Every entrepreneur will experience the real price of entrepreneurship at some point along their journey, and for some it can be too much to take, as journalist Jessica Bruder discovered in her research.
In 2014, Jessica won a much deserved award for her research on how entrepreneurship can secretly cause serious psychological issues for founders. She began by talking with CEO Bradley Smith, whose company enjoyed 1,400% business growth in three years. But five years ago he was on the cusp of a total mental breakdown and it’s no coincidence that this was when his toughest entrepreneurial challenges occurred.
Five years ago, Smith’s debts were increasing by the day and he began to suffer with depression. Finally forced to ask his father for a loan, which bruised his entrepreneur ego, it was then that he found out his wife was pregnant. Luckily, his company began earning a profit just as she was due to give birth, but he recalls a “near debilitating anxiety and despair” at that time – feelings that have been shared by many entrepreneurs.
Famous entrepreneurs such as the Zuckerbergs of the world are idolised, but people don’t realise their path hasn’t always been as easy as it seems for them, and many founders suffer in silence.
The ‘strong’ leader
Maintaining an air of strength and confidence is critical for founders, particularly as they seek to gain respect from employees and investors. Psychiatrists call this ‘impression management’. However, given that most startups fail, where does that leave ‘failed’ founders?
In some of the most serious cases, founders have admitted that they have experienced suicidal thoughts. Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network, bravely posted a blog titled ‘When Death Feels like a Good Option’,” where he shared his suicidal thoughts that emerged after a 2001 startup failure. Former VP of MySpace, Sean Percival, has also talked about his start-up linked depression. The circumstances surrounding the suicide of Jody Sherman, whose company Ecomom was in dire financial straits at the time of his death, continued that dialogue.
What you can do
So much pressure is put on us to remain strong and focused towards our goals whilst maintaining finances. It is clear to see what’s so stressful about being an entrepreneur. Statistics say you’ll fail, you’re neglecting your health, you see yourself as a failure and that others perceive you as a failure too. You’re working 100 hours plus per week, losing sleep and stressing out, and for what? The slim chance that you’ll eventually make a success of your efforts. At the same time you also need to put a brave face on for your workers and family – or at least that’s what entrepreneurs often think.
This doesn’t mean that those who are trying to achieve success should give up on their dream. What it does mean is that the psychological impact of being a founder needs to be more openly discussed. Until this happens, there will continue to be losses and unnecessary struggles.
As entrepreneurs we are all in this together, even if we may be in competition in other aspects of our lives. The entrepreneur community demands mutual support. What are you struggling with? How did you overcome your struggles? And what advice could you give to others?