In May 2014, Matt Berman was found dead. He was the third prominent entrepreneur in the Las Vegas startup scene to commit suicide within the last year and half. It is unfortunate that often such dramatic and sad events are necessary to open a dialogue, but I believe it’s important that we use such events to help us take pause and reflect.
For a community that makes massive use of media tools (blogs, social media, conferences, etc.) to discuss every possible issue around entrepreneurship to death, from content marketing, to AB testing, to capital raising, we do a horrible job discussing mental health. The reality is that the path of entrepreneurship is often very lonely and punishing. You’re saddled with the high expectations from people in your life who generally have very little understanding of what being an entrepreneur really means, and a community that reinforces the belief that success is a matter of working harder.
This is a ridiculous belief, and one that can be compared to an f1 team attempting to win races by red lining their engines more. To be successful an f1 team instead focuses on a sophisticated understanding of the capabilities of their systems and how far and how long they can be pushed, but as entrepreneurs we spend less time tuning our mental and physical systems, and more time simply pushing the pedal further towards the floor.
We need to start having these conversations. We are making progress, as can be evidenced by a very well received talk on mental healthy by Sherry Walling at Microconf 2014, or this excellent post on the perils of the startup “dream” by Ali Mese. However, given the amount of over analysis we’ve applied to every other aspect of being an entrepreneur this topic is still woefully underrepresented.
If you’re an entrepreneur don’t be afraid to open up these conversations. It’s true that you probably need to maintain a confident face in front of your team, but lean on the other entrepreneurs in your community. Chances are they’re going through similar challenges and will be thankful for an opportunity to discuss them.
If you’re a friend, partner, parent, etc. of an entrepreneur take the time to get them to open up. Generally business is not going well (at least not as well as we want) and we’ve long since learned to dodge the question of “How’s work?” because we just don’t have a good answer. Take the time to dig deeper and understand better what we’re going through.
For either group I’d highly recommend these books (and if you know of others please let me know) which give an honest narrative of what an entrepreneurs life looks like, including a few ups, and often many more downs. They can help us all understand what a typical (I use the term loosely as there really isn’t a typical) career as an entrepreneur looks like, and that the challenges you are going through are normal.
Entrepreneurship is hard, and mainstream media’s love affair with stories of overnight successes for teenagers in garages puts unreasonable expectations on those who take the dive. We can do better helping each other carry that burden.