Entrepreneurs – Don’t be Drawn to the Dark Side

Passionate. Risk-taker. Confident. Rebellious. Innovator. Visionary. Resilient. Tenacity. Independent. Driven. These are characteristics commonly associated with entrepreneurs In this age of start-up madness, it’s not difficult to find entrepreneurs who exemplify these qualities. Ever heard of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates?

However, the handful of Marks and Bills are far outweighed by the number of professionals with equal amounts of passion, confidence, and tenacity who will never reach such great heights. Their companies will fold under pressure and the entrepreneurs themselves will crash.

Depression. Anxiety. Obesity. Addiction. Fear. Isolation. Desperation. Recent studies show these words are increasingly linked to entrepreneurship. “Call it the downside of being up. Business Owners are vulnerable to the ‘dark side of obsession.’ The same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them.” Knowing 3 out of 4 starts-ups fail, the risk of failure creates another level of stress for business owners that employees do not experience.

Entrepreneurs are invigorated by the “go go go” of starting a business. In addition, they tend to be Type A personalities who don’t delegate easily, compounded by the lack of discretionary capital which makes it difficult to bring on employees who could lighten the load. As a result, these leaders are juggling many roles; thereby, increasing the pressure they are under.  As the risk of failure increases, the focus on “self-care” decreases. A healthy diet and exercise are afterthoughts, rather than daily imperatives. Not to be overlooked, is the fact that, while entrepreneurs’ mental and physical health begins to deteriorate, they most likely suffer in silence- fake it ‘til you make it.  CEO of EnSite Solutions, Toby Thomas, explains the phenomenon with the following analogy: “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?’”

The prescription for entrepreneurs under stress is similar to that of regular employees. However, because a higher percentage of entrepreneurs feel stressed or worried than other workers, in addition to the fact that they have fewer socially acceptable and workplace avenues for help, it is even more important that they take steps to avoid going over to the Dark Side.

5 Things Entrepreneurs Can do to Avoid Being Pulled to the Dark Side

  • Develop a list of trusted advisors. By definition, a trusted advisor is someone you trust to be in the inner circle of your business or someone you would rely on to help you run your business in an efficient and effective manner. This is not something to be taken likely. Given that the stress of an entrepreneur is different than that of other employees (due to the added pressure of the entire company relying on YOU to keep them afloat), your trusted advisors should be professionals with whom you feel safe to share honestly and from whom you will get honest feedback.
  • Trust your trusted advisor. It is easy to connect with high-level professionals within your field. However, simply “connecting” is not enough. Building relationships with your trusted advisors takes effort. These advisors should be able to offer the “outside perspective” you might not have as someone in the eye of the storm and whose recommendations you will follow because you both trust and respect You chose your advisors carefully, now trust them.
  • Learn to delegate. Like your trusted advisors, your staff should be comprised of people you trust and respect- otherwise you wouldn’t have hired them or the people who hired them- so trust your staff to get his or her job done. It is difficult for many leaders to let go of control because they envision things being done a certain way. Keep in mind, that many of your employees possess the same characteristics you do. Their innovation, tenacity, or passion may lead them to different albeit fantastic ways of doing things.
  • Take care of yourself. When things get stressful, an entrepreneur’s tenacity may help more than hinder progress. The bigger the problem, the harder they work, foregoing other necessities such as sleep, healthy eating, and exercise. Committing to sticking to a consistent bedtime and exercise regime, the way you have committed to launching your business will ensure you are taking care of yourself.  And some of the best ideas are born as you pound the pavement.
  • Ask for help. This might be the most difficult step for many entrepreneurs. Creating your inner circle of trusted advisors requires reaching out. Trust in those advisors can only grow as they prove they are reliable and have valuable insight to share. This can only be proven if you are willing to share problems or concerns. That kind of vulnerability is never easy- especially in the professional world. However, asking for help is the only way you’re going to get the help you need and potentially decrease the risk of unnecessary anxiety and pressure. In some cases, when the anxiety leads to depression or is too much, entrepreneurs will need to reach beyond their trusted advisors and seek the help of a professional. (For great insight visit Brad Feld’s website FeldThoughts)

Entrepreneurs are not superheroes. Their innovative spirit and tenacity seem to rival the superhero strength of Superman and give the impression that they are the masters of their universe. The truth is they are human. Even Mark Zuckerberg is exhausted after doing a few 3 a.m. feedings with a newborn. If bent often enough, professionals will break… Shining a light on the Dark Side of being an entrepreneur and taking steps to avoid landing there, will hopefully allow these business moguls to be happy and healthy people, in addition to being successful.