It seems as though every other week I read about another promising young entrepreneur gone too soon. This week, we learned of the early passing of two more promising young entrepreneurs. While I don’t claim to know exactly what happened in these particular cases, I do know that the stresses of entrepreneurship can take their toll on people, both physically and emotionally. Depression is a huge problem among entrepreneurs, and it’s time we did something about it. I don’t have the answers, but I’ve learned a few things along my personal entrepreneurial journey that have helped me navigate difficult situations.
Keep things in perspective
Business Insider recently published a great article about the depression epidemic in the startup community. According to the article, only 7% of the general population report suffering from depression, but a whopping 30% of founders report dealing with its effects. That statistic is staggering but entirely believable. Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal journey, and it’s incredibly difficult to separate your individual identity from the business that you’re trying to create. Soon, business setbacks (of which there are many) seem like personal setbacks, and depression can quickly take root.
The key is always to strive to keep things in perspective. Life, like business, is a journey full of ups and downs. When talking to entrepreneurs going through a rough patch, I often encourage them to think back to high school. For most of us, there were moments in our high school lives that seemed to be monumentally important that in retrospect seem childish. At the time, of course, the pain and anxiety that you experienced was real and raw. However, the more distance you gain from the situation, the less painful it becomes. While the problems that you’re facing right here and right now may seem insurmountable, it’s important to realize these too will pass and fade in time.
Live to fight another day
Entrepreneurs have to accept the fact that the odds are stacked against their success. Most new business ventures fail, and even those that are eventually successful take a long time to get off the ground. Setbacks will outnumber successes, and there’s a good chance that most days will be stressful. That’s the game we chose to play and the ability to embrace these realities is what makes us entrepreneurs. Still, when challenges pile up, it’s easy to feel like the world is ending and that we’re failures. I recently had lunch with a good friend who was in the process of shuttering his third startup in seven years. During our conversation, I reminded him that in his brief career to date, he’s accomplished more than the vast majority of people do in decades. His pedigree and experience put him in the top one percent of people in his age group, and, as a result, his opportunities are vast. Sure, the latest venture didn’t work out, but he can and will live to fight anther day.
Wherever you’re at this point in your life, there is a very good chance that your current endeavor will not be your last. In fact, many of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world hit their stride on the second or third attempt. Consider the case of Mark Cuban. Before he struck it big by selling his business to Yahoo, Cuban had a string of failures. After failing as a cook, carpenter, and even a waiter he remarked, “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you failed. You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all.” The lesson here is that there are second (and third and fourth) acts in life, and it’s important to remember that whenever you encounter failure.
Don’t be afraid to get help
I’m fortunate in the sense that I have a fantastic support network I can call on when I need help. My family and friends are always there when I need them, whether it’s to listen to my struggles or to lend a hand. Not everyone is as lucky. Entrepreneurs need to be able to reach out and get help when they need it. This can be difficult in a world where everyone feels the need to be “crushing it” all the time. Asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness, which leads to people simply keeping their difficulties to themselves.
We in the entrepreneur community need to change this mentality. People should feel free to get help without the fear of judgment, and it’s going to take a few brave influencers to initiate the change. I know a few people in the industry who care about this deeply, including Structure Capital (a team of high-profile venture investors based out of San Francisco), but more are needed. There are good people out there who want to help. It’s just a matter of having the courage to reach out.
There will be bumps and setbacks on any entrepreneurial journey, but remember that you’re not alone. Keep your challenges in perspective and live to fight another day. No matter how dark a situation looks, it never is as bad as it seems. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to get help. If you find yourself without anyone to talk to, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and lend an ear when needed.