Let’s talk about a subject that’s not often talked about when it comes to entrepreneurs: depression.
Now, I’m no expert on mental health, but I do know a little bit about the ups and downs of dealing with everyday life with depressive temperament.
Let’s just say I’m the type that has trouble seeing the bright side in life. I scrutinize. I criticize. I see all the negative. I focus too much on the negative. But in the negative is where I see all the opportunities. In other words, I know how to fix things. It’s what I obsess about.
It’s honestly probably why I became an entrepreneur in the first place.
I saw all the limitations of my life – and life in general – and I wanted more from it all. I had an inkling from an early age that life could really suck for a lot of people, and that inkling was only amplified when I became an adult and joined the workforce.
Have a boss? Be told what to do and when to do it? Suffice to say, your whole perspective can change once you get a crappy job that you need to keep in order to pay your bills (and show everyone around you, including and especially your parents, that you’re becoming an “adult,” just like you promised). It’s even worse when your boss is terrible and micromanages you like a moron.
In your life, your caring parents and your passionate teachers always told you, “You could be anything, kiddo.” Those words still ring off in your ears ever so softly every now and then. But then they come to a strong halt when your manager says to you, “You know, you are expendable. I can hire two interns for free to fill your role.”
Add that in with a weak economy back in 2013? Yeah, that’s when you feel really, really small.
The Initial Glory of Starting a Business
It was at this time that I began to think about the glory of running my own business, being my own boss, making my own schedule, and creating something I could call my own that would make me feel fulfilled.
I didn’t go out and recklessly quit my job, no. I wish I did. But I was never that courageous – or stupid, depending on how you see it. I personally think it’s foolish, however, many of the greats we look up to did just that: they quit their jobs, didn’t have a single source of income lined up, and they made it happen despite everything. Kudos to them.
But I was focused on my path, my journey.
Slowly but surely I started thinking about side hustle ideas and eventually growing a couple little businesses, well, on the side. Part-time side hustling. Working nights and weekends. Running home after work to complete a project for a client. Or finishing up some mindless gig on Fiverr to make a quick dollar. Truth be told, the grind made me feel alive.
For a little while. But then I got burned out. I was stressed out… all the time. Running a business and oscillating between feeling glorious and feeling overwhelmed was severely impacting my mental health. It was hard enough managing my bouts with depression as a normal, 9-to-5er. Now I was doing it as a 9-to-5er with a part-time job on the side.
And don’t get me wrong, it was working out pretty successfully – the money I wanted, the money I needed to enjoy my life, I was getting. I made an additional $30K outside my $57K salary. A total of $87K and more so like $60K if you take into account taxes. Way more money than my friends were making. But it wasn’t enough. Not only financially but also spiritually. And I was balancing all of these feelings while recognizing that I was running out of steam. I felt helpless.
The Toll Running a Business Takes On Your Mental Health
I still felt ambitious but the truth is it wasn’t a convincing sense of ambition. It was fleeting. It would come and go. I’d watch a dumb Gary Vee video and feel pumped up for a few hours. I would think, “Oh, I know, I’ll be happy when I make a million dollars, that’s when. I’m not making enough money, that’s the reason I feel awful.” As if the only factor preventing me from maintaining the feeling of glory was the amount of money I was making, or the rooms I was invited in.
But all in all there were many perks of running my own business.
The perks made me feel been great. They made me feel accomplished. They empowered me to walk taller, speak with more confidence, and be excited to talk about what I do.
So, yeah, there have been a lot of positive results from this journey. I can’t deny that.
But there also have been some negative effects as well. It’s all just a byproduct of pursuing something difficult and unconventional; some things take their tool, some worse than others.
And that’s really the message I want to get across: there are a lot of reasons why running a business, particularly a side hustle, can have a negative impact on your mental health. I’m not saying don’t do it. But I am saying you should really consider every facet of the life of a businessperson before deciding to start a business, even more so if you have poor mental health.
That said, if you do decide to embark on the path of being an entrepreneur, it’s increasingly important to know all the reasons why business-owning can negatively affect people’s lives.
It’s all about the life you want.
