Mental Health and Entrepreneurship
Launching a startup is not easy. No one talks about how brutal it can be as it also takes a toll on an entrepreneur’s mental health. The best way to remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues in entrepreneurship is to have an honest discussion about it.
Our society tends to put outstanding founders on a pedestal. It’s no surprise why CEOs like Elon Musk are celebrated for their wherewithal at building commercially successful companies. But behind this illustrious recognition hides a grim reality in the world of entrepreneurship.
While most entrepreneurs seemingly shine brighter than their peers, many are secretly battling their personal demons. What the world doesn’t see are those debilitating moments of the mental struggle of overcoming failure, despair, and anxiety.
More often than not, entrepreneurs focus too much on reaching their goals; to the detriment of their mental health. Additionally, the toxic hustle culture in the startup landscape only exacerbates the situation. These two things have brought a myriad of mental health issues to entrepreneurs. And so, we decided to spark the conversation around it in the hopes of improving the mental well-being of our entrepreneurs.
The Positive Side of Entrepreneurship
The world of entrepreneurship is not all gloom and doom even when the statistics say otherwise. It provides you several opportunities for innovation and personal growth.
“Being an entrepreneur will cause you to experience some of the highest highs and the lowest lows”, according to Matt DeCoursey, Co-founder at Full Scale. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in it and allow it to define you”.
On a positive note, entrepreneurship gave Matt the avenue to fulfill his life’s purpose and complete control of his destiny. Likewise, Andrew Morgans, Marknology’s CEO, thinks that entrepreneurship is unlike anything he has experienced. It has pushed him to grow as a person in more ways than he can imagine.
Joel Johnson, founder of Mixtape also adds that it enables him to learn new things he never knew before such as finance, production, and network building. Entrepreneurship was and still is emotionally challenging but it forces him to change his mindset. “Each day is a new day, the new opportunity. You have to have the mental fortitude to say, ‘I’m gonna keep going”.
Does Identity & Self-Worth = Company?
There’s also that question of whether or not your self-worth and identity are intertwined with your business. Hernan Sias, a podcast host, can’t help but agree. “My Business Bros podcast is me.” It’s his image and fuels who he is. Just like him, InnovateHer’s Founder & CEO Lauren Conway thinks It’s impossible to not allow a piece of yourself to fuse with something that you love deeply and care so much.
In Joel’s case, however, his self-worth and identity are not synonymous with his company. He realized that his identity isn’t found in things he does but in who he is.
What keeps entrepreneurs up all night?
Being a founder is a constant grind. You’ll often find them clocking in 50+ hours a week to keep their businesses running. So what’s keeping them up all night?
Well, there are the exciting activities they need to do the next day. The lightbulb ideas or epiphanies that suddenly pop up as they’re about to sleep. Or perhaps brainstorming strategies to keep their companies rolling like a well-oiled machine.
But it could also be something most entrepreneurs dread. Does this list look familiar to you?
- Not having enough revenue
- Late payments from partners or customers
- Impostor Syndrome – “Am I the right person to lead this company?”
- Inability to pay the mortgage payments
- Inefficiencies in managing cash flow
- Dealing with difficult people at work
- Poor leadership
- Dissatisfied customers
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need at least seven hours of sleep at night to restore the mind and body. But when you’re the CEO, sometimes sleep can be the least of your priorities.
About Work-Life Balance
Clearly, the ability to balance work and life is not the most defining quality of entrepreneurs. The truth is, they may have it all but they can’t have all of them at the same time.
Lauren Conway (InnovateHER) believes that priorities will constantly shift. You can’t just focus solely on work one moment and then life the next. These two areas exist in our lives at the same time. You will also constantly react to the environment around you. Hence, it’s essential to always be adaptable.
There’s also the misconception about work-life balance. It implies that there’s a difference between the two. And for entrepreneurs, this is simply not true. Hernan Sias (BusinessBros) loves talking to people, creating content, and all things that are considered “work”. These are all parts of his life because he’s still having fun while doing it.
As for Matt (Full Scale), work-life balance does have a positive impact on mental health. We all have our personal life, professional life, and physical life. If one of these goes out of rails, it will somehow affect the others. So, prioritize your mental health by bringing attention to each area of your life.
Is Founder’s Depression Real?
“Absolutely!,” says Heather Steppe, KC Kemp Co. Founder and CMO. To her, it’s a lot different than normal depression. It has something to do with the weight of [what feels like] the world on your shoulders; the uncertainties that come with entrepreneurship. There’s the expectation that everything in business will be successful and amazing only to discover that it’s the opposite.
Andrew Morgans (Marknology) has undergone phases in his life when things fell apart. And, the reason is not always about making money or sales. He went through different spurts of depression shortly after 2019 because he didn’t know what to do next.
Everyone handles things differently. The effects of mental health vary across different personality types. Unfortunately, people who can’t handle risks and failure will be in for a hard run. No matter how great you are as an entrepreneur, you will still experience some setbacks.
If Joel (Mixtape) were to define founder’s depression, it’s depression based on your measurement of where you’re at. It’s whether you’re as far ahead as you could be or should be. His first brush with the founder’s depression was when he found a knock-off version of Mixtape. It was built by someone he had a conversation with. Out of curiosity, he bought the imitation product. That was when he discovered that the quality was inferior. He then came out of depression after the incident.
Social Isolation as a Founder
As a founder, you are mostly on this journey alone. Hernan Sias adds that you might have the greatest idea in the world but not everyone will share your vision or even your enthusiasm when starting a venture. And so, you keep everything to yourself, including the losses and failures that you endured. Nobody sees you at your lowest moments and how you learned from your failures.
While social isolation is prevalent in some entrepreneurs, Lauren’s experience was different. After all, she considers herself a community builder. It’s her role to be active in the community and meet with people. She wants to support individuals and help them grow in the community.
Moreover, Matt believes that the more successful you become, the more difficult it is to find other people who can relate to you. Hence, it’s normal to see entrepreneurs mingle within their network. In his case, he doesn’t feel alone or isolated in his journey.
When you’re faced with a series of rejections, setbacks, and failures, it’s easier to fall into the trap of isolation. Andrew suggests that if you see someone shrinking away from society, it’s time to step in and check up on them. If you don’t have a network, join one. You must have a small group of people you can lean on when the going gets tough.
The Impact of Mental Health on Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship can indeed be financially rewarding. But on the other side of the spectrum, nobody prepares you for its impact on your emotional and mental well-being. There’s no doubt that every entrepreneur will face all the peaks and valleys when starting a business. It’s important to anticipate these challenges.
We all have our battle to conquer so the least we can do is be kind to one another. Let’s help make the startup landscape less hostile to everyone. Most importantly, know that you’re not alone. There are people or trusted networks that will support you in this journey.
For more honest insights on entrepreneurship, check out our videos on Startup Hustle TV. It’s an online platform where we share bite-size wisdom to help entrepreneurs succeed in business.