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The Dark Reality of Entrepreneurship

Posted on Tuesday, Feb 18th 2014

There’s a really good story on Inc. on the dark realities of entrepreneurship. Not the rah rah, everything is so wonderful kind, but the brutal emotional truth: The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship. Read it.

Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair–times when it seemed everything might crumble.

Until recently, admitting such sentiments was taboo. Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management–also known as “fake it till you make it.” Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions (No. 188 on the Inc. 500), explains the phenomenon with his favorite analogy: a man riding a lion. “People look at him and think, This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!” says Thomas. “And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”

Not everyone who walks through darkness makes it out. In January, well-known founder Jody Sherman, 47, of the e-commerce site Ecomom took his own life. His death shook the start-up community. It also reignited a discussion about entrepreneurship and mental health that began two years earlier after the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the 22-year-old co-founder of Diaspora, a social networking site.

Lately, more entrepreneurs have begun speaking out about their internal struggles in an attempt to combat the stigma on depression and anxiety that makes it hard for sufferers to seek help. In a deeply personal post called “When Death Feels Like a Good Option,” Ben Huh, the CEO of the Cheezburger Network humor websites, wrote about his suicidal thoughts following a failed start-up in 2001.

It’s a long piece, and worth reading.

My thought on the subject is this:

Good entrepreneurs need to focus as sharply as possible. Such focus puts your mind in a loop around the same goals 24 hours a day. And that kind of single-minded focus with the mind getting no break is not only the beginning of great success, it could also be the beginning of a depression, leading to suicidal thoughts and other such anxiety disorders that the article discusses, when things don’t go so well.

In my experience, diversions are essential to survival on this journey. Whether it is family, friends, art, culture, film, literature, sports, cuisine, travel – to travel this long, dangerous and winding path, especially when the weather can be really turbulent – you need external elements that can put the focused inner journey in perspective.

At the end of the day, its a nerve game. To win, you need staying power.

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