One of the last people I would have associated with depression is entrepreneur Ramon Ray, the human spark of energy behind SmartHustle.com. I have hosted panels with Ramon and love his positivity that he shares prolifically via social media videos.
But, when I recently saw that Ray was doing a talk at South by Southwest (SXSW) on entrepreneurship and depression, it reminded me of both how we never really know what is going on behind the scenes, even with people we know well, and how depression is a real and serious issue for so many entrepreneurs.
I decided to reach out to Ray to see if he would share some of his story and tips, and he was generous enough to do so:
What inspired you to do this talk at SXSW?
Ray: There are many awesome talks at SXSW -- funding, startups, women, coding and more. However, there are few that speak about the raw challenges, pitfalls, negativity and depression of starting and growing a business. Some weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about my own battles with depression. It generated thousands of views, many comments. I figured it was time to take this important message beyond Facebook and share it at SXSW.
Why do you think depression hits entrepreneurs?
Overall, entrepreneurship has unique challenges. Money, team building, legal issues, product development snafus and more. This causes lots of stress. This stress breads loneliness as we have few people, if anyone, we can turn to for help and to discuss. Our spouses, who should be closest to us, often won't understand. Our friends already think we're crazy. Our family wishes we'd get full time employment. And, most of us have a stiff upper lip -- a mask that everything is ok. But, that's often not the case, so we're very, very lonely and suffering alone.
Let’s talk more about this loneliness being a depressing factor for entrepreneurs. What do you mean by this?
One type of torture used in war is simple loneliness. To have the prison alone, with no human contact for long periods of time. It's a mentally painful experience. So, as an entrepreneur, it's very similar. Being alone, or feeling that you are alone to fight your battles and go through challenges and experience failure is so difficult, at best, for most.
Do you think entrepreneurs, in particular, are subject to depression? If so, why?
Yes! Entrepreneurs have dreams that their babies (aka their businesses) will succeed. They care for their babies, they tend to them and then the problems start. What you love most is not growing the way you want to grow. That, in and of itself, is challenging, and it's combined with the compounded challenges of life. You're not earning the money you thought you would be earning, and when rent or a mortgage payment comes due, the stress mounts. You're not spending time with your children or your loved ones, etc., and that causes more stress. Your health might suffer because of this . . . causing even more stress.
The cycle continues and is very acute for entrepreneurs, mentally and physically.
Related: 11 Tips to De-Stress Your Life
Can you talk about your personal struggle with depression as an entrepreneur?
Absolutely. I've battled depression, expressed by some very dark and deep thoughts. Some of these thoughts include, "I'm not good enough," "How can I tell my family that money is not coming in" and more. Depressive thoughts often include thoughts of suicide, seclusion and more.
When did you first notice this?
I can remember when I was fired (and resigned!) from the United Nations. We had only a few thousand dollars in the bank. Every month, we'd chip away at a portion of that money. Those were stressful and dark days. This was only about five years ago. Entrepreneurial depression has come back from time to time, and it's not easy to fight it off and press forward.
So, how do you cope with the depressive thoughts? What do you advise other entrepreneurs who may be suffering from depression?
Here are nine key ways that I advocate fighting depression:
- Mental fortitude. Not everyone has the mindset to be an entrepreneur. Make sure your head is in the right place.
- Educate your spouse and loved ones about your entrepreneurial life.
- Get a mentor, advisor or coach.
- Take a break. Get away for a day. A week. Give yourself time to breathe.
- Educate yourself. There’s no need to be depressed because you're not financially literate when there are resources for education on the topic.
- Be healthy. Eat right and exercise.
- Celebrate small and big wins and victories.
- Embrace failure, and then move on and get over it!
- Set realistic goals.
You can see more about Ramon’s advice on depression at SmartHustle.com’s blog.