The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

“It’s not the heavy load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” – Lena Horne, Jazz Icon & Civil Rights Activist

I’ve had the great fortune to work with hundreds of great entrepreneurs and leaders of entrepreneurial companies – to have been a part of some amazing successes, and painful learning experiences.

I’ve been most fortunate to witness the real, behind-the-scenes stories of what it really takes to build these spectacular companies – the sacrifices of hard work, long hours, stress and strain. But it’s the mental toll that can almost or completely break people who build and lead them – which I often describe as “when things get weird”  – that inspired me to write my book Your Oxygen Mask First.

Most leaders, with some frequency – every few years or decade or so – experience incredible metal strain which can turn into depression or anxiety, and/or manifest itself physically.

This is not a poplar topic of conversation – and certainly never mentioned when they give an acceptance speech for an award – even though it’s a common problem.

John Boitnott’s May 2019 article talks about a 2015 research study (Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco) that shows that:

  • Almost three-quarters of the entrepreneurial population suffers from some type of diagnosable mental health issue
  • 72 percent experience mental health concerns and
  • 49 percent experience chronic mental illness (including depression, bipolar disorder, and others).

The truth is that leaders face a higher risk for a mental health crisis and managing it is a must-have skill.

Warning signs

In Chapter 7 of my book – Manage Your Mental Health – I talk about the Mental Health Continuum Model (used by mental health organizations) which outlines behaviours at four different colour-coded levels: Healthy, Reacting, Injured and Ill (green, yellow, orange and red zones, respectively).

It’s a quick way to self-assess and to know when you’ve crossed from one threshold to the next.

Generally, some of the warning signs to note are:

  • Regular problem sleeping
  • Problems with thinking or behaviour
  • Social withdrawal
  • Relying on unhealthy mechanisms or addictions
  • Not enjoying the highs
  • Not able to bounce back from lows.

Mental health is a business issue because your performance as a leader will be affected when you are stressed, upset or lack resilience.

And there’s a simple solution:

  1. Pay attention
  2. Talk to someone – sooner than later
  3. Be proactive with your Resilience Rituals to keep you strong.

If you haven’t already done so, read and work through Chapter 3 Resilience Rituals to take care of your mind, body and spirit. When you stay true to them, you set yourself up to win, no matter what life throws at you.

Keeping mental issues to yourself and avoiding healthy changes can be debilitating to your wellbeing and to your business.

The Challenge

  • Do a quick self-assessment using the Mental Health Continuum
  • What zone are you in right now?
  • What zone are you usually in?
  • Where can you get help, if you need it?