feel about that first real setback. It turned me into a more sympathetic person, which is more important in business than you’d think. And it just broadened my experience of the world.
For a while after, I felt a lot of shame about it — being depressed, being suicidal, having an eating disorder. But it got easier. I got way more open about it over time, because a lot of people struggle and I’ve found it’s better to talk about it.”
– 9 Female Founders on How They Learned to Celebrate Failure
2. Brad Feld, Foundry Group
“It’s not a topic the start-up community understands well. After all, this is the very culture that turned the chestnut “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” into a much-celebrated verb. Admitting you struggle with depression is like admitting you can’t reach your bootstraps. It’s assumed that successful people can just “shake it off.”
But that’s not how it works […] depression carries a stigma. Most of the success stories we hear involve an entrepreneur who pushes himself beyond his physical and emotional limits. He’s unbalanced–but in a good way.
My own experience has made me realize that this imbalance is no way to live the start-up life, and, in fact, it’s detrimental to this kind of work. The only way I survive the dark periods is by constantly renewing myself and my perspective. Starting over is part of the process of starting up. That’s something those in the entrepreneurial community should understand better than anyone else.”
– Entrepreneurial Life Shouldn’t Be This Way–Should It? 
Brad Feld, a managing director of the Foundry Group, started blogging in October about his latest episode of depression. The problem wasn't new - the prominent venture capitalist had struggled with mood disorders throughout his adult life - and he didn't expect much of a response. But then came the emails. Hundreds of them. Many were from entrepreneurs who had also wrestled with anxiety and despair. "If you saw the list of names, it would surprise you a great deal," says Feld. "They are very successful people, very visible, very charismatic - yet they've struggled with this silently. There's a sense that they can't talk about it, that it's a weakness or a shame or something. They feel like they're hiding, which makes the whole thing worse."
Though launching a company will always be a wild ride, full of ups and downs, there are things entrepreneurs can do to help keep their lives from spiraling out of control, say experts. Most important, make time for your loved ones, suggests Freeman. "Don't let your business squeeze out your connections with human beings," he says. When it comes to fighting off depression, relationships with friends and family can be powerful weapons. And don't be afraid to ask for help--see a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of significant anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression.
Freeman also advises that entrepreneurs limit their financial exposure. "When it comes to assessing risk, entrepreneurs' blind spots are often big enough to drive a Mack truck through," he says. The consequences can rock not only your bank account but also your stress levels. So set a limit for how much of your own money you're prepared to invest. And don't let friends and family kick in more than they can afford to lose.
Cardiovascular exercise, a healthful diet, and adequate sleep all help, too. So does cultivating an identity apart from your company. "Build a life centered on the belief that self-worth is not the same as net worth," says Freeman. "Other dimensions of your life should be part of your identity." Whether you're raising a family, sitting on the board of a local charity, building model rockets in the backyard, or going swing dancing on weekends, it's important to feel successful in areas unrelated to work.
The ability to re-frame failure and loss can also help leaders maintain good mental health. "Instead of telling yourself, 'I failed, the business failed, I'm a loser,' " says Freeman, "look at the data from a different perspective: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Life is a constant process of trial and error. Don't exaggerate the experience."
Last, be open about your feelings - don't mask your emotions, even at the office, suggests Brad Feld. When you are willing to be emotionally honest, he says, you can connect more deeply with the people around you. "When you deny yourself and you deny what you're about, people can see through that," says Feld. "Willingness to be vulnerable is very powerful for a leader."
We encourage you to reach out to our mental healthcare professionals if you find yourself, or a co-worker struggling through something you or another is unable to understand and cope up with. It could be your work, a project, a life challenge, or anything else. Its time you helped yourself. Reach out here or look up at some of our programmes to help yourself and contact us for a training session at your office to help yourself and your employees.
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