During my relatively short six-year journey through the startup landscape- I've been through ugly founder breakups, I've lost plenty of money, way too much time, and I ended up in the hospital from exhaustion from too many 100 hour weeks.
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of building new companies. I know of suicides, families being torn apart and of course severe depression.
While it can be exhilarating to be an entrepreneur or to work as a member of a startup, it's most certainly a roller-coaster of emotions- and it often goes on for YEARS. Successes are often followed by disappointments and just being able to process the complexities of legal agreements, founder disputes, hiring and firing employees, scaling or downsizing, taking on funding, failing, iterating...you get the point. It can and does boggle the mind.
The most helpful thing for me personally was to be able to compare notes on a regular basis with my fellow entrepreneurs who were going through similar challenges. Even with a monthly 'therapy' session with my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, my stress levels remained incredibly high and exercise and meditation were barely addressing my issues. Alcohol helped- only for a few hours- and of course, the next day - I was never at my best, unable to focus or be productive.
The good news is I'm not alone - nor do I feel that way. ( I certainly also recognize these issues are not unique to startups and they've been around for millenia)
One of my missions in the coming weeks, months and years is to provide my fellow startup enthusiasts and entrepreneurs with tools to become more educated, less stressed, more productive and more focused when it comes to their wellness- despite the constant barrage of change and tribulation.
My first public effort of this sort is to help moderate a discussion during the 2016 Boulder Startup Week with some of the most prolific and respected names in startups including Brad Feld, Jerry Colonna and Tom Higley. A key portion of this event will be a long Q&A session with the audience to ensure folks can get answers they need. Each panelist has important personal stories to share, and tools and modalities to recommend. None of us pretend to have all the answers- but each of us has enough experience to know that it's a fools errand to not listen to those who have been through it before. If we can help even one person who needs it- it will be worthwhile.
I believe the first step in this process is to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues in the entrepreneurial/startup realm. This will only happen when we openly and regularly discuss the issues, demonstrate that it's 'human' to have these challenges and to share our stories of how we've overcome them.
I will personally continue to explore healthy alternatives and approaches to my own stress including different mindfulness techniques, exercise that requires being fully present, and yes, therapy.
I also look forward to finding more colleagues and partners that are passionate about this subject.
To that end- I look forward to building further interactive and truly immersive programs in Colorado focused on entrepreneur wellbeing. I know we can help our colleagues lead healthier, more productive and happier lives. The impact of that can't be understated.
I hope you'll join me.
Two additional notes-
Our Mental Health Panel is at Naropa in Boulder on May 19th at 11am.
Sarah Jane Coffey's recent article 'It's Not You, Its The Startup Life' was also quite brilliant on this matter.