In the startup world, founder mental health is an issue that is highly important but, unfortunately, largely overlooked. As an entrepreneur, having the opportunity to start your own company and watch your ideas come to life is an exciting and rewarding experience. But, with all the excitement also comes many challenges–most of which are dismissed or simply remain unspoken. The startup environment is, by definition, a place where there’s tremendous pressure to build quickly and rapidly adapt to change. Working around the clock and staying up all night is not only expected but celebrated. It’s crucial that we pay closer attention to mental health in startups, and especially among the founders who set the course.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and isolating, and it can feel like there’s no one to talk to. You want to be as transparent as possible with your team while still conveying stability and optimism. With investors, you need to instill a sense of confidence in your abilities and in the company’s success. Turning to your peers isn’t easy given how busy everyone is and your parents, friends, or partner often don’t understand.
Finding others to confide in hasn’t always been easy for me, but I have made it a point to deliberately put the right support systems in place. Having a framework for who to turn to in different situations often brings valuable advice and practical solutions. In addition to my friends and family, I have an executive coach, several trusted outside advisors, and a network of other CEOs who I can relate to and count on to listen without judgment. I also have a therapist, which allows me to work through issues that come up in work and life. All of these resources help me feel supported and connected, and enable me to show up as my best self, for myself and my team.
Being a founder is not only lonely, but it can also interfere with your sense of self-worth when personal identity and business become so intertwined. When I have spent so much time working on one thing that I am really passionate about and believe in, it can be scary to feel like the future of that work is uncertain. At times, it’s been easy to let my business consume me and become my whole life– and then when someone else doesn’t see the vision, it can feel like a personal hit. Fundraising can be particularly challenging, and I try to remind myself of an important distinction: my company is a representation of me, but it’s not me. If an investor says ‘no’ or ‘not right now’, it isn’t a personal knock on me as a human being and my qualities.
Investing in my personal wellbeing allows me to strengthen my self-worth and my identity as a person, not just a founder. After facing challenges over the years, I have learned how to prioritize mental health and wellbeing habits in a way that is practical for me. My main pillars are to sleep, eat well, meditate, and go to the gym each day. While I am not rigid about this, I try to schedule these activities on my calendar to make them commitments and I encourage others to do the same.
Carving out time for these daily habits directly benefits my business, since I am more focused, productive, and energized. By building a solid personal foundation, I can lead with more clarity and stability to ensure the success of my company, and my team. For me, the perfect startup world would be one where the success of a company, and the mental and emotional health of its leader, are not conflicting goals. And, I do believe this is possible. If we each do our small part to prioritize our own mental health, and that of our teams, we can start to positively redefine what ‘startup culture’ means on a larger scale.