It's all in your mind

“I am finding the journey of an entrepreneur to be one of ups and downs, and to be somewhat isolating. There are some tremendous perks and some overwhelming challenges. There are days that I feel so down and others that are exciting and energizing. There is a strong feeling of being in survival mode, which can be draining and is not sustainable.”

— Respondent, The Mindset Project Survey

Where the earth splits apart, Lake Myvatn, Iceland
Where the earth splits apart, Lake Myvatn, Iceland

I know – I’ve been there. Like 30 percent of other entrepreneurs I put off dealing with the stress of my business and what it was doing to me. But I waited too long and was hit by depression. Like 32.5 percent of other entrepreneurs.

If you don't think you're the type of entrepreneur who will develop the same stresses as other entrepreneurs and that these stresses won't come crashing down on you if left untreated — you are hurting yourself.

Entrepreneurship is a super stressful game to play and an unbelievably low number of players ever win. In fact, nine out of ten startups will fail — I like to think these massive failure rates have a lot to do with founder mentality and a lot less to do with business acumen.

If the reality that your business will likely fail before it generates a profit isn't stressful enough, consider the fact that 72 percent of entrepreneurs are marred with some form of mental health disease, compared with just 21 percent of the general public. If this is true, you, the entrepreneur, likely already have a mental health issue or are showing signs.

Stark as they are, I don't want these numbers to discourage entrepreneurs from starting businesses and creating new and innovative ideas. On the contrary, I want to see a new perspective in the field, one which fosters the person before the product and one that wipes out the so-called "founder's blues."

One of the primary shortcomings of the current system is that we, as a community, do not talk enough about the issues that face young entrepreneurs today. We have done nothing to customize the model in a way that would be conducive to reducing the personal stress associated with starting and running a company.

A system built for investors will, without a doubt, continue to fail the entrepreneur.

Before we begin to offer up solutions to the mental health issues which plague entrepreneurship today, we need to first ask ourselves, "how did we get here?"

You have this great product, you know it's great because you made it, you see a marketable use for it. It does something that you know people want but don't currently have.

You don't have any rationale for this belief, other than perhaps some anecdotal evidence. You're incredibly optimistic without sound reason — you're entirely driven by your passion.

Once you begin to operate the business and things happen, or rather, don't happen the way you thought they would, the flame begins to get a little duller. Customers don't respond as you expected, investors ask more of you than you originally anticipated, cash flow doesn't really work the way you thought it would, and on and on the curve balls come.

As you're faced with more and more unexpected challenges, you begin to face off with this thing called time management, something none of us really know how to deal with.

You try to meet expectations but fall short. The stress builds and builds, and you never talk to anyone about it for fear of seeming weak.

The accumulated stress, left unmanaged, will inevitably bubble over into an extremely negative head space I refer to as uninformed pessimism.

Uninformed pessimism

Nothing seems to work anymore and anything that does work appears to be half broken. You've become a critic of everything.

You're totally overwhelmed by stress, you can't sleep, you can't get the business out of your mind, your relationships struggle, you stop exercising and start eating more, everything good in your life suffers, family and friends (who you don't see anymore) become distant and yet, still, you feel like you can't talk to anyone. You have an image to uphold.

You demand more of yourself, asking things like ,"everyone else can do it, so why can't I?" You begin comparing yourself and business to others.

After things get bad enough, someone shows you what your cash flow is really like, perhaps some business analytics, and all your feelings are confirmed — you are indeed failing. Following this realization, you reach a point I call uninformed realism.

Uninformed realism

You've hit a wall, you now get the picture and see what's really happening. You have proof.

At this juncture, no matter how dire the situation, you have a choice. You can turn this opportunity into a learning experience by understanding how you got here in the first place and what you need to do to get yourself out, or you could just cut your losses, give up and quit.

I call this founder mindset informed reality — you understand all the key choices that have led up to the point you now find yourself. You're now fully aware of the consequences of the situation.

If only you had preempted the stress and anxiety of starting and running a business first, you would have been better equipped to deal with the difficulties you're facing now. 

Making the necessary preparations

From my experience, I have learned that by investing in myself and applying self awareness in my life, I was able to build a better business this time around — one that makes great money and doesn't hurt my health.

For any entrepreneurs reading this, who find themselves in what might feel like a hopeless situation, I say this: you've got a big decision to make. This is a make or break one. You have to take time to step back and do the things that will put your mind in the right place, moving forward.

You must realize that these feelings are a natural part of being an entrepreneur. It's a high stress game. If you understand this going in, you'll be better equipped to preempt the mental impact launching your company could have. By preparing for it ahead of time, you're setting yourself up for success.

I recommend taking on an activity that frees your mind up and allows you to be mindful — to simply connect to the world around you without judgment or distraction.

Generally, if it's a physical activity it's probably a better route, but just make sure to choose something that will free your mind from the stresses of work.

For me it's all about the bike — I take 8 to 10 hours out every week for cycling. Cycling requires my focus and allows me to get lost in it. And it prepares my mind for what’s next.