I have a successful business. I make my own schedule. I fly first class. People pay me to tell them what I think. My work is mysterious; most folks aren’t quite sure what I do. I seem entrepreneur-smooth. I love telling people about my next adventure and my Instagram feed is impressive. While not Elon Musk, I live the “Entrepreneur’s Life” and it’s a good one.
And I’m one of the millions of Americans who struggle with depression.
I’m not supposed to say that. As an entrepreneur, especially one that is usually encouraging others to use their strengths and chart their own course, I’m supposed to pitch the sunshine. I’m not supposed to tell you that running your own business can also bring on the rain.
I’ve struggled “off and on” with depression since I was a little kid. In 6th grade, bullied by classmates, and a teacher I’d like to forget, the hopeless, trapped feelings set in. I was different. I had strict parents. I was a mumbler who talked too fast and saw the world different. I was sure no one else understood. While never reaching the suicide planning stage, I remember moments imagining how “sorry” people would be at my funeral. If not for a couple of adults who reached out to me, and a shake-up in my social status in high school, who knows how things could have ended.
As an adult, I’ve leveraged the things others mocked. My differences serve me well. I’m proud of who I am. Unfortunately, the dark stretches have followed me.
I’m one of the lucky ones who only gets depressed intermittently. I’ll go months being fine and then will have a stretch where nothing makes sense. I feel directionless. I take no joy in accomplishments. Smiling as I talk, I can tell people are more excited about my life than I am. I’ve learned the act of “looking okay.”
Living life as a small business owner has challenges I did not fully understand when I started. The daily thinking about finance, marketing, taxes, products, negotiation, administration, planning and the competition, often while jet-lagged, takes a toll. Being an entrepreneur means waking up every day and convincing yourself that you still have a good idea even if no one else seems to think so. The stress is enough to break some people in half. But we’re not supposed to show it.
A deodorant commercial tag line from the 80’s sums up the entrepreneur’s burden: “Never let them see you sweat!” You’re supposed to create a product, find investors, crack the market, do PR all while being eternally optimistic and acting like you’re enjoying every minute of it. Have to say that I’ve never done well with “suppose to’s.”
So, you might be wondering “Why am I writing about something so personal?”
Monday night at 7:30 PM, Faigy Mayer, founder and CEO of Appton, a New York-based app-development startup, attended a cocktail party at 230 Fifth’s rooftop bar. She asked the bartender if the ledge was just beyond the shrubs. After he confirmed that it was, she then sprinted toward the ledge and jumped from the 20th floor to her death.
Regarding her death, Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at UCSF did a study of entrepreneurs and mental illness. Depression was the number 1 reported condition and present in 30% of all entrepreneurs studied. The stress of starting a business exacerbates already stressful lives. The isolation, however, is even worse than the stress.
We’re not supposed to tell people we’re struggling. We’re supposed to be optimistic. We have employees who are putting in sweat equity. What client wants to work with a coach who’s not perky? We fear burdening our spouses and partners. And, when times are tough, people don’t want to hear the real answer to “How’s business?”
Depression’s special gift is isolation. The sadness seems to constantly whisper, “No one understands.” “People would reject you if they knew the truth.” “If you were more successful, you wouldn’t feel this way.” “You just need to work harder.” “It’s called work for a reason.”
I don’t know if Ms. Mayer suffered from depression, but she obviously felt alone with no other choice regardless to what it looked like to the outside world.
If you’re a business owner, consultant, creative contractor or whatever, and you’re struggling with depression or just exhaustion and self-doubt, I want you to know you’re not alone. Beyond the polish and pictures of the life we strive to live are very real people with very real feelings that require actual care.
After 12 of the most trying months of my life, I had to learn new ways to care for myself. I learned to be proactive with friends. I hired a therapist who provides an objective voice in my head. And after a cancer scare, two surgeries and a literal near-death experience on a mountain in Chile I needed more help. I needed a prescription.
So, why share all this?
Because I want you to know you are not alone!
The world needs you to CREATE.
The world needs you to risk.
You have something valuable to offer and we need you to put yourself out there.
But, here’s the deal: Your influence…my influence….anyone’s influence will never be healthier than they are!
Thanks for reading.
Share this with a friend.