Why Entrepreneurs Cannot Afford to Ignore their Mental Health
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"All my friends have safe jobs...They enjoy vacations. I am still without kids, without a vacation, no stable career.... It does bring in immense insecurity and worry in me if my decision to be an entrepreneur was indeed the right one?"
"I invested my hopes, my energy, my youth in my start-up and it failed... I see this as my own failure, I am a failure"
"I am successful today. But there is so much to manage, so many stakeholders, employees, investors, competition. I also have a family who has needs. Just the amount of effort required makes me wonder if I will be able to manage this or will I just crash"
These are some statements of Indian entrepreneurs who came for therapy, for mental wellbeing, because the sheer amount of pressure, uncertainty, of cycles of hopelessness that come with entrepreneurship, were breaking them.
Entrepreneurship is an exciting, celebrated & sought-after profession. More than being a profession, its a passion of individuals who really want to change the world through their services, products, ideas and make a lasting impact.
But with this bright side that is visible to all, including the people who embark this journey, entrepreneurship almost always has a painful, dark side to it that no one talks openly about, that a person entering this world is unaware of or grossly underestimates.
Before the riches, the celebration, the media coverage, the frenzy comes in, an entrepreneur has to struggle with daily failures, lack of resources for survival, family and friend’s pressure, social isolation due to lack of time, at the personal level.
And on professional side, an uphill task of convincing people to work for them & to join their vision and continue with it even when adversities hit in, an even tougher task to win customers who haven't ever heard of you, to keep them happy and keep multiplying their growth while also getting access to capital without which any big idea can fail. Along with this is the onslaught of competition with newer technology, more money or any combination that could put an entrepreneur’s vision at severe risk. The breakneck speed at which all of this happens, these changes in an individual’s life who once was thrilled with his/her new idea, can throw an individual off balance and make a person susceptible to a host of emotional and mental health issues.
Some of the common emotional and mental health issues an entrepreneur can face due to the nature of his/her work are:
Depression: Going through the tough cycle of making a dream turn into a reality, dealing with more rejections and failures can make a person hopeless and if the person does not have adequate support, he/she is very susceptible to fall in the trap of depression, a serious mental health disorder marked by persistent hopelessness, lack of concentration, diminished will to work and pursue goals and persistent social withdrawal.
Bipolar Disorder: Although Bipolar Disorder is a genetic disorder, entrepreneurs with highs and lows as part of their life, with successes and failures and the roller-coaster nature of their professional journey, are more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder, if they have a genetic predisposition. Bipolar disorder makes a person go through high and low mental phases. It breaks the sufferer because, during the high phase, an entrepreneur can take decisions that are reckless and risky, overestimate propositions and the low phase can break them, make them unable to work and even lead to suicidal tendencies.
Anxiety Disorder: Performance pressure and anxiety to do better than ever is what motivates an entrepreneur. But through the cycles of uncertainties, fear of failing, dealing with many failures in the present can push an entrepreneur in a cycle of endless worry and lack of optimism and imagining the worst. This is anxiety disorder and if unchecked, it can not only impact an entrepreneur’s quality of life but also severely impact his mental wellbeing.
Dysphoria - a state of generalized dissatisfaction with life: This is by far the most common mental health issue faced by entrepreneurs. Their energy often doesn’t match the results that they get at least early in the journey. Or even when they do get early success, the feeling of not doing enough after a certain stage, hits an entrepreneur. This need to feel high, to do more and the perceived inability of doing this, can bring in discontentment and disenchantment from life. Dysphoria makes an entrepreneur vulnerable to chronic unhappiness, social withdrawal and decreased pleasure in life.
The risk of ignoring these mental health issues that commonly affect entrepreneurs can mean a loss of happy personal life, work life and losing the dream that made the person an entrepreneur in the first place.
So to work on mental well-being, entrepreneurs need to actively remember and practice to be a FIGHTER!
FIGHTER here is an acronym for all steps recommended for an entrepreneur’s mental wellbeing
F- Foresight: Even before taking the plunge, every entrepreneur needs to understand all that it takes to be an entrepreneur beyond hope and optimism. He/she needs to be prepared financially, mentally, emotionally for the failures, setbacks that are part and parcel of this journey. Preparedness helps a great deal!
I – I AM: The belief that an entrepreneur has in herself should never diminish. No failure should be taken as a mark of her ability. The belief that she has it in her should continue no matter how tough the road looks like. Things would change in favour if there is a belief in self.
G- Grit: An entrepreneur needs to actively work on his/her strength. In dealing with various stakeholders, the inner strength of an entrepreneur and stability is what makes or breaks it.
H- Hope: Keeping the hope alive is the most important thing for an entrepreneur’s mental wellbeing. Have business mentors, read stories of successful people who faced so many setbacks and failures but never stopped trying and believing in themselves. Invest in making oneself for the hopeful. Read positive feedbacks. Meet with positive people. Too often entrepreneurs focus just on fixing problems. Celebrating small wins is as important and can be a great exercise for HOPE, for the mental wellbeing of the entrepreneur.
T- Therapist: An entrepreneur is motivating his team. An entrepreneur is managing his/her family. An entrepreneur is managing the perceptions of so many stakeholders. He/she also needs someone who he/she can find support in, who he/she can talk to when it all looks hopeless or when confusion takes over. Great entrepreneurs have had great therapists who provided them with emotional support and helped them keep their mental wellbeing. It’s a great support for entrepreneurship.
E- Emotional Support: An entrepreneur must have a circle of friends who he/she can spend time with and de-stress. He/she should always make time for family, for love, for wellbeing. Emotional support doesn’t waste time. It makes an entrepreneur more efficient and less vulnerable mentally.
R- Reinvent: If something is not working, it doesn’t mean its over. It doesn’t mean that everything is right either. What an entrepreneur should accept as a given is that reinventing is not just helpful, it is part of the game. Openness to reinventing not only helps fight the monotony but also helps keeps the action alive. One needs to always remember that Quitters don’t loose.
But winners never quit!
An entrepreneur’s biggest asset is his/her mind. Every effort should go in strengthening its power! Every effort should go in working on one’s mental wellbeing!