1. Business is a lonesome game.
For one, it’s all just a grind. The world around you socializes – they go out, they drink, they party, they go to museums and dinner parties and have promiscuous sex and talk about the newest Netflix documentary (e.g., “Did you hear? There’s a new Fyre Festival documentary. No a newer one. A newer one than the new one. It just came out!”).
Are you doing all those things?
Hell no. I mean, maybe sometimes. Once a quarter, perhaps.
You can’t do it any more than that. You’re busy. You’re working. You’re emailing. You’re collaborating and assessing opportunities and monitoring threats.
You’re not out. You’re inside. You’re looking at a computer after a full day’s of work. You’re trying not to fight with your significant other. You’re talking to him/her in between issuing invoices to unhappy clients, hoping that that little bit of time being “present” is enough to express love and passion and care.
You’re present, alright: presently wondering how productive you would be if you didn’t have to spend time with anyone. Admit it!
You’re preoccupied trying to convince yourself you care about your business and your partner equally. You tell yourself you’re doing it for him or her. You say, “This is for our future kids.”
But question: do you ever wonder if you’re just the businessman or businesswoman version of Walter White, creating something potent, gaining a presence larger than yourself, claiming you’re doing it for your family, in full freakin’ denial that it was always about you the whole time?
Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you. But I hope you admit it to yourself. It’ll save you from a lot of fights.
We’re all just trying to connect the dots of our business while trying to maintain some level of connection to others. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s lonely. It sucks sometimes.
2. Running a business limits your view of what’s important in life.
What happens when your business is in the gutter and in debt and it’s your dad’s 70th birthday?
How can you be present? How can you look him in the eye, wish him happy birthday, when all you can think about is if you screwed your life up. If you’re a failure. If you let everybody down.
Your head is all in the numbers. Leads. Conversion rates. Profitability. Taxes. Projections.
You can’t enjoy the little things in life. Who has time for the little things? You want the big things. You want movement, momentum, reassurance, ROI.
You are always thinking about your business regardless of the circumstances around you.
And even when you are able to present, which will be on rare occasions, you’re going to be tired. You’ll be beat.
It’s sad because life is so much bigger than being a CEO. There’s nature, music, activities, cute little moments when your cat jumps in the air and it makes your young cousin laugh – but you’re not “there” to see it because you’re on the couch, drained, checking your site’s Google Analytics dashboard on your phone, hoping you didn’t hit with the most recent core algorithm update, holding your breath.
This is the life you’re signing up for.
Again, this isn’t to discourage you. It’s to enlighten you, teach you what I had to learn the hard way on my journey. This is to give you insight in advance so that maybe you prepare yourself mentally for the grind or at least begin thinking about ways you can circumvent some of these (likely) inevitable issues.
3. Being an entrepreneur makes you incredibly selfish.
In Greg McKeown’s excellent book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he talks about being tasked at one point in his life with having to decide between being his wife while their first child was born and attending a business meeting. How insane is that?
But that’s the thing: in that moment, when you weigh the decisions on a level of practicalness, it’s actually not an easy decision at all. It’s like an existential decision tree.
Option 1: Side with yourself + your job
Attend the meeting > don’t piss off your boss > keep your job > continue making enough money to support your family, and now the new member of your family > everyone’s happy and fed > then, find another job that’s less strict and live the rest of your life with beautiful circumstances.
Option 2: Side with yourself + your family
Don’t attend the meeting > piss off your boss > lose your job > cease making enough money to support your family, and now the new member of your family > everyone’s unhappy and maybe not fed > then, find another job that’s just as strict because stricter jobs are more likely to have openings and live the rest of your life with uncertain and volatile circumstances.
But in the middle of all that is the notion that you’re still heavily thinking about yourself.
And that’s the trickiest part about running a business when you have a full life around you: you’re self-centered and often thinking about what’s best for you.
Think about it: your whole life is tied up in this business you’ve started and invested money in.
So every decision you make considers the impact of your choice on your business and thus yourself.
At the end of the day, enjoying life can be an arduous task for a lot of people; it can be even more arduous if your business or side hustle is hurting your mental health.
Think about these things. Be mindful. Become a mindful entrepreneur.
If you associate the idea of success with the trajectory of your business, then if your business is up – you’re up. If your business is down – you’re down.
That’s how it works.