Are you living a good life?
That really is it: what we are all looking for. A good life.
We want to know that we are working and living in a way that matters to us and makes us happy.
So, what is a good life?
A number of studies have repeatedly shown that what we say we want from our working lives are money and recognition followed closely by the ability to work independently and to make a difference in the world.
But is the way we are working answering those needs and giving us what we want?
The answer is no.
This is the paradox of entrepreneurship: the more we want to have a good life, the more we work in ways that take us from it.
Much of what we do is based on expectations. Entrepreneurs, in many ways, live their lives for others: trying to meet their perception of what other people expect, rather than focusing on what matters to them. Most entrepreneurs look to others to evaluate their life and work.
What matters most to us is lost.
We work endless hours, deal with mounting commitments, face unrealistic deadlines, and stress over unachievable demands. But we suck it up, isolate, refrain from talking about it, and put on the façade that everything is okay. In many ways, we believe our success depends on it.
The very nature of the way entrepreneurs work today limits their growth and ability to be innovative, creative, and productive.
I believe must put our own oxygen mask on first. We need to invest our time wisely to build our energy, strengths, perspective, and judgment. From here – a strong individual foundation - we can work towards healthier lives, healthier companies and healthier growth. And live a good life.
Are you busy?
Right now, entrepreneurs seem to be thriving on busyness! All the things they should do or have to do come first on the priority list. What is important to them comes later, or not at all.
In fact, the success of their companies depends on their own health, on putting themselves first.
This is my story. For thirty years, I relentlessly pursued stretch goals, pushed myself through 70 hour weeks, and always felt I needed to do more. I was not living, I was working. The company became me and I became the company.
The stress I felt mounted to incredible anxiety. But everyone said they couldn’t see it. Of course not, I hid it well. I put on a brave face and downplayed my true feelings.
The anxiety that caused turned into clinical depression and I fell hard. I hit rock bottom and attempted overdoses several times. Everything unraveled and I lost my business. I lost myself.
At this point, I wondered if it was just me. Was there something wrong with me?
A defining moment for me happened when I attended group therapy. Listening to other professionals in the room, all apparently successful in the way we traditionally view success, talking about their anxieties, panics, and depressions. For the first time I realized other people shared my experience. I also saw that depression and other mental health disorders are illnesses and not weaknesses. That was a turning point for me to move forward.
Being an entrepreneur, I had questions and a deep curiosity. I started the Mindset Project to research entrepreneurs and the stress they face in their work and how it affects their lives and businesses.
I found I was not alone.
In our study, The Mindset Project, we found that 72% of entrepreneurs feel they are not getting what they want from their businesses. This shortcoming has created a sense of relentless stress and anxiety that affects the perspectives and judgment of entrepreneurs, and their overall sense of well-being.
Despite having more money, greater health and greater intelligence than in any time in history, we are not any happier.
We may have grown intellectually but we have not yet moved forward emotionally. Our mindset is our limiting factor.
The resulting impact on the mental health of entrepreneurs is the greatest business risk we face today.
In our research, we found the working environment for entrepreneurs is one of unhealthy stress, strain, and tension. The resulting pressure affects the mindset of the entrepreneur to the point of creating poor mental health conditions.
In our survey, 25.1% of respondents say they have been diagnosed with some form of mental health illness. And these were only the documented cases. With the stigma of mental health, most entrepreneurs do not talk about it. We found that a further 37% of entrepreneurs felt they needed to seek help but remained untreated. This rate of incidence for entrepreneurs is much higher than compared to the general population.
How we work today as entrepreneurs is a choice, and one that is killing our businesses and lives. And it is affecting the resilience of our communities and the prosperity of our region.
We self-identify with our business to such an extent we lose our own sense of worth. Our greatest strength, our passion, becomes the limiting factor. Our value becomes tied to the rollercoaster of our business and we stop seeing ourselves as independent.
And we lose our confidence by working towards goals that are unrealistic. But we hold ourselves accountable and responsible and our confidence is eaten away. We live in a constant state of gap: where we are, no matter how far we have come, is not where we think we should be.
The gap plays out in terms of how we deal with expectations, commitments, and capacity.
And we put pressure on ourselves to do more in less time. We take on too many commitments with too short timelines and that further chews up our self-confidence. It becomes a nagging question, can I do it?
We have a misalignment of priorities in that entrepreneurs focus on outcomes rather than the causes. Business owners put the focus on results without fully dealing with what has to be done to get there. It becomes a question of will it work?
And we end up, late at night on our own, questioning if the business is giving us what we want.
If we want a good life as an entrepreneur we have to prioritize the people at the heart of the business: us. Growing a business starts with shaping how we approach work and investing in our own personal development.
· We need to have time for relationships – they make life worth living and work worth doing
· We need to have time for activities that energize us and renew us – exercise, meditation, sleep, nutrition, and social
· We need to recognize and work from our strengths to make our best contribution for meaning and achievement
· We need to use data to inform decisions for sound judgment
You don’t have the time?
You have a choice: do what you have always done or prioritize time for what makes life worth living.
Most importantly, we have to invest in putting our own oxygen mask on first to lead a good life. And then we can positively affect the lives of the people around us, our communities, and our region.
So, what is a good life?
Happiness is something I once thought only other people could have. I lived for years from a deficit-based perspective. In looking around now, I see that a lot of people I thought were happy may possibly just be busy. I think we mistake busy for happy. To get to happy, we need to prioritize having a good life.
What have I found?
Having a good life is inside of each of us. It is being content with who we are, what we have, and what we do with those strengths.