A surprising number of entrepreneurs confess that they suffered from entrepreneurial terror. For many, it even becomes a part of their life. For others, it is somewhat intermittent, unpredictable, and creates a lot of anxiety. Waking up at 4 am with a racing mind, being on the brink of financial ruin and mental collapse, working long hours, and projecting optimism to colleagues and co-founders, all while having completely wrecked nerves.
Entrepreneurial success is seen as a heroic achievement in our culture. We idolize Jeff Bezos and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the crazy fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. However, 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 collapse.
Until recently, admitting such things was taboo. Rather than showing their true selves, entrepreneurs have practiced what social psychiatrists call impression management, also known as “fake it till you make it.”
The problem is, not everyone who walks through darkness makes it out. Some founders engage in more and more discussion about entrepreneurship and mental health; others take their own life. Lately, more business founders have started speaking out about their internal struggles. Many successful people with great visibility and charisma struggle with this silently.
If you run a business, this is probably very familiar to you. It’s a stressful job that can create a lot of turbulence. For start-ups, there’s a high risk of failure. Three out of four venture-backed start-ups fail, said Shikhar Ghosh, a Harvard Business School lecturer. Entrepreneurs juggle many roles and face many setbacks, loss of customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems, all while struggling to make payroll.
Young entrepreneurs often become less resilient to stress by neglecting their health. They eat too much or too little. They don’t get enough sleep, and they fail to exercise. So it should come as little surprise that they experience high anxiety levels and struggle to keep up with the work pressure.
The Problem With Being Passionate
Researchers found that many entrepreneurs share innate character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings. People on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are more likely to be entrepreneurial and have strong emotional states. Those states usually include depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking.
Mission-focused executives and start-up founders are some of the people most at-risk for burnout. Edward Ellison, a medical doctor and co-CEO of The Permanente Federation wrote about depression, anxiety, insomnia, physical and emotional exhaustion, and loss of cognitive focus associated with his peers and its impact in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
It’s a double-edged sword. The same passion that drives founders toward success can also consume them. Founders are “vulnerable to the dark side of obsession,” suggest researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. After conducting interviews with multiple founders for a study about entrepreneurs’ passion. They found that many subjects showed signs of clinical obsession, intense feelings of distress, and anxiety, which can have the potential to lead to impaired functioning.
So what is the solution to all of this? Stop being an entrepreneur, following a passion, and taking managerial roles? Talking about mental health issues will not solve it. In fact, speaking up only happens after the harm has been done; it doesn’t solve the root problem.
One shouldn’t be looking for the cure, but rather the prevention. And the best way to prevent this is to be prepared.
Success Leave Clues
Athletes all over the world spend days, months, and years preparing for their competitions. They condition themselves by training their craft (sports specific technique), body, and mind to endure the intensity of their training and the pressure of the competitions. No surprise that some of the athletes out there are the highest performing humans on the planet. The best out of them spend hours training their mind. Some do it methodically, regularly, included in their daily training schedule. And some do it periodically when approaching competitions to get ready to rumble.
The business of sports is not too different from entrepreneurship. Like in sports, entrepreneurs have teams, colleagues, clients, and investors who rely on them. Founders and CEOs play key roles, their training ground is the office, and they compete to make the world a better place. Similarly, entrepreneurs also work hard to improve their craft, whether it’s IT skills, creativity, project management; it’s a part of the daily business of every entrepreneur to gain expertise and become more skilled at what they do. However, founders don’t necessarily focus on training their bodies and mind. Working out is not always a priority, and mindfulness is not a priority, nor are they included in their daily schedule. However, both are extremely important for improving performance and preventing burnout.
Athletes understood it well. High performance is a multidimensional concept where one must focus on all its dimensions to be truly successful at what they do. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that athletes never hit the wall; in fact, some do, and they only do when they don’t have the proper support and tools around them. Sometimes also because they chase the wrong things, and when they blindly pursue the medals. However, they are far more equipped to handle pressure, and they are far more resilient than entrepreneurs in the long run.
A Holistic Approach to Performance
Entrepreneurs overlook the other aspects of High Performance. They often neglect their health. They don’t eat well. They don’t sleep and work out enough, and they overwork. As a result of that, they make themselves more susceptible to stress. In fact, they are not equipped with the right tools and strategies to be high performers. They are not the ones to blame. Instead, our schooling system teaches technical skills and orients us towards business specializations such as engineering and mechanical physics. I can’t remember a course about resilience, grit, and emotional management. I never heard of the benefits of mindfulness until later in my life. Nobody ever taught us anything about any of that.
