Why Entrepreneurs Need to be Careful About their Mental Health
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, a gentle reminder to founders: business is a marathon, not a sprint
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When Apple launched Think Different in 1997 with a commercial narrated by Steve Jobs called, "Here's to the Crazy Ones", they observed that "the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."
Cool. No. Wait! What? Turns out, working like "crazy" is more of a recipe for a mental health meltdown than for success.
There's not much point striving so hard to change the world as an entrepreneur that you're not around to enjoy it. Or that the price of your success is trading off your mental health. Yet, we continue to neglect and abuse mental health in pursuit of the entrepreneurial dream.
Is striving itself a problem?
Many of us have a deeply ingrained belief that striving is the only strategy to achieve success when, in fact, it's more likely to be a self-limiting cap on our potential.
Striving and thriving are very different approaches. I have my own unhappy experiences with striving, not to mention obsession, ultra-competitiveness, and adrenaline-fuelled ambition, and I know I'm not alone. Swing a cat in a co-working space or corporate lobby and you're likely to hit 10 people who have their own struggles with mental health – addiction, anxiety, depression or overwhelm – or know someone close to them who does.
There's an epidemic around mental health. In Australia, for example, more than four million families are affected each year. And no one is immune. Billionaire businessman James Packer, Buddy and Jesinta Franklin, Ian Thorpe and a long list of other high-achievers – film stars, musicians, sporting heroes and media personalities – have bravely come out in recent years putting the issue on the public agenda and firing up the conversation.
Let's talk about it
Startup founders and entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. Mostly because they're operating in pressure cookers in which they fear mental health problems will be seen as a sign of weakness. In a recent report from KPMG, 96 per cent of startup founders admit to being stressed with 66 per cent somewhere between "very" and "extremely".
In the report, James Cameron, partner, Airtree VC, shares this concern: "Founder mental health is a massive issue, and we don't talk about it enough. This means we're failing a lot of people who might be struggling. Because of the cultural stigma that still gets attached, many founders feel that talking openly about their own struggles will somehow mean they're seen as less competent. This, of course, is complete bullshit. Suffering from bouts of depression or other mental health conditions doesn't mean you're any less than capable in your role as a founder."
Learn to relax
To steal the cliché, business is a marathon, not a sprint. A long-haul flight, not a bunny hop. This means entrepreneurs need to develop the capacity to perform at a high level on a sustained basis so they don't blow themselves up en route.
Amanda Price, KPMG's Head of High Growth Ventures, puts it this way, "It's critical that founders get better support, so they don't burn out before their business has a chance to succeed."
Take a look at this list below (courtesy KPMG HGV Founder Program) contrasting athletes with founders. It's small wonder that founders are exploding and imploding all over the planet.
For entrepreneurs, it is much smarter to treat yourself like an athlete and develop the capabilities to perform at a high level on an ongoing basis. Remember the marathon?
Regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and good nutrition are the basics, but if you're serious about success, you'll need to have a more complete athlete's mindset and support team to help you.
As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, it's a good time for entrepreneurs to think about the different of striving and thriving, and take stock of their lives and look at their mental health.
This is the first installment of a two-part series on mental health awareness among entrepreneurs and business leaders. The final one will offer tips on maintaining good mental health.