Overwhelmed and in too deep
“You know, if it wasn’t for my in-laws, I don’t know what we would have done,” Pete began. “Her cancer, even with the benefits, has cost us at least half a million. That, plus the kids..,” his voice trailed.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that my life insurance didn’t pay off on suicides, I’m not sure that I’d be here now,” he chuckled nervously.
Clouding the mind
We were supposed to be having a one-on-one meeting to discuss recent performance, but it was clear that Pete’s mind wasn’t really there. Generally a man of few words, this was the first time that he’d ever been personal in conversation with me, and his attempt at lightheartedness was flat. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, it was clear that he was burdened.
“Can I ask you a direct question?” I asked.
“You okay?” The silence lingered for a moment, and he responded, “Yeah, I’m good, I’m good.” The repetition seemed more an effort for Pete to convince himself than it was to answer me. We moved on to the business before us, but as he left my office, I turned to my computer and sent him an email, thanking him for our meeting, and making sure he knew of the company’s employee resource plan, which could provide him access to licensed therapists which he could speak to confidentially, and for free.
Financial stress equates to physical and mental concerns
It’s been well-established that downturns or upheavals in personal economic conditions can be a significant stressor. The threat to the ability to care for your needs and those of your family, whether the threat is immediate or foreseen in the future based on current conditions, can cause us to experience a gamut of emotions and lead to inhibited decision making. An extended perception of threat to economic viability can have real physical consequences, as well.
In a 2011 article published in Health Social Work, authors Bisgaier and Rhodes identified correlations between poor health and adverse financial circumstances in a study of over 1,500 emergency room patients.
Patient reactions were examined across five categories of economic need: food insecurity, housing concerns, employment concerns, cost-related medication nonadherence, and cost barriers to accessing physician care.
Nearly half of all patients surveyed identified one or more financial concerns, and nearly one-third reported identifying with two or more categories of economic deprivation.
Furthermore, a significant relationship was found linking the number of financial circumstances and indicators of ill health in the patient: poor/fair self-rated health, depression, high stress, smoking, and illegal drug use. Beyond the critical point that individual concerns related to financial security are relevant to physical health, mental health concerns are often an undiagnosed byproduct of financial stressors as well.
Effect on the entrepreneur
The entrepreneur often bears a dual-edged burden, as the success of their business is often inexorably linked to personal financial success.
Everything the entrepreneur has invested—time, reputation, not to mention leveraging personal resources—can be lost during periods of economic instability, and the stresses that face small business owners during these times are significant.
Even a booming economy is no guarantee that the entrepreneur’s own business will benefit from the rising tide, as the Small Business Administration has identified that the survivorship rate for small businesses over a five year term is only a 50/50 proposition.
Living daily in these circumstances can lead the entrepreneur to be at risk for an unexpected problem: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What is PTSD?
When we think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we often associate it with professions who have frequent or prolonged exposure to traumatic situations, such as first responders or military personnel.
While those two groups often do face a very real challenge with their ongoing exposure to stressors that can lead to troubling symptoms, it is by no means an exclusive fraternity. PTSD is different than your reactions to dealing with day-to-day stress, and it’s also different than your reactions to dealing with a single traumatic event, such as a severe downturn in your business or a bankruptcy. Stress in those situations is normal and you should expect that your behavior and emotions may change over time as you deal with them.
That’s not what PTSD is, nor is it a manifestation of another physical illness or medical condition, or a reaction to outside stimuli, such as prescription medication, alcohol, or drugs.
How it’s triggered
Defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as meeting the diagnostic criteria of exposure to death, either actual or threatened, a serious injury, or a sexual violation, PTSD stems from exposure to these scenarios in which the individual either experiences the event personally, witnesses the event personally, or learns of it occurring to a family member or a friend, or has ongoing or extreme exposure to details of the incident that are troubling.
Regardless of which type of event caused the manifestation of PTSD in the individual, the outcomes are noted to be significantly impactful, making the ability to interact socially with others or to work challenging at best and impossible at worst.
While some experience symptoms soon after the traumatic event, it’s important to note that not all do. For some, the symptoms don’t begin until months or years later, when they are triggered. And it’s important to note that symptoms can come and go over time, and their intensity can spike and wane, depending on the external stimuli you face. For example, you may experience an increase in symptoms or severity when you’re feeling tired or stressed about other things entirely, or when you have an unpleasant reminder of the situation that you’ve faced.
