I’m a member of an entrepreneur group. It’s full of people whose names you’d recognize, owners of companies with a world-wide presence. I was stunned at one of the meetings recently, when one of the members stood up and confessed that he’d been struggling with crippling depression. What surprised me even more was that several other members were in the same boat. We think of entrepreneurs as optimistic folks, but it turns out that there’s a bit of a dark side to starting your own company, and it’s time we acknowledged it.
Whether you’re talking about feeling a little down or a full-on, nonfunctional episode, it’s not uncommon for an entrepreneur to suffer from depression. The tendency to be embarrassed or to hide what others may perceive as a weakness exacerbates the plight, and withdrawing from the support of your friends and family can make the problem even worse. Getting the help you need can not only turn things around for yourself, but it can also encourage others who might be facing the same struggle.
Sam Walton, widely regarded as one of the great American entrepreneurs said, on his deathbed, “I blew it.” Putting your business ahead of your family and the quality of your private life is taking a step down a road that will be paved with regret. Entrepreneurs can sometimes focus on work to the exclusion of things that will matter more in hindsight – relationships with a spouse or with children. We should strive to keep a balance of work and home.
There’s never enough time in a day to accomplish everything we’d like to, and entrepreneurs often prioritize work over things like exercise, taking the time to eat properly, and getting enough sleep. As it turns out, setting aside time for a healthy lifestyle can actually improve our outlook and focus, but far too often we choose work over physically taking care of ourselves.
Trouble making and keeping friends.
Part of the trouble with maintaining friendships as an entrepreneur is due to perception. People will often think that since you own your own business that you have tons of money. We all know that’s often way off the mark. In fact, owners of small retail shops often make some of the lowest hourly wages of any workers. When your priorities shift to your business, your old friends may not understand you, and you’ll find it hard to set aside time to make new friends.
The media plays up Mark Zuckerberg’s success and features stories about wildly profitable businesses started from scratch. What is less interesting to cover is that fact that a lot of businesses fail. Knowing that people are looking for you to achieve great success can make it even more difficult when you’re struggling through a rough patch. While some of the biggest opportunities await those who start their own businesses, the risks can be great as well.
Being the odd man (or woman) out.
Entrepreneurs are leaders, rather than followers by nature. We’re not content to take what life gives us, and that sets us apart from everyone else. Being different can be lonely, though, and it can be difficult to find people who understand and relate to the challenges of owning your own business.
I was recently on a flight to Las Vegas for a couple of speaking engagements. I was upgraded to first class, which made the flight much more enjoyable. What’s interesting is that I started talking to some of the other folks in first class – there were fifteen or sixteen of us in all – and every single person I talked to in that section of the plane was an entrepreneur. Every single one. Now I don’t know how many business owners were in the economy cabin, but it hit me that there really is something different about entrepreneurs. We’re a breed all our own, and even with all of the difficulties we face, there’s still nothing I’d rather be doing for a living.
That said, if we acknowledge the problems and challenges we face, we’ll be more apt to realize that some of our struggles are changeable – for example, there’s always time to exercise and eat well, even if you think there isn’t. Some of the challenges, though, are part of the price we pay for pursuing our dreams. We’re not entirely alone, though. Other business leaders face the same struggles that you do.