I went to an entrepreneur peer support group a few years ago and someone jokingly asked if this was a group for “workaholics anonymous”.
Sometimes owning your own business and “the hustle” of working harder, becomes a way of life - an identity, or a coping strategy for surviving life’s difficulties.
Working harder makes me feel in control when everything feels out of control; taking action is how I know how to cope. If you are an entrepreneur, I'm sure you can relate.
I'm passionate about my work and it's easy to get caught up in it. I like to think I am innovative and have unique ideas for solving problems. Just one more email, I tell myself.... then I'll take a break. I bargain with myself to not take on more things until certain projects are complete, but then a really strong opportunity comes by way and I feel I have to take it.
After all, it was pursuing opportunities like these in the past that got us here. However, these decisions, and trying to make a positive impact on the world can sometimes have a negative impact on me. It puts significant stress on my mind and body, as well as those around me.
As entrepreneurs we are statistically much more likely to struggle with mental health issues than the general population, yet it’s not something that's talked about very much.
Prior to Covid, approximately 7 out of 10 entrepreneurs said they felt depressed once a week. If you have a smaller or newer business, or are a woman, are diverse, or potentially juggling multiple roles, you are even more at risk of ongoing mental health issues and many entrepreneurs said they wished they'd gotten help sooner.*
Burnout, anxiety, depression, insomnia, separation/divorce, failure, impostor syndrome, parenting guilt…..all things I have personally experienced, are common issues among those that own their own business. It is interesting because many people glamorise owning a business; we hear things like, "it must be nice being the “boss” and having your name on the door" - things that people think are exciting. Being a “social” entrepreneur, having the ability to make social change through business, is an exciting life and career; one I feel deeply committed to as I believe businesses can have the greatest impact on the world. However, I have always felt it was a role that left me feeling alone. I feel different than other people and have felt that way my whole life. No one really understood “how I do it”. I am not sure how I do it either but I do know I struggle with making connections. I remember hearing, “When you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” - but it's not that simple.
There is a cohesive isolation factor. It can be lonely because people expect you to have the answer. I almost never have the answer. I have a hunch and courage to try it but I don't know if it’s the right call.
This feels safe like I am in control but also feels scary. Before finding other entrepreneurs to connect with I would expect my team to understand my frustrations, struggles and insecurities.
I share my vulnerabilities with them which lets them know my humanness but I would also fear they wouldn't trust me or my leadership if they thought I was unstable in any way.
I would argue that maintaining your mental health as an entrepreneur is as important to your business strategy as anything else, like knowing your numbers, being a good leader, or asking for feedback. It is something we need to talk about more. I believe there is a way to build a business and take care of yourself as a person. Just as I do in my social work career, I believe treating problems from a holistic approach, entrepreneurs need to put themselves at the top of their to-do list, put on their own oxygen mask so they can help others. We cannot forget this, however the challenge is ongoing as the more passionate I get about something, the more I work. The more I work, the more power I feel I have, which perpetuates the cycle. Entrepreneurs have high self expectations and deeply fear failure. If we fail, that impacts many people, our team and the people we help every day.
Some of the things that have helped me take care of myself on my entrepreneurial journey have been:
Facing the worst case scenario of something I am anxious about, sitting in that and reminding myself I am human. Making mistakes or failing isn't about my worth as a human.
I really try to show up authentically by reminding myself I don't need all the answers. I make mistakes all the time. I talk alot about my try and fail mentality. I try hard to listen to my team’s and client’s feedback, good and bad and see where I can improve.
Finding support of other entrepreneurs which helps with the loneliness and isolation - finding people who get my personality, my working style, the ups and downs of business
Ensuring you have your own support. I have a health coach, business coach and therapist. Sometimes I see them all in one day and it reminds me, no matter how alone I feel, I have lots of people who are walking beside me and want to help me become the healthiest version of me.
~ Laura, Clinical Therapist
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