Deeper into the effects of PTSD
Psychiatrists have identified four major areas of symptomology associated with PTSD: re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognition/mood, and arousal. Depending on with of these areas, or which combination of them, you’re dealing with, individuals can experience a gamut of symptomology.
For some, there may be nightmares and flashbacks about the incident or series of incidents that led to the financial concerns. For others, they become avoidant of situations and/or individuals that they associate with the events in their mind. In some cases, this avoidance can transform into an addiction to work or to activity, as it allows the individual to keep their mind engaged on things other than their financial condition.
Depending on the root cause of the trauma, it is not uncommon for personal beliefs about self and others to change, and a loss of trust can occur, for self, others, and systems. Hyper-aroused states are also common in some individuals as a response; always looking for reoccurrences of the situation may manifest itself if a lack of ability to sleep or concentrate, or in a mood shift towards irritation and anger.
These shifting moods are addressed in the current DSM-5, which notes that individuals suffering from PTSD can vacillate between the “flight” and “fight” modes of response.
Finances and PTSD
There’s always an antecedent to behavior; it’s highly atypical that an individual responds to a situation in a totally unpredictable way. So, when looking at how individuals come to face financial trauma, there’s the issue of what caused them to be in this position in the first place, and then the issue of how they’re left to deal with it.
It’s tempting to label those who are going through financial misfortune as being the product of their own poor choices and decision-making—and some undoubtedly are—but we can all think of incredibly talented, hard-working people for whom a life circumstance or factors within their field of industry have caused a problem to arise.
Once people have begun to experience the effects of finance-induced PTSD, its harder still for them to have the necessary capital to bounce back quickly.
This does not make them lesser, despite the temptation to invoke the stereotype of pulling one’s self up by the proverbial bootstraps.
It makes them our neighbors, who could use our support as they deal with things they never imagined themselves facing, doing the best they know how to do with the resources at hand. Because of the intrusion of the effects of finance-induced PTSD, the individual often isn’t at their optimum when dealing with the business side of things: their debt and how it’s structured, how they need to arrange their lives to deal with the situation at hand, or how to get back to work when they’re facing an unsure employment situation.
Audrey Freshman conducted a survey of victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme in 2012. In her research, published in Health and Social Work, over half of the respondents met baseline criteria that would put them in line for a possible diagnosis of PTSD according to DSM guidelines. A substantial loss of trust in financial institutions was noted by 90% of the respondents, and nearly 60% reported high levels of anxiety and depression.
How to get help
Remember, if you or a loved one are dealing with either financial concerns or the symptoms of what may be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, you don’t have to deal with them alone.
It’s hard and uncomfortable for some of us to reach out for help about something as personal as our own financial situation, especially when it’s messy, or our health, especially when we’re honest with ourselves that things aren’t what they ought to be.
But by doing so, by seeking information and assistance, you’re allowing yourself the gift of recovery, both fiscal and physical, and can transition forward from this rough patch.
For financial support, especially for the small business owner, the United States Small Business Association is a great resource. From their website, you can find your local chapters, and make an appointment to see a local advisor, who can provide assistance across a range of topics. For personal finances, there are a myriad of late-night TV ads and Internet popups offering credit counseling or debt assistance.
While it’s tempting to have help right at your fingertips, make certain that anyone you talk to is certified as a credit counselor either through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. Both of these organizations are creditable and certify other agencies to provide accurate, timely assistance without steering you towards one preferred solution or another.
For your personal health, your healthcare provider is the best first stop for you to discuss your physical or emotional health. Beyond the doctor’s visit, however, your support network who can be there for you is a crucial lifeline to recovery: people who you trust, who you know well and who know you in return, and who you can count on to give advice and support in your best interest.
If you feel that your situation may require more immediate help, there are other easily accessible and confidential 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.
As always, if you think you’re in danger of self-harm or suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
With the holidays approaching, many struggles with finances can be felt more intensely. In the spirit of holiday gift-giving, give yourself the best gift of all—peace of mind and a sense of health—by taking care of you, so that you can deal with the situations that have arisen.
