This section is aimed at helping you cope during the worst of times as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur you probably have a reputation for working intensely, driving yourself and others to attempt the impossible. You likely work in a high risk situation, put in long hours, neglect personal relationships and sacrifice your health to do whatever it takes to make your startup a success.
That is likely to have driven you into several periods when you experienced some depression, an anxiety state or two, or into emotional fatigue a few times.
If that’s you, then this section will show you ways to get help when you need it most: when you enter what I’ll all your Dark Times.
Help can come in several ways. All are focused on how to get behavioral insight about yourself, to change your life patterns, to give family members, colleagues, and friends permission to confront you, and to read helpful books.
I’m going to end up positive in spite of what I’m about to say, so stick with me a bit.
Every entrepreneur encounters situations that trigger intense personal reactions that can move you into Dark Times. If not corrected, your mental health can continue to deteriorate and enter what medical people call burnout – to people suffering from that the situation feels like an illness. Whatever moniker you use, it’s serious.
Only the naïve think it will not happen to them. I’ve entered Dark Times myself, several times. I’ve been close to others who hit their limits and suffered deep emotional distress. It’s unavoidable. It happened to each of the CEOs I coached and to others whom I watched closely. I’ve talked with medical professionals and clinical therapists: they agree. I’d say it’s a universal entrepreneurial malady.
Dark Times are serious and common, yet the condition is seldom spoken of in public, nor is it often documented. Reasons include attempting to avoid social shame plus fear of being seen as weak. Pride and fear are very powerful.
In this section, I’ll show what happens to drive entrepreneurs into Dark Times and give examples of things they did to emerge as a healthier person. I’ll explain what you can do from what they learned about avoiding descending deep into the pits of despair.
Goal is Maintenance: “How Can I Avoid Repeating This?”
The aim is to get you fortified and able to avoid the worst of Dark Times.
To begin, I’ll give you some actual situations that I and other entrepreneurs have been in. They are real and scary.
What if you finally realize that you cannot make it, you are not the person able to keep your startup alive – it’s going to end up in the dumpster? You just can’t hack it – and now a nine-to-five job in a giant corporation sounds like the most wonderful gift you could ever get.
That’s when you’ll find yourself in one of your Dark Times. Intense, black, hopeless, frightening.
What if, no matter what you did to overcome, every bad thing imaginable seems to have happened to your dream, your personal creation, that new enterprise, and disaster has arrived, you feel it intensely. Complete failure is just around the corner. Your brain goes on overload imagining what it will feel like when the news goes viral over social media. How do you tell your family and friends – employees and the investors who will lose all their money? That’s a very Dark Time.
When your startup gets into serious trouble such as above, then you’ll begin to question yourself: “How did I ever get into this? Why did I think I could be a successful entrepreneur?” It may be true, that you just don’t have what it takes to build a successful new business. You may need a lot more experience running a business. Or you may have to have many more encounters to become street smart and wise about managing people before trying to lead a new enterprise. Or your fear of missing out drove you to act foolishly, meaning that attempting your startup when you did was the wrong time for you to give entrepreneurship a try.
The important question is “Next time, what can I do to avoid slipping into my Dark Time?”
Tips to Avoid Slipping Into Your Dark Time
I’ve experienced a lot of Dark Times. I’ve been bankrupt, surviving with a wife and two infants on welfare and food stamps. I’ve been fired eight times. I’ve rocketed to stardom and crashed. I’ve exalted over startups I coached that went public and those that were sold successfully, while I closed the doors on many others and walked away with the founder CEO. Each time I entered my Dark Times. Yet ach time I grew personally healthier and learned to do something better from each episode.
I’ve worked with CEOs and leaders and investors of startups who privately shared with me their Dark Times. I collected what I learned over the decades and found some things that worked consistently well for myself and others. Now they can help you.
- Beware: Respect your personal bias toward over-commitment of work effort and thus becoming damaged mentally and physically, needing to recover. An entrepreneur is a type-A personality: goal oriented, highly motivated, energetic, and focused. And they are constantly overly-optimistic. They often work so intensely that they cross a line and initiate a personal condition that can lead to what is known as emotional fatigue or “burn-out.” This condition begins quietly and can grow to dangerous levels if not recognized and stopped.
- This Is Serious: Dark Times quickly disable even the strongest-willed people, affecting both physical and mental capacities. If unchecked, it can lead to all sorts of serious health issues.
After years of watching entrepreneurs wither during their Dark Times, I’ve concluded that it “comes with the package” meaning startup people are naturally prone to drive themselves so intensely that they inevitably get into deep personal emotional, health and relational troubles.
- Construct Your Personal Warning System – Now. Symptoms signaling the arrival of your Dark Times can be detected – but you are likely to be the last to see yourself heading toward serious trouble. Medical professionals agree. Licensed, clinical behaviorists tell me people are unlikely to see this trouble arriving, they do not recognize their own dangerous behavior.
But people close to you can recognize what’s happening to you and they can be helpful. I’ve found that experienced entrepreneurs respect this blindness and act as soon as the startup has begun.
- They put on high alert their support people: spouses, close friends, work colleagues and even children.
- They ask them to remain alert, watching for signs of dangerous behavior, and then to be confronted about what has been observed: signs that signals serious trouble may be starting (again).
Examples they can look for in you include:
- Irritability and anger over small things;
- withdrawal from people;
- panic attacks, and
- escaping to high-risk behavior (porn, repeated affairs, alcohol, drugs, gambling, gluttony, compulsive-shopping, binge game playing, and compulsive, risky sports).
Now – not tomorrow – is the time to build your early-warning network if you do not already have one on the alert. Tell people to get ready, to actively watch and listen for symptoms in you of Dark Times trouble beginning.
- Get More Help: You will need the best professional help to recover. Falling into Dark Times is serious. Once you are in the pit, it’s very hard to climb out on your own. It’s not overcome by going to a movie, taking a weekend at a spa, playing a 24-hour day of computer games, or going to a retreat on top of a mountain.
To make this crystal clear, look at the situation like this: Imagine yourself trying to raise a very heavy weight up from the bottom of a deep well, while pulling on a very slippery rope, heaving with all your might, unsuccessfully. You cannot do it alone. It’s time to bring in professional help, the pros who are licensed and certified.
- Pros Only: You must select only licensed and certified professionals. Dark Time situations are too serious for self-help and amateurs to get you back to health; less than the best often lead to worsening your situation. Professionals are deeply trained and experienced, legal and highly recommended. Health insurance pays for their time.
Four qualified groups include psychiatrists, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers and licensed clinical psychologists. Plus consider a “life coach” from those who have entered that new profession.
Seek recommendations of the best from people you trust. If you find you have entered a dangerous addictive condition, then you’ll need help ASAP, immediately. The twelve stepper programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and related anonymous groups (drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, eating, et alia) are trustworthy and successful. Your loved ones will be relieved and encouraged.
- Learn About Yourself: Your Responses to Encounters: Pros and family and friends can contribute to deep insights about how you behave, cope and thrive when Dark Times arrive.
Your aim should be to become especially skilled at what you do to cope when you get very scared – or bored to tears. It will take deliberate time to figure out how to end your destructive escapes. If you are addicted, you’ll slip off the wagon several times – that’s very discouraging and results in feelings of hopelessness that push you into serious situations. Get prepared for those situations so that you act immediately and make your call for help from the professionals.
I wish you The Best during your Startup