An entrepreneur can be described as someone who passionately and creatively pursues an idea from concept to actualization as a result of a discovered need or challenge in the market. The path of an entrepreneur is filled with various challenges which include time management, outsourcing several tasks, marketing strategy, business growth, self-doubt, etc. But without capital, most businesses can’t get off the ground. As a result, there are thousands of passionate people across Africa who give up on their business idea and projects because they don’t have the financial means. Lack of capital is one of the biggest threats to entrepreneurs across the world, especially in tough business environments like Africa. In fact, most people say it’s hard – almost impossible – for entrepreneurs to raise capital on the continent, especially if you’re a start-up.
Nevertheless, successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Aliko Dangotes, Mike Adenugas, Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. We also celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, “harbor secret demons”. Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair, times when it seemed everything might crumble. Until recently, admitting such sentiments was taboo. Rather than showing vulnerability, business leaders have practiced what social psychologists call “impression management” – also known as “fake it till you make it.”
Not everyone who walks through darkness makes it out. In January 2018, well-known founder Jody Sherman, 47, of the e-commerce site Ecomom took his own life. His death shook the start-up community, reigniting the discussion about entrepreneurship and mental health that began two years earlier after the suicide of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, the 22-year-old co-founder of Diaspora, a social networking site.
Lately, more entrepreneurs have begun speaking out about their internal struggles in an attempt to combat the stigma on depression and anxiety that makes it hard for sufferers to seek help. In a deeply personal post called “When Death Feels Like a Good Option,” Ben Huh, the CEO of the Cheezburger Network humour websites, wrote about his suicidal thoughts following a failed start-up in 2001. Sean Percival, a former MySpace vice president and co-founder of the children’s clothing start-up Wittlebee, penned a piece called “When It’s Not All Good, Ask for Help” on his website. “I was to the edge and back a few times this past year with my business and own depression”.
Brad Feld, a managing director of the Foundry Group, started blogging in October about his latest episode of depression. The problem wasn’t new; the prominent venture capitalist had struggled with mood disorders throughout his adult life and he didn’t expect much of a response. But then came the emails, hundreds of them. Many were from entrepreneurs who had also wrestled with anxiety and despair. “If you saw the list of names, it would surprise you a great deal,” says Feld. “They are very successful people, very visible, very charismatic yet they’ve struggled with this silently. There’s a sense that they can’t talk about it, that it’s a weakness or a shame or something. They feel like they’re hiding, which makes the whole thing worse.”
If you run a business, this probably sounds familiar. It’s a stressful job that can create emotional turbulence. For starters, there’s a high risk of failure. Three out of four venture-backed start-ups fail according to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a Harvard Business School lecturer. Ghosh also found that more than 95 percent of start-ups fall short of their initial projections.
Entrepreneurs often juggle many roles and face countless setbacks – lost customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems – all while struggling to make payroll. “There are traumatic events all the way along the line,” says psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman, who is researching mental health and entrepreneurship. He found that approximately one half (49%) of entrepreneurs suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetimes. These include ADHD, bipolar disorder and a host of addictive disorders. Freeman’s research has shown that start-up founders are: twice as likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from ADHD, three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse, and ten times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder. They are also twice as likely to have a psychiatric hospitalization and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts.
Funding business in Nigeria is a daunting task, entrepreneurs face emotional challenges in search of seed capital to boost their business, which often results in mental strain that impede physical, psychological and social functioning. This strain may include depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking. But, it may be more than a stressful job that pushes some founders over the edge. According to researchers, many entrepreneurs share innate character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings. People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are more likely to be entrepreneurial and to have strong emotional strain.
Dealing with Mental Strain
To further complicate matters, new entrepreneurs often make themselves less resilient by neglecting their health. They eat too much or too little, they don’t get enough sleep, they fail to exercise, etc. You can get into a start-up mode, where you push yourself and abuse your body; that can trigger mood vulnerability.
Entrepreneurs always have high expectations for the business, they are not programmed for failure and have neglected risk bearing phenomenon. This often leads to regret phase in their business pursuit.
Entrepreneurs must learn how to:
- Embrace help seeking behaviour (professional help)
- Systematically and cognitively convert or replace unsuccessful events to successful ones.
- Find, nurture and own healthy relationships for support and growth
- Build resilience
- Eat well and sleep well( 7-8 hours per day)
- Exercise regularly, at least 3-4x a week; brisk walk for 30-45 minutes.
- Never relent on approaching the right and relevant financial institutions for funding.
- Join networks of entrepreneurs for support.
- CONNECT, CONNECT, CONNECT.
Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri popularly referred to as “THE CELEBRITY SHRINK,” is a multiple award winning Mental Health Physician & Advocate with over 15 years experience. She is the Medical Director and Psychiatrist - In - Chief at Pinnacle Medical Services, Nigeria’s leading and foremost Psychology and Mental health clinic prominent in the application of innovative clinical approaches in the management/treatment of a wide range of psychological, emotional, and behavioral related disorders.