This story was originally published in November 2016.
Small metros may have cheaper homes, but they might not have the jobs
(BUSINESS NEWS) Study by Indeed finds that small to mid-sized metros offer higher adjusted salaries, but don’t pack your bags just yet because your job may not be there
When I told my parents how much my partner and I would be paying for rent at our new apartment, they quickly pointed out that I could purchase a home for that kind of money in my hometown.
Indeed recently published a study where they determined which cities have the highest salaries after accounting for the cost of living, an adjusted salary. Every city on the list is a small or mid-sized metro area which is why they dubbed their findings, “the small-city advantage.” No surprise to me, my hometown made the list.
My parents are right, I could literally buy a home for the amount of money I pay in rent every month to live in a large metro area. But the equation that determines where I, and many other workers should live, is more complex than salary minus housing.
Indeed’s study also shows that bigger metros have faster job growth and lower unemployment compared to these small to mid-sized metros. This is why the number one city on their list, Brownsville-Harlingen, TX, also has a higher unemployment rate than the national average. Some of the other cities on the list are Fort Smith, AR-OK, Toledo, OH, Laredo, TX, and Rockford, IL.
These areas are cheaper to live in, in part, because they may not offer the kind of job opportunities, and therefore social mobility, you see in larger metro areas. Sure, I could make my money go further in my hometown, but the chances of me finding a job in my industry there are smaller.
Your field of work does matter when considering whether or not the “small-city advantage” could work for you. If you work in tech or finance, two traditionally high-paying fields, then this advantage doesn’t apply.
“Before adjusting for living costs, typical technology salaries are 27% higher in two-million-plus metros than metros with fewer than 250,000 people. Even after adjusting for those costs, tech salaries are still 5% higher in the largest metros than in the smallest ones,” finds Indeed.
If a huge tech company offering thousands of high-paying jobs moved into a city like Brownsville-Harlingen, TX, over time it would get more expensive to live there. This is why people were freaking out so much when Amazon was trying to decide where to locate HQ2. It’s the hamster wheel that is currently driving income inequality in some of America’s largest major metro areas.
Finding the right place to call home is never going to be a single factor decision. Yes, salary is a huge factor, as is the cost of living, but there are also lifestyle factors to consider. What kind of opportunities would you have in this city? How much will it cost to move there? How will this effect the other members of your household?
It’s nice to play the ‘ditch the corporate world and buy a country house’ fantasy after a long day at work, but the reality is far more complex.
Catch is a must-have finance management app for freelancers
(BUSINESS FINANCE) Catch is a new app that allows freelancers and people without benefits to determine their best options, with great automatic features.
Working as a freelancer is something that just meshes well with my personality. I love having the ability to take on a variety of different projects and work in different facets of the communication industry.
Unfortunately, my one semester of high school economics did not fully prepare me for the financial aspect of freelancing. Figuring out what to deduct, how to do 1099 taxes, and properly save in general was something I’ve had to learn as I go.
However, as I always say, in this day and age, there is someone out there who has a solution to your problem.
Such is the case with Catch, which is a tool that is perfect for freelancers as it helps with automated tax withholding, health insurance, and the other head-scratchers in between.
After signing up, you build a plan by using custom recommendations to get the benefits that will help you the most. Catch will tell you about the coverage you need, whether you work for yourself, a boss, or multiple bosses.
All of your benefits will be put into one place and will be ready when you are. You’ll be able to see your savings grow the more you work and use Catch. As time goes on, Catch will offer suggestions to help you prepare for the future.
From there, you can set aside money automatically. After getting paid, Catch confirms your benefits plan and will automatically put money away for taxes, time off, and retirement.
All of this helps to rid yourself of freelance financial blind spots, and Catch’s official Guide allows you to see a personal screenshot of the full benefits landscape. In addition to seeing all of your coverage at a glance, you’re also able to learn what coverage you need and why, sign up for new benefits in minutes, and easily report existing benefits.
Additionally, you’re able to see a people-centric view of your plan on the platform by adding in spouses, dependents, beneficiaries, and trusted contacts. With this information in place, you’re able to choose the plan that works best for you; allowing you to edit as needed, check savings instantly, and view full paycheck and contribution history.
