Riding the Lion: Admitting the fears behind entrepreneurship

We have all been there. Staring up at the ceiling at 4 o’clock in the morning. Mortgage payments, college tuition, the big pitch that day, making payroll.  Jessica Bruder’s article, “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship,” in Inc. last fall, addresses the very real anxiety most entrepreneurs face, but very few talk about.

According to the article, “Entrepreneurs often juggle many roles and face countless setbacks–lost customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems– all while struggling to make payroll." But the underlying theme of the article is that few people talk about these challenges, leading to states of “ depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking.”

In the article, Toby Thomas, CEO of EnSite Solutions shares his favorite analogy about entrepreneurs: a man riding a lion. "People look at him and think, This guy's really got it together! He's brave!" says Thomas. "And the man riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?"

Here at Sinu we work with many small business owners–and are entrepreneurs ourselves– so this probably sounds familiar to many of you reading this. However, while Bruder does an excellent job of citing examples of other entrepreneurs who have made it through the stress of start-ups and the ups and downs of running a business, the article can get a bit dark. Bruder writes: “But many of those entrepreneurs…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.” She also gives a few examples of people who struggled with suicidal thoughts, and one that just did not make it to the other side.

In the end, the article gives advice on how to combat the stress of running a business: exercise, eat right, nurture your home life, limit financial exposure, and the like. But the real take-away is that Bruder’s report, along with several experts referenced in the article, gives permission to break down the stigma of admitting the anxiety of entrepreneurship and makes a case for the mental-health benefits of discussing these struggles with other people rather than suffering silently.