Taking a harder look
From the outside looking in, the entrepreneur’s calling is charming and magical. Being one’s own boss, making the decisions, and doing what one loves makes many people who work for someone other than themselves a tad jealous. For all your neighbor’s reveries about how the entrepreneurial life is a series of unbridled successes, you well know the price you pay, including those that no one else ever sees or hears about.
For many entrepreneurs, carrying out the work that they feel that they were meant to do comes with the cost of psychological turmoil, a cost often left unchecked.
As an entrepreneur, you balance the responsibility for the health and welfare of your company with the need to preserve your own health. There are pressures to maintain a public façade for the perceived benefit of your brand that may well be at odds with what’s going on in the inside.
Being artificially strong and denying yourself the help that you need isn’t only harmful physically, but fiscally as well. Businesses in America lose $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually due to the effects of serious mental illness on employee production and associated costs.
Entrepreneurs face higher rates of mental illness
A significantly higher percentage of entrepreneurs studied showed signs of mental illness than the general population, according to research conducted at the University of California in 2015. The authors contended that there may be a link between mental illness and creativity.
The expanded creativity of many entrepreneurs is a fantastic attribute, but also one of a host of characteristics that affect their mental well-being. One of the authors of the study, Michael A. Freeman, identified the link and called for further research. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” stated Freeman, speaking to Google.
Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, identified four common mental health issues that many entrepreneurs face based on the nature of their work: depression, anxiety, self-worth issues, and addiction.
Working long hours, alone for many of them, can drive entrepreneurs to be less mindful of their health. That isolation can lead some towards increased risks for depression, as well as the mindset that “time is money.”
We’re written before about the dangers of such a mindset, and maintaining it costs the entrepreneur much needed leisure and decompression time.
The pressure you feel can be healthy, a motivator to continue your efforts and network with others who can help you succeed. However, it can also be linked to extreme anxiety, which can manifest itself in multiple ways, including being so afraid to make a business decision that it leads to mental paralysis.
This incapacitating anxiousness can also lead to burnout. “It’s much more difficult to think about an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder helping a person excel in business,” said Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, speaking to the Harvard Business Journal.
She notes, “Howard Hughes…was a successful entrepreneur, but in the latter part of his life, as his OCD characteristics became worse, he became totally isolated. He couldn’t interact with people in business or in society.”
Anxiety’s effects can be compounded by how you judge your own self-worth.
For many, your job is your identity, and your bank account a quick barometer of your importance.
In an era in which it’s no longer uncommon to have startups fail to launch or succeed for awhile before not pivoting in a market shift, failure to make your business thrive shouldn’t have the stigma that it once did.
Some of us are feedback junkies, seeking engagement with and feedback from our internal and external customers. For others, it’s the excitement of the design and launch that gets us motivated. Whatever your particular cue might be, for the serial entrepreneur, the rush that you get is palpable and you wouldn’t trade it for anything. Maybe you should, though.
There’s a fine line between persistence and obsession, and a finer line still between obsession and addiction. Morin cites a 2014 study, published in The Journal of Business Venturing, that found that the actions of serial entrepreneurs shared similar characteristics with behavioral addictions.
These characteristics included having obsessive thoughts, negative emotional outcomes, and withdrawal-engagement cycles, in which the entrepreneur withdraws and yet feels pressured by the need to reengage with his business or partners, which he does, only leading to increased frustration and resentment. The inability for the entrepreneur to understand when their behavior was potentially damaging to themselves was also noted, with a “pursue at all costs” mentality being common, despite the harm done.
The need for mental health supports knows no class boundaries, no race or gender, or age limitations. Nor does it differentiate between those with the entrepreneurial spirit and those without.
Having an issue with your mental health or maintaining your emotional equilibrium doesn’t make you weak. The work that you’ve chosen sometimes comes with hidden pitfalls that can cause a human cost; as your most important asset, be proactive in maintaining it.
You’re the most important thing in the world to your family – not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you.
How to get the support you need
If this is a fight that you currently face, or fight on the behalf of someone close to you who suffers from a mental illness, know that you are not alone.
If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.
You don’t have to find help all alone. Reaching out to someone for help can often be uncomfortable, especially about a topic that is as personal as your own health, but doing so is the critical step towards recovery. Find a trustworthy partner for your recovery who you trust to help you find someone who can provide the level of assistance you need.
While your healthcare provider is the best first stop to discuss things that are going on with you physically or emotionally, it’s important to have a support network who can be there for you in between doctor visits.
There are other, more immediate resources for those who need them:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and engaging in an online chat.
For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741.
Both options are confidential and are immediate supports for you and your family.
Once you’ve begun treatment or counseling, stay educated and informed about the challenges that you face. You share control of your pathway to recovery with your doctor or counselor; find out all that you can from reputable sources about the specific challenge you face, and stay involved in making informed treatment decisions about your care.
You’re the most important thing in the world to your family, not your business, not your perceived notions of success — you. If you take away nothing else from this article, know that. You are not alone, and professional help is available.