The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship
The first thing I did nearly every morning for almost a year was vomit. On several occasions, from 2013 to 2014, I got into my car parked outside of a Walgreens or Smiths to find it was still running. On the rare occasion that I went climbing on the weekend when it was time to pack up and hike out, I was so overcome by intense panic and anxiety I wasn’t sure I could make it.
I am the kind of person who
starts stuff. I founded a sorority in college that, by the time I graduated, was one of the largest student organizations on campus. I have been a founding board member of two nonprofits that I poured thousands of unpaid hours into creating. And then there’s the agency —the business I never intended to start.
My business happened because I just got really excited about backstories —those of companies and individuals. I have a good sense of how to pull things together to help brands and people communicate messages. I’m a pretty good problem solver and organizer of things. So while my accidental agency, nearly 15 years old, sounds like a sweet success story, let’s go back to me waking up every morning getting sick.
At the time, I had about seven people on payroll, an office in DTLV that needed constant repair, and a very large client who was so difficult, the point of contact’s behavior was downright abusive. In fact, a business coach I hired finally said, “Look, if this were your marriage, I would tell you to file for divorce.”
But if I left the relationship, wouldn’t I be a failure? After all, they wrote us a giant check every month. Why couldn’t I tame this beast? What was wrong with me?
My anxiety and stress level were so out of control despite practicing yoga 5 days a week. Who was I kidding, I couldn’t meditate. I could barely focus. I didn’t sleep. I worked six days a week and went years without a vacation. I was miserable. I was suffocating.
But I was in my 40s when one is supposed to be building a successful business. The highpoint of one’s earning years, right? I was working in DTLV, where everyone seemed to be getting millions of dollars of investment money for a startup. And from what I saw on social media, they were all having so much fun while doing it. Doing shots and playing ping pong at work. It looked so easy for everyone.
Yet there I was, moments after the alarm went off, feeling like I was going to vomit. What was wrong with me? I must be a failure.
But I must also post photos of me at fancy red carpet events, so everyone thinks I’m successful.
WHAT THE HELL?
Starting a business is hard. Social media and traditional media like to tell stories about how people start things, and just like that, boom, they are successful. They gloss over the reality, the help that those “self-made” people had along with way. No one talks about that.
Many articles say to ask for help but don’t go into detail about who to ask. And I can tell you that for a lot of people asking for help is hard. It was for me.
If you are running the show, big or small, build a network of other founders/business leaders and get support. Hire a coach. And yes, hire a therapist because starting stuff is hard, and we all bring a bunch of our crap to the table —our insecurities and fears.
And if you have a friend or family member who is an entrepreneur and seems to be sinking under the weight of anxiety, please do not lecture them on how they need to be grateful. It's not your job to judge or to "fix it." Just be an ear. It’s a start.
The post was inspired by an Inc. Magazine piece by Jessica Bruder, The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship, please click here to read more.