The Dark Side Of Entrepreneurship No One Is Talking About

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Editor’s Note: In April 2016, a young tech entrepreneur in Hyderabad took his life after a social networking app designed by him, did not take off. In his suicide note, he wrote that he “wanted to go away without any pain”. It’s estimated that over 80% of startups fail within three years. Yet, very little is written about the stress, depression and isolation an entrepreneur experiences along the starting up journey. The following article by an entrepreneur who chose to stay anonymous, was originally published as a response on Quora to a question posted by ‘The Startup Centre’, a Chennai-based early stage accelerator. The question was, “As an Entrepreneur, how often is depression something that you have to deal with? How do you?”. This was Anonymous’ heartfelt response*…

By Anonymous:

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are many symptoms of depression, such as difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions, fatigue and decreased energy, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness, feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism, insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping, thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts and many others.

I had each and every one of them, except the last one.

This depression had been triggered by the collapse of my second startup (the team disbanded amongst some quite petty arguments). I was broke (again), my parents were not well, my personal life was a mess, and most importantly, I felt that I could not speak to anybody about my troubles, because I felt nobody would understand.

The entrepreneurs I knew in my circle were not very good friends of mine (I had been around in the startup scene in Pune/ Mumbai for around one and half years) and the friends I had were all salaried professionals, and would not understand how much of my life I had poured into my startup.

I blamed myself for my lack of success and started wishing I had taken up my first boss’s offer to relocate to the US and earn enough to at least give my parents a happy, peaceful and contented retirement. I knew I was depressed and was ashamed of admitting it to myself. I thought of myself as a failure because I felt weak, and I felt weaker because I thought of myself as a failure.

Now, about how I came out of it. To be honest, the following might seem stupidly simple. But it is what helped me, and I hope it helps someone else, too.

1. Reach Out To Your Friends.

Doesn’t matter if you think they would not understand. Your good friends should and will give you a helping hand, in any way they can. Have a little faith in them.

2. Reach Out To A Psychologist.

Especially if you feel that you cannot talk to your friends. It really helps to be able to tell some absolute stranger. You are less constrained, and you feel lighter after “someone else shares your burden”. It was only after I had spoken about my troubles to a psychologist, that I had the courage to tell my friends. Also, there might be hormonal reasons for your depression, and you cannot find that out without medical help. (Don’t expect American TV style couches though :))

3. Deliberately Bring Structure To Your Life.

This is the most important thing that all the exercises my psychiatrist gave me did for me, and I am extremely grateful for this. It started off with a very basic schedule, which I was supposed to make, and then stick to, e.g. “have breakfast at 9 am”, “lunch at 1 pm”, “dinner at 10 pm”. Even achieving this gave me much needed relief. And then make your schedule more complex. E.g. Insert your daily reading into it, insert your calls to your family, schedule some time to listen to music, and if you are the praying sort, then your daily prayers. The key is not to have a super schedule to achieve a lot, but to just achieve more and more. Even if that “more” is actually trivial things.

4. Read, Watch, Listen To, And Do Fun And Inspiring Stuff.

This is very important, I feel. Initially, I would go through a bunch of FRIENDS episodes, and not even laugh once. But as I started working on my schedule (yes, I scheduled these “fun sessions”), I started to be able to appreciate the humour and the inspirational stuff much better. I watched a lot of George Carlin, Louis CK, FRIENDS, read about great men and women, and most importantly, I started socialising with my friends again.

5. Stay Away From Booze And Cigarettes.

This is not a preachy statement, but one of concern. I say this because it is very easy to lose control during a depression. I used to be a very moderate drinker, and a very, very occasional smoker (once in a month). And I used to think I was absolutely under control when it came to my vices. And then one day in the middle of my depression, I realised I had been drunk for 36 hours straight, and had smoked three packets of cigarettes in the same period, both new highs (lows?). I quit cold turkey, then, and have only recently gone back to the extremely moderated version of earlier.

6. Look Towards The Future.

Imagine your life in the future, and start thinking of ways to get there. This might seem like a trivial exercise, but it helps to break you out of the loop. If you keep seeing the steps to your ideal life right in front of you, you might just take one of them! And soon you will find that “this too shall pass” is actually true!

Finally, I would like to say that depression does not choose you based on your profession, or your abilities. It is perfectly normal for one to be depressed, provided you reach out before you reach that last, suicidal stage. It does not make you any less of a man (or woman).

Now that I think about it, I am a much better man because of my depression. I am more empathetic towards my fellow entrepreneurs (and humans in general). And most importantly, I have been able to re-separate my sense of self from my achievements.

As to the “how often” I have had to deal with this? Just the once was more than enough for me, thank you very much! Although I guess I could say that now I have the tools to handle my life better, even as I continue down my entrepreneurial journey (yes, that’s right. I am on my third startup, and so far things are going great!)

You can read more responses by entrepreneurs to the question here.

There’s no shame in failing, period, and we encourage entrepreneurs to speak out and share their learnings around coping with stress, depression and failure. Submit your story here.

* This response was slightly reformatted for improved readability.

Featured Image Credit: Shivmirthyu/ Pixabay

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