The solution for entrepreneurs is to equally train their body, mind, and craft and approach high performance holistically.
Performance is the outcome of positive and controlled deliberate actions, attitudes, and behaviors. As a result of good performance, we can ultimately reach our personal and professional goals.
Performance is not an objective to reach; it’s instead a mindset to have. As a result of having the right attitude, performance becomes effortless.
A high-performing individual is a person who has found what they like and is consistently doing their best to become good at it and impacting others with it. They work on unlocking their full potential, finding fulfillment, and contributing as much and as long as they can to making a difference,
Performance is multidimensional. To truly perform better, one must improve holistically. To be more performant in life, you must improve your mental, emotional, and physical health.
5 Steps to Become A High-Performance Leader
1. The Mind: Think Well
The mental dimension plays a crucial role in improving our general performance. It all starts in the mind, and no, this is not a cliché; rather a fact that is backed up by science. Mental strength can be developed. Our abilities are not set in stone. Recent studies showed that we are capable of stretching our mental skills and continuously learning. This is called Neuroplasticity, and there are various ways one can improve their learning ability to strengthen their mental game.
2. The Emotions: Feel Well
To be successful in life and business, it is crucial to develop our Emotional Intelligence (EQ). In fact, many studies showed that EQ is far more important than our IQ. Unlike IQ, EQ can be improved, just like the software when it is updated. On the other hand, we are born with IQ, and it can’t be changed. Emotional intelligence is one of the critical skills that entrepreneurs need to learn to manage their emotions and their team.
3. The Body: Eat, Move, and Sleep Well
There is a strong link between how we feel physically and how we perform mentally. If you are tired and lacking the energy, you are unlikely to be at your best. Eating nature and the rate of your food ingestion will allow you to sustain good energy levels throughout the day, be focused, and think clearly. Exercising regularly makes us sharp, fit, and prepared to overcome whatever challenges that come our way. (Recovery practices)
4. The Craft: Keep Learning
The focus is on the professional dimension in improving technical professional skills. Whether you are an athlete or a business leader, developing your core professional skills is essential. These hard skills allow you to become a thought leader and an expert in your industry. One most continuously seeks to develop their professional skills. Long gone, the time where education and learning stop when you graduate from school.
5. The Spirit: Focus on Purpose and Core Values
Often overlooked, the spiritual dimension plays a significant role in improving our performance. We must be able to align our values and purpose with what we do. In fact, having a solid philosophy and knowing our why can make us go the extra mile and have more grit. Staying consistent and motivated is only possible when we are pursuing our core values.
High-performance leaders are more motivated and able to bring more of themselves to work every day.
Leaders who set up morning rituals and behaviors to better manage their energy have transformed their life positively. Going to bed earlier and giving up unhealthy habits make them feel rested and more motivated to exercise every morning.
In his book The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod talks about the benefits of waking up early and how setting up morning routines can positively impact people’s day and change the way they approach doing things in their lives. Ultimately, waking up early and starting the day on the right foot can boost people’s energy and productivity in the short and long term.
High performers can still put in long hours at their jobs, but they renew themselves regularly along the way. They schedule breaks to leave their desk and takes short moments to reboot with mindfulness and breath-work practices. They eat healthy so they can sustain their energy during the day. And when they arrive home in the evening, they can be more relaxed and better able to connect with their families.
High-performance leaders can also influence their teams to establish similar rituals, leading to striking results across their company. High-performance practices can show substantial improvements in customer relationships, financial metrics, engagement with work, and general personal satisfaction.
Linking Capacity and Performance
Most companies invest in developing employees’ skills, knowledge, and competence. Very few help build and sustain their capacity and their energy, which is typically taken for granted. In fact, higher performance makes it possible to get more done in a short time at a greater level of engagement and with more sustainability.
Last but Not Least
Begin with Stillness. “Stillness has been the secret weapon of the Stoics and the Buddhists, the Christians, the followers of Confucius, Epicurus, and so many others for thousands of years for a reason,” says Ryan Holiday. “It can help us thrive in a world that’s spinning faster than ever,” the author of Stillness is The Key adds. Stillness is the key to a great life, whatever that means for entrepreneurs. It’s the key to career growth, to happiness, to enduring adversity, to appreciate the wonders of existence.
Today, leaders, start-up founders, and managers from all over the world are being burned out by pushing themselves and their teams over their limits in unhealthy and unsustainable ways. And with the rising pressure from their investors and what is expected from them by society, they end up depleted rather than enriched.
Entrepreneurs must begin investing in themselves and in their teams across all the dimensions of their lives to build and sustain their value. Individuals will then bring all their multidimensional high performance wholeheartedly to work every day.