The Psychological Price Of Entrepreneurship
It can be difficult to imagine that entrepreneurship takes a psychological toll, thanks in large part to the media’s tendency to show the luxurious and exciting lifestyles of high-profile, successful entrepreneurs. However, those entrepreneurs are a very small percentage. Most successful entrepreneurs don’t have private jets or islands. Most don’t rub shoulders with diplomats or well-known celebrities. Most of us entrepreneurs live well, but not extravagantly by any means.
That is not to say these wealthy entrepreneurs have it made. Just like all entrepreneurs, achieving goals and maintaining success is quite challenging and can come with a psychological price. This is the nature of our chosen path.
Sure, idolization of the Richard Bransons and Jeff Bezoses of the world still exists. But that idolization may not be so attractive when the true cost of entrepreneurship is revealed. Depression and anxiety are often lurking in the shadows for us entrepreneurs. Not all experience it, but I believe that many of us have moments when mental health becomes a concern.
Research doctor Michael A. Freeman from the University of California San Francisco found disheartening results after studying the psychological price of entrepreneurship in 2015. The objective of the study was, “To investigate the prevalence and characteristics of mental health conditions among entrepreneurs and their first-degree family members.”
Dr. Freeman and co-authors of the study uncovered that mental health was a concern for 72% of the participating entrepreneurs. It was concluded that, “The findings of this study are important because they suggest an underlying relationship between entrepreneurship and many of the affective, cognitive, and behavioral differences associated with mental health conditions.”
Why is such a large percentage of entrepreneurs concerned or experiencing mental health issues? To understand this better, let’s look at some common entrepreneur obstacles that may be factors in the psychological price.
Entrepreneurs are often alone — by choice.
Being an entrepreneur is in many ways pretty lonely. Sure, you have friends, family and your team with you for the ride, but being transparent about the state of your business endeavor is left on your shoulders. For instance, entrepreneurs often need to put up a front in order to keep the confidence of investors, the team energized and family and friends unworried.
This can create a pretty lonely space for entrepreneurs. Since your front is up, you bear the brunt of all worries and anxiety alone. This is, of course, unhealthy and can contribute to the psychological price of entrepreneurship. I recommend finding a mentor because you can turn to them and have a sounding board for issues you may not want to share with others.
The entrepreneur spirit is very difficult to turn off.
The entrepreneurs I know are passionate, committed, determined and all-in every waking hour of every day. This includes weekends. When growing a business, it can be very difficult to turn off work and enjoy life. This is due to the investments made and what is ultimately at stake if you fail.
Many newbie entrepreneurs don’t fully understand that being an entrepreneur and business owner is not a 9-to-5 job. A study by BGF Ventures and Streetbees found that nearly 20% of U.K. founders are working 60-79 hours per week. And 53% of entrepreneurs never turn off.
It is certainly a calling. But that being said, there needs to be a balance to ensure that your personal life is intact even if your business fails. And any successful entrepreneur can tell you — failure is most certainly an option.
Failure is part of the entrepreneurial process.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the topic of failure as an entrepreneur. Failure is indeed part of the process, and the sooner you accept that, the easier it gets. But even though failure is part of the entrepreneurial process, it is difficult to reframe and shed your fear of failure.
Mark Cuban, American businessman and investor, has reframed failure in a very positive way. “It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, you only have to be right once.”
Feelings of failure can be a contributor to the psychological cost of entrepreneurship. It can derail your business and destroy relationships due to the anxiety and depression that bleeds into your personal life. Instead of focusing on failure, or “not failing at all costs,” focus on the accomplishments you have made in the past, no matter how small.
Are you paying the psychological price of entrepreneurship?
Identifying if you are at high risk for mental health issues due to your entrepreneurial endeavors can be hard. Most entrepreneurs are heads down on growing their business with little attention paid to the signs that you are not simply overwhelmed. These signs include a hopelessness in changing negative issues in your personal and professional life, decline in relationships, poor sleep and eating habits and change in emotions.
This is a real issue and, as an entrepreneur myself, I don't have all the answers. If you need to talk to someone about your mental health concerns, you can get information and resources from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or National Alliance of Mental Illness.