Entrepreneurship is an exciting career path that an increasing number of people are deciding to pursue. Roughly 8% of the global workforce are trying to establish and run their businesses. Most people glorify entrepreneurship, sometimes unjustly, as a way to achieve wealth, success, and fame. However, almost no one except a therapist understands the tremendous stresses placed upon these founders.
Mental health is an aspect of our well-being that has been historically overlooked by practically everyone. Recent trends now see people becoming more aware of the importance of self-care and emotional support. However, the entrepreneurial world still has a lot of catching up to do in this aspect. In many cases, the work of startups and businesses perpetuate cultures and beliefs detrimental to emotional well-being.
The stereotypical portrayal of an entrepreneur is a hustler who does whatever it takes to succeed. In this model, most people place productivity on a pedestal. Founders are made to believe every second count, that rest equates to unproductive time, and the competition will overtake those who don’t work at their best all the time.
The business world is full of people who unabashedly admit to sacrificing their well-being for the sake of their businesses. Consider Elon Musk, who once described a typical daily routine of coming home by 2 AM. Many people aspire to be as successful as their role models, and their poor work-life balance is sometimes used to justify their insufficient self-care practices.
People are encouraged to work around the clock. Even during evenings and early mornings, many founders are busy processing emails, researching market trends, or completing tasks on their to-do list.
Forcing yourself to work tirelessly may temporarily bring excellent results. However, the lack of rest increases stress levels, making it harder to make rational decisions and to regulate emotions. Chronic stress leads to a higher risk of developing depression and other mental health conditions. Around 49% of entrepreneurs will develop a mental illness at least once in their life.
Uncertainty & Risk
Entrepreneurship holds its appeal due to its disruptive nature. In this field, people are free to experiment with new business models in the pursuit of innovation and profit. Being able to forge your path is a fulfilling experience for many people.
However, innovation comes with uncertainty and risk. Many startups fail within a year of starting operations. There is no assurance that current businesses will still be standing a few years from now. Founders need to continually manage this uncertainty by ensuring the foundations of their business are secure. Nevertheless, unpredictability will never disappear, imposing a constant source of stress on founders.
Founders tend to identify strongly with their businesses. Being the ones responsible for turning ideas into business models, founders essentially become creators. They can become attached to their startups, and they can start to conflate their private identity with their professional one.
This setup becomes harmful when founders start to associate troubles in their startups with their self-efficacy. When their businesses take a turn for the worse, they may see it as a reflection of their incompetence. Over time, this train of thought can erode their self-esteem and overwhelm them with stress.
Whether explicit or now, business founders are always expected to project strength and confidence. They believe any projections of vulnerability can turn off investors and clients. Hence, they are forced to suffer silently and to suppress their emotions.
Media makes the situation worse through their reporting on successful entrepreneurs. Some outlets overemphasize the successes and fail to report the struggles these people encountered. This reporting fools people into believing their obstacles are unusual when practically everyone in business faces these.
Protecting Your Mental Health
As shown, entrepreneurship comes with several psychological costs. However, entrepreneurs are not powerless against their struggles. They can start by challenging the concept of the stereotypical entrepreneur as a tireless hustler. They need to realize those founders are still humans who need to take care of their physical and mental health.
Action should also proceed at the community level. The overall culture of entrepreneurship needs an overhaul. Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to accept their vulnerabilities instead of hiding them. Founders should be inspired to emphasize mental well-being in their businesses, whether by allocating budget towards mental health projects or by hiring mental health professionals.
Finally, founders shouldn’t be afraid to use some of their earnings for themselves. Taking vacations now and then and rewarding themselves should also be part of their priorities. They deserve it.