And as your life evolves, Catch is there to help with the transition. The platform offers recommendations for how benefits and coverage can change with things like: job relocation, getting married, starting a family, or starting a new job.
As Catch says, it’s “peace of mind at the palm of your hand.” This is definitely something for freelancers to consider as part of their financial strategy.
6 questions to ask when considering a startup accelerator
(BUSINESS FINANCE) Accelerators can help change startups from unknowns to leaders in the industry, but does your startup need one and if so which one?
When I’m advising startups, I often hear the question: “which accelerator is the best fit for me?” (Besides the obvious YC or Techstars.)
First off, I’ll ask if your company would benefit from an accelerator, or if you need to pursue something for early early stage companies before you achieve more market validation, like an incubator. (Side note: If you’re curious about incubators, here is a comparison of the two.)
If you’re new to these terms, here’s a brief recap on startup accelerators:
Startup accelerators are for companies with established co-founders and market validation – companies can be anywhere from pre-revenue/self-funded, or even have raised at least $1M.
Most programs can last anywhere from 10 weeks to 3-4 months. With many top accelerators like YC and Techstars, you’ll be expected to move to the city where it’s hosted and spend 40+ hours a week minimum in their dedicated coworking space, and several accelerators will often offer housing stipends to make the move easier. These programs typically conclude with a demo day to pitch your product to a variety of community leaders, angel, and institutional investors.
If your product has achieved market validation and is in a place where you’re ready to scale, congrats!
Before you commit to an accelerator, ask yourself and the program these six questions:
1. What kind of mentorship is available?
By and large, one of the most valuable portions of an accelerator is the networking with peers and mentors. Ask what kind of mentors are available to you as a part of a program, and ask their specific involvement and the opportunities to connect. These mentors will be crucial in guiding your company’s growth. Even if they aren’t in the same industry or have solved a similar problem that your company is trying to achieve, their advice and connections could prove to be invaluable.
2. What are the perks?
You’re giving up a lot of equity to be in a program, but it doesn’t come without its perks. Many programs offer not only a cash investment or stipend for housing or other growth costs, but programs like Techstars offer free services such as web hosting costs (an upwards of ~250k), legal and accounting services, and other credits and perks that can be worth 6-7 figures. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you say yes to a program.
3. Do I want an industry-specific or industry-agnostic program?
This one is important and is directly related to #2. If your company sells CPG products, web hosting credits may not be valuable to your business, but a CPG-specific accelerator like SKU or The Brandery with direct connections to Sephora, Target, and Whole Foods may make more sense.
4. How much equity am I willing to give up?
Try not to make this a guessing game and make as many data-driven decisions on this as you can. Create a revenue and valuation model and see how much your company would benefit from the networking, fundraising opportunities, and perks offered, and see what the ROI would potentially be.
5. What are the funding and exit numbers?
This is an objective way to view the success of an accelerator: # of funding raised and exits. Of course, younger accelerators will have smaller numbers, but it’s worth looking to see if a company has raised $ after. Seed-DB is a great resource to view these numbers for hundreds of accelerators globally.
6. What do alumni think?
All accelerators are going to tout the transformative experience that is their program, and program mentors will likely have a similar narrative.
The best resource to learn the real experience of an accelerator: ask its alumni, and they’ll give you the truth. Make sure to survey both recent and more experienced alumni, as they’ll be able to speak to both the short term and long term benefits.
Personal experience: the night before I was set to hear from an accelerator on my application status, two alumni stressed to me that the time and equity investment wasn’t worth it. I consider this providence!
Finally, two items to note:
Choosing an accelerator is all about finding the right fit between you and the organization. Sadly, not all accelerators are created equal, and try to view a potential relationship with an accelerator as an investor relationship, or better yet, dating. There’s a reason the phrase “no money is better than bad money” is prevalent in the startup community.
Make sure to do your due diligence and ask the right questions to make sure a specific program is worth the investment of time, energy, and equity.
And sometimes? That may not mean an accelerator is a right fit right now or at any point, and that’s okay.
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Amy’s Ice Cream founder on Austin’s business risks and rewards #WhyAustin
Turns out a lot of people are in between introverted and extroverted
P. Terry’s founder on the booming economy in Austin #WhyAustin
Ladies and gentlemen, the U.S. National Anthem
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