Entrepreneurship is not unlike bipolar disorder. Yep, I said it. I’m fully aware that to anyone that is personally dealing, or has a friend or family member dealing with bipolar disorder, this seems like an outlandish statement.
Before you fly off the handle, please read the rest of the article so you can gain some perspective as to where I'm coming from.
I have a younger sister, Erin, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17, resulting in multiple stays in psychiatric hospitals and years of rebuilding. In 2013 she wrote a book, Beautifully Bipolar, that has gained a lot of attention because it is both a raw and "in your face" account of her experiences, including the multiple steps she has taken to help control her life and remain on track. I recognize the amount of strength that it takes.
I was recently re-reading her book and noticed a number of similarities between the highs and lows of bipolar disorder and the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Yes, bipolar disorder's emotional tolls are much more severe than entrepreneurship's, and you can stop being an entrepreneur, but they’re both roller coasters nonetheless.
As an entrepreneur that has struggled with the emotional toll of new and developing businesses, which can go well beyond you to affect your relationships with friends and family, I can attest that the advice in her book applies.
Prepare for the ups and downs. By definition, the term "bipolar" signifies periods of extreme highs and lows, often referred to as manic and depressed states. The key to maintaining control, according to Erin, is to create a lifestyle that promotes balance and success -- which in her case includes healthy lifestyle choices, regular therapy and monitored medications.
Although you’re not diving into a regiment of pharmaceuticals, starting or running a new business is extremely dynamic and is filled with dramatic ups and downs. The difficulties of an entrepreneur may sound petty in comparison to bipolar disorder, but the ups and downs can happen every day for years, causing serious harm over time. To help you cope, you must surround yourself with people that are supportive of your efforts and understanding of the difficulty you’re experiencing.
Take care of yourself. You have to try and remain both physically and emotionally balanced to stay healthy. In Erin’s book, she refers to this as “nourishing your soul.” She says there is a stark difference between self-comfort and self-care.
“Self-comfort is when we do something that gives us instant gratification … but doesn’t necessarily nourish your soul,” she says.
For example, “When I am stressed out I like to delight in margaritas on the rocks with salt … delicious!" Is this activity something that is taking care of my body physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally? Of course not.
Erin’s point is no different for entrepreneurs. Are you struggling through outrageous amounts of stress? Although having a few -- or 10 -- cocktails might sound amazing, which I’ve certainly been guilty of, it isn’t doing you, your body or your mind any good. Actually, it’s setting you back, because, in case you weren’t aware, alcohol is a depressant. You must find a way to nourish your own soul to remain as balanced as possible. My personal go to is exercise.
Know that you are expected to fail. Erin says, with respect to bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, “The system is not set up in a way that fully encourages success, so you’re practically expected to fail. The U.S. system isn't designed with the resources, education or awareness to appropriately address the growing need for mental-health services, so when something comes up, you’re just told to take some pills and deal with it.”
Although you aren’t necessarily set up to fail with a new business, you certainly are expected to. According to Bloomberg, 80 percent of small businesses die within the first 18 months of life -- so the odds are not in your favor.
The good thing about failure is that it helps you learn and improve, and we agree that this is true for both mental illness and entrepreneurship. If you’ve figured out how to prepare for the ups and downs, maintained balance, learned from failures and seen the benefits of success, you’re much more likely to go on to achieve incredible things.
My sister doesn't have it easy, neither does anyone else that's dealing with mental illness. What's unfair is that they don't get to choose.
As entrepreneurs we're clearly not in the same ballpark, not only because of the difference in difficulties we face, but because we make the choice to live the ups and downs while chasing the looming potential for a huge outcome. If you've indeed made that choice, take the effort to make it as easy as you can on yourself and those around you.