Yesterday, while reading this post about billionaire entrepreneur Chen Tianqiao, I couldn’t help but think of all those moments in my entrepreneurial journey when I felt anxious and helpless. When I wanted to say a lot but could say nothing.
A few years back, a school friend tried committing suicide after his startup failed miserably. He had raised a small round of funding from his friends and family and that he had to return the money one day was adding to his stresses. He finally decided to give up, and take his life. While he managed to survive, there are many who don’t. Even if they don’t visibly do something to themselves, they end up suffering from clinical depression, anxiety, high degrees of paranoia and more. But we don’t talk about it. Why? Because entrepreneurship has been made out to be a star-studded, firepower business that only people who are poised for success do. And this is where the problem lies.
Mental health is still a black box when it comes to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. Rarely do we talk about the stresses and anxieties that those who run businesses go through – because of growing competition and the pressure to become a star. We are so busy celebrating the multi-billion-dollar unicorns that the ones who get run over in the race are tabooed still, turned into examples of how not to be as entrepreneurs.
As someone who’s been running a company for nearly a decade now, I can attest to the fact that there are several moments every day when you cannot share your anxieties and stresses with the people closest to you because of various reasons – one of them being the fact that you don’t want to disappoint them, or make them lose faith in you. Another being that it genuinely gets difficult for people to understand why it isn’t easy for you to take a break, quit or say no to an opportunity you’ve worked very hard for.
In July this year, a 32-year-old entrepreneur committed suicide after posting the words “I Quit” on his Facebook profile. In April 2016, a Mumbai based entrepreneur committed suicide by inhaling nitrogen gas because he failed to build an app that could beat Whatsapp.
So is there a solution to this? Yes.
The first and foremost step we need to take is to talk about the mental health of entrepreneurs – and accept that entrepreneurs can and do go through mental health issues. In this, bringing entrepreneurship down from the pedestal it is on can play a key role in normalising it like any other career option – where if you don’t succeed, you switch jobs. Our inability to talk about and accept failure is why student suicides grew in the first place – and we could end up seeing a similar trend with careers such as entrepreneurship. More entrepreneurs need to come out and openly discuss failure and the importance of it.
What entrepreneurs often fail to realise is that their company will only grow when they detach themselves from some key operational, day-to-day processes and focus on achieving the bigger picture. When I first reached a breaking point in my journey, I tried listing down the possible causes for it. One of the biggest problems that emerged was that I was still attached to and executing some day-to-day processes I had set up, not because there weren’t better people who could do them – but simply because I was attached to them. In this, not only did I not let my colleagues get the opportunity to execute those tasks and grow beyond their roles, I stagnated myself too.
As important as it is to lay the building blocks, it is also important to let someone else build upon it further.
I’ve met several entrepreneurs who accept that they’re going through mental health issues but are not willing to meet mental health professionals who could help solve them. The way our society has projected entrepreneurs has been fairly toxic. Either you make it, or you vanish. Go big or go home. What this has also done is created a sense that you’re either someone who has their shit together, or you are a failure. This perception of what an entrepreneur is expected to be has taken more startup lives than bad decision-making. In fact, this perception could very well be the reason why entrepreneurs often take bad funding or hiring decisions, which ultimately lead to the startup suffering.
The need is to break this perception and there are a few ways to do that. I never found it easy to talk to people about my stress and anxieties. A good way for me to solve this was to turn my entire company into a mental health friendly company. Not only did this ensure that employees with mental health issues get to take adequate breaks, and never let work come in the way of therapy – it also gave me an avenue to be more open with my colleagues about my stresses and empathetically understand theirs.
What I think would have really helped my ‘down times’ was if I had access to entrepreneur support networks. Maybe like “Alcoholics Anonymous”? But for entrepreneurs. The support networks need to expand and people who run businesses and those who work with entrepreneurs all need to come together to create a safe space for us to share our work stresses and challenges.
Having a powerful support network can solve several issues entrepreneurs go through.
So here’s what I propose: Let’s start an entrepreneurs support network. As an entrepreneur myself, I’d love to support any entrepreneur who is going through mental health issues or dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety and just wants someone to talk to. I believe that with the right kind of people joining in, we can make a big difference. So here it goes: sign up for the Entrepreneurs Support Network I am starting, and I’ll email you to schedule a call to hear you out – and I hope you’ll do the same for me. Hopefully, this will evolve into a network that meets as well. Are you gonna join in?
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