I’m a member of an entrepreneur group. It’s full of people whose names you’d recognize, owners of companies with a worldwide presence. So I was stunned at a meeting recently, when one of our members stood up and confessed that he’d been struggling with crippling depression. What surprised me even more was that several other members said they were in the same boat.
Most people probably think of entrepreneurs as optimistic folks—after all, we were confident enough to go into business for ourselves—but it turns out that there’s a dark side to starting your own company.
It's time to acknowledge the six things business owners don't want to talk about.
1. Depression. Whether you’re talking about feeling a little blue or having a full-on, nonfunctional episode, it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to suffer from depression. But the tendency to be embarrassed or to hide what others may perceive as a weakness only exacerbates the plight, and refusing or withdrawing from the support of your friends and family can make the problem even worse.
Instead of ignoring the problem, get the help you need. You'll not only turn things around, but it may encourage others, who might be facing the same struggle, to seek help.
2. Personal sacrifice. Sam Walton, widely regarded as one of the great American entrepreneurs, said on his deathbed, “I blew it.” Putting your business ahead of your family and the quality of your private life is taking a step down a road that will be paved with regret. Entrepreneurs can sometimes focus on work to the exclusion of things—relationships with a spouse or with children—that will matter more in hindsight. We should strive to keep a smart balance between work and home.
3. Unhealthy habits. There’s never enough time in a day to accomplish everything, and entrepreneurs often prioritize work over things like exercise, taking the time to eat properly and getting enough sleep. Far too often, we choose work over physically taking care of ourselves; as it turns out, setting aside time for a healthy lifestyle can actually improve our outlook and focus and make us better leaders.
4. Trouble making and keeping friends. Part of the problem with maintaining friendships as an entrepreneur is one of perception. People will often think that, since you own your own business, you must have tons of money. We all know that’s often way off the mark. In fact, owners of small retail shops make some of the lowest hourly wages of any worker in the U.S. Also, when your priorities shift to your business, your old friends may not understand you and what's now required of you, and you’ll find it hard to set aside time to make new friends.
5. High expectations. The media plays up success stories like that of Mark Zuckerberg and other wildly profitable people who started a business from scratch. What's less interesting to cover—yet much more common—is the fact that a lot of businesses fail. Knowing that people are expecting you to achieve great success can make it even more difficult when you’re struggling through a rough patch. While some of the biggest opportunities await those who start their own businesses, the risks can be great as well.
6. The sense that you're the odd man (or woman) out. By nature, entrepreneurs are leaders rather than followers. We’re not content to take what life gives us, and that sets us apart from everyone else. But being different can be lonely, and it can be difficult to find people who understand and relate to the challenges of owning your own business.
It's time to acknowledge the problems and challenges entrepreneurs face. Once you do, you'll realize that some of those struggles are changeable—for example, there’s always time to exercise and eat well.
And while some of the challenges are part of the price you pay for pursuing your dreams, it's important to realize you’re not entirely alone. Other business leaders face the same struggles that you do. Maybe learning from their mistakes and successes can help you get over the hurdles.
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