About six months ago, I gave notice and left my last position in HOA management. On the record, I gave notice because I relocated three hours north of my previous home in San Diego County, and managing communities is not something you can do well remotely. Off the record, I was burnout on that career for years before I sent that notice. I decided to leave managing and the corporate world and start my own writing business. I didn’t ask myself one very important question: is the cost of being an entrepreneur too high?
I’m not talking about the money you spend when you start a business. Everyone knows it takes money to make money. What I’m talking about is the toll on your mental and emotional health. It turns out, 2 out of 3 entrepreneurs suffer from a mental illness. They are twice as likely to suffer from depression and three times more likely to have a history of substance abuse. That same study showed that close relatives of entrepreneurs are also twice as likely to have depression, anxiety, ADHD, and substance abuse issues. Wow. Did I jump from the frying pan into the fire? Keep reading to find out.
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Famous Entrepreneurs Who Paid the Price
If the statistics above, taken from a study co-authored by psychiatrist Michael A. Freeman, MD in 2015, aren’t enough evidence for you, consider these real-life examples of success icons that paid (or are paying) the high price of being an entrepreneur with an obsessive passion for their business.
- Aaron Swartz – created RSS and co-founded Reddit. He took his own life in 2013. A book of his writings, Raw Thought, Raw Nerve: Inside the Mind of Aaron Swartz, was published after his passing.
- Ariana Huffington – co-founded The Huffington Post and founder/CEO of Thrive Global. Author of Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time, and The Female Woman. She battled stress-induced insomnia.
- Ben Huh – CEO of The Cheezburger Network and internet entrepreneur. He struggled with depression and now advocates to encourage entrepreneurs to get therapy.
- Elon Musk – CEO of Tesla and a growing list of other well-known companies. Elon admitted to having bipolar disorder. Maybe that’s why he bought Twitter.
- JK Rowling – Author of the Harry Potter series and other books. In interviews, she speaks of periods of depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Kate Spade – Fashion Designer and Founder of the Kate Spade label. She also took her own life in 2018. The sweet, whimsical designs she created hid a darker side.
We could keep going down the alphabet, but do we need to? It seems the cost of being an entrepreneur is too high for even those icons of success that we all look up to.
What Exactly Is the Cost of Being an Entrepreneur?
If, like me, you choose to be an entrepreneur you risk:
- Longer hours and less time on vacation
- Poor judgment caused by exhaustion
- Relationships (and relatives) suffer
- Substance abuse problems
Why Is the Cost of Being an Entrepreneur So High?
Once you accept that entrepreneurs pay for success with their (and their family’s) mental health, you ask why is that? What makes working for yourself so dangerous? Well, for starters, 90% of businesses fail entirely or fall short of predictions. That previously mentioned psychiatrist who co-authored a study on entrepreneurs and mental health (Michael A. Freeman) said energetic, motivated, and creative people are more likely to be entrepreneurs but are also more likely to be overly emotional. It seems the same passion that drives them also consumes them.
A related 2018 Harvard Business Review study by Eva de Mol, Jeff Pollack, and Violet T. Ho found that there are two types of entrepreneurs and that one type pays a higher price than the other. The two types are outlined below.
The Obsessive Entrepreneur
This entrepreneur, let’s call them Type A, has one goal, one dream, and they will stop at nothing to make it happen. These people can be highly successful, and most of the famous entrepreneurs listed above are Type A. But, there’s a problem. Type A entrepreneurs often tie their personal worth and identity to their business because they devoted their whole life to the single-minded pursuit of it. They don’t have much outside of the business to fulfill and sustain them. If the business fails, a massive identity crisis results.
The Flexible Entrepreneur
The flexible entrepreneur, or Type B, is more open to failure. They have a goal, but if it doesn’t work out, they have plans B, C, and D. A failure is a learning opportunity or a sign to move on to something else, and not a direct reflection of their self-worth. Type B entrepreneurs are more resilient and less affected by hard times. These entrepreneurs pay a much lower price than their Type A counterparts.
Suggestions for if You Still Want to be an Entrepreneur
Still want to be your own boss? Yeah, me too. And, there are ways for you and me to minimize the price we pay for it. Try out the suggestions listed on this graphic:
Finally, as Ben Huh advocates, entrepreneurs need therapy, perhaps more than other segments of society. A sad truth is that many entrepreneurs have minimal health insurance coverage and/or budget for mental health support. But, that doesn’t have to mean you go without. Even with no insurance, if you ask around, you can find therapists with sliding fee scales. There are also free telephone hotlines like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and reasonably priced mental health services like BetterHelp. Take advantage of any programs within your means.
Although the road to success is difficult, even if you’re not an entrepreneur, it’s still worth traveling. Just remember to take care of yourself and keep your balance along the way. And, keep in mind that success is more about a good life than wealth and status. If you want to learn more about what success really is, click here.
Until Next Time,
- David Finkel, July 2019, “When the Price of Success Is Too Much: The Psychological Costs of Being An Entrepreneur”
- Cassandra Miasnikov, “For Entrepreneurs, the Price of Success Could Mean Your Mental Health”
- Andy Chan, August 2019, “The Unspoken Emotional Cost of Being An Entrepreneur”
- Harvard Business Review, Eva de Mol, Jeff Pollack, Violet T. Ho, April 2018, “What Makes Entrepreneurs Burn Out”
- Nidhi Singh, October 2018, “Entrepreneurs Who Battled Depression For Years”
Additional Reading for Entrepreneurs:
How To Take Care of Yourself:
9 Simple Shifts to Create a Life You Don’t Need to Escape From
Learn 9 easy self-care habits to help you create a life you don’t need to escape from.
5 Surprising Ways Magnesium Benefits You
Learn why you need magnesium in your diet and what to eat to get more of it.
20 Reasons Why You Should Walk It Off
Learn 20 reasons why a walk a day is the secret to good health.