‘No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness’ Aristotle – 384-322 BC
The above quote from the revered ancient Greek philosopher is as true today as it ever was, with 72% of Entrepreneurs reporting being affected by mental health.
A few months ago, I received a LinkedIn Mail from a gentleman asking if I knew anyone who had built a business whilst dealing with mental health issues. Whilst I wasn’t personally aware of anyone, I was, and am, acutely aware that any entrepreneurial journey, in fact any journey of great achievement or success, includes overcoming failure and dealing with many challenges.
However, rather than just respond saying that I didn’t know of any examples, I wanted to understand more, and set out to research mental health in Entrepreneurs. As I started researching, it became evident that mental health was a huge problem, in business and entrepreneurship.
The more I thought about it, I guess it is less of a surprise than I first considered – after all, entrepreneurs are known to work harder, take more risks, go against the norm’s and challenge status quo’s in their chosen fields…
A quote that sums up an entrepreneur in a humorous way but makes the point is, ‘An Entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down’…
Although I prefer Richard Branson’s more reasoned quote: “An Entrepreneur is an innovator, a job creator, a game-changer, a business leader, a disruptor, an adventurer”
But, even Branson’s quote, with reference to leadership, job creation, innovating, disrupting, challenging/changing norms etc, you can start to sense why it may be a stressful career choice, rife with anxiety and risk – which therefore heightens exponentially the likelihood of mental health issues – certainly not for the faint hearted or those in search of a steady role that offers security, routine and/or balance.
Researchers highlighted that 72% of Entrepreneurs had been affected by mental health issues. The research also found that 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness (such as ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression, or anxiety) and about one third of entrepreneurs struggle with 2 or more mental illnesses! – more than 50% higher than population norms.
A Forbes study of 2000 UK start-ups/early-stage businesses ssated, “People often romanticise the idea of being an entrepreneur, but starting and growing a business is never an easy path – more often than not, the journey to success is fraught,”
“Entrepreneurs often put themselves under a huge amount of pressure to succeed”
Psychologists have found that some of the same genetic/behavioural traits that mean that a person may be predisposed or susceptible to mental health issues, are also common traits that are found in many entrepreneurs…. Fearlessness, risk-taking, limitless ambition, unrealistic work ethic, highly emotionally driven etc etc…
It is clearly a fine line that needs to be better/further understood, and requires a level of self-monitoring and awareness – what makes one person great may push another over the edge.
The research mentioned in this blog demands greater attention and focus, but the reality is that none of us are perfect – in the words of Shoma Morita (1874-1938), a famous and world renowned Japanese Psychologist (influenced by the principles of Zen Buddhism):
“Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.”
The Japanese have long understood and accepted that sometimes things (and people) get broken… but instead of discarding them, or seeing them as no longer of value or use, they see flaws & challenges as part of the story, that adds to an objects beauty, that makes the object or person special, individual and unique… to be lovingly repaired and cherished, not discarded, hidden or ashamed of. A beautiful manifestation of this belief/principle is the art of Kintsugi.
Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The process usually results in something more beautiful and infinitely more valuable than the original.
“In a world that worships youth, perfection, and the new, the art of Kintsugi contains a particular wisdom as applicable to our own lives as it is to pots, The care and love expended on the shattered pieces should also encourage us to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect, starting with ourselves and those around us.”
Having grown up in relative poverty, experienced bankruptcy in my 20’s, and losing my home shortly after, plus my share of challenges, stress and failure on my journey to the life I enjoy today, I believe beyond any doubt that our problems, pain, failures and weaknesses can, with the right direction and support, mould us into a stronger, more successful version of ourselves in the future.
And on that note, since I started with a quote, I’ll finish in the same vein.
“There’s a beauty in even broken things—and when mended with such attention and care, made even more beautiful…We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in,” Ernest Hemingway, 1899 – 1961