Founders, We Have A Problem

Another month, another story of a founder committing suicide.

This is becoming a problem.  It’s high time we set aside pride and bring these issues out into the open.  Massive amounts of stress that possibly lead to depression are symptoms of a larger problem haunting founders and entrepreneurship right now, and I feel its getting worse.

Explaining-Depression

Previously I wrote about my experiences with stressful times and depressive thoughts.  I emerged from it and discovered it’s quite normal given what a founder puts himself through when starting a company.  Although it can be one of the greatest things you will do in your life, choosing to be a founder is NOT normal and whomever chooses the path must understand it takes extra effort to handle the stress.

I learned through the process: it’s not if you are going to experience depression, but when.  Will it happen right out of the gate due to anxiety about starting something brand new?  Will it grip you once your honeymoon phase wears off and you realize startup life is not as easy as the media makes it seem?  Or will it be once your bank account balance is red with parentheses around the numbers?

It’s just a matter of time.

Any one of those scenarios can trigger a withdrawal reaction deep inside your psyche, which kicks into motion a series of events that can end in a downward spiral.  And you may be so focused on your task at hand you won’t even know its happening.

I believe this is a huge problem, and its getting worse.  Much worse.  So bad that we need to start paying a lot more attention to the causes of these pressures before it’s too late.  We need to figure out how to battle back, because one more founder suicide is too much.  I mean really, we should never accept people jumping from buildings simply because they missed their monthly projections and received another NO from a potential investor.  Never.

I will point to us (as a society) and the media (wanting evermore clicks) for creating this nightmare, and here’s why.

The pressures of being a founder have magnified with social media.  Heck, today the pressures of being a decent human being seem to have magnified to scary extremes due to technology pervading our every second.

All this real time social sharing of our “awesomely magnificent” lives places unattainable standards on the most average of people.  Back in the day you would have had to pick up a US Weekly magazine when standing in the line at the supermarket to see bikini clad women on a beach partying with a group of good looking guys. Or an exotic beach house someone is renting for a weekend get away. This was all normal because it was typically celebrities living a life of abundance or random paid models in a magazine or on TV. Psychologically, we could deal with the dissonance.

Now, all you have to do is open Facebook on your phone to feel the pain of missing out. The excruciating difference is you know them personally, and maybe were even invited but couldn’t make it!  And now you have FOMO.

“Man, look at them.  They’re all are having a great time and I’m laying here on the couch like a loser.”

Can we all agree that most of the shit we see Facebook, Instagram, twitter is not real life? It’s people’s highlights.  It’s the best of the best pieces of their lives. When surfing Facebook and Instagram we must keep in mind no one shares the boring, crappy and mundane stuff (okay, yes there are those people we end up hiding but most sane people filter their thoughts and posts).

If you look at Facebook, Instagram or other social photo sharing apps – numerous times a day – you are subconsciously beating your self up.  EVERYDAY.

You are doing this because as humans we naturally compare ourselves to others.  It’s a survival mechanism.  Survival of the fittest, and if someone is doing better than you, or stronger, or better looking, or more fit, prettier, wealthier, smarter, free-er, etc… it threatens your very existence.

Of course, all the above is a function in startups and happens to founders as well.  We read about such and such new startup raising a huge round of funding on TechCrunch and wonder why we haven’t hit it big yet.  We hear about a big acquisition deal and beat ourselves up because we haven’t earned our millions yet.  Couple that with the pressures of supporting a company, sharing the vision with everyone when they don’t believe you, making the employees payroll and all the other things to worry about. A founder’s shoulders can only bear so much weight before they break.

I don’t have the ultimate answer but I can say this: depression happens – probably to most everyone – so it’s not the thing to worry about here.  What is most important is what you choose to do before and during your most challenging times in an effort to ebb and flow through it.

Do you have a pet who can be your best friend and bring you joy no human can do?  Do you meditate or frequently reflect on your thoughts?  I just started and I’m excited to see where that journey takes me.  Do you have a therapist or someone unattached you can counsel with on a consistent basis?  Do you get enough physical exercise to blow off steam and stay healthy?  Do you monitor your social media and technology usage so you maintain the proper perspective about yourself and yourself worth?

Depression happens and quite possibly outside of your control .  What you do about it is up to you.

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