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The Dark Side Of Entrepreneurship No One Is Talking About

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ILO logoEditor’s Note:With #FutureOfWork, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz are coming together to explore the spectrum of issues that affect young people's careers and work lives. Join the conversation! 

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*…

[su_box title=” ” box_color=”#c6cec9 ” radius=”0″] 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!)[/su_box]

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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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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