Starting a company capable of long-term success is no easy feat. It takes guts, determination and a certain level of comfort with risk and ambiguity. While entrepreneurial pursuits can be exhilarating and worthwhile adventures, they also come with a fair number of less-than-ideal side effects.
The pain points on the business side of things are often rather obvious. They’re challenges you learn about and prepare for. What many don’t often plan for, however, are the obstacles that arise from facing an exponential increase in stressors. These obstacles tend to catch people by surprise, and are especially common among entrepreneurs.
As a marketing company (also launched by an entrepreneur), we have firsthand understanding of the entrepreneurial experience and work closely with other SMEs in pursuit of growing their companies. While we see the “cool” factor in this career choice, it’s important to acknowledge and manage the lesser-seen downsides.
So what are the top 5 psychological issues that entrepreneurs face in today’s market?
There are a few common themes that I see with entrepreneurs who seek psychotherapy. Typically the issues they face are not actually “caused” by becoming an entrepreneur, but more often, these challenges have simply become exacerbated by their current stressors, and may have reached a point that they are having difficulty managing these issues on their own.
For example, an entrepreneurial client who comes to therapy to work on reducing their current anxiety, has most likely experienced anxiety throughout their life, but may find it has simply reached a new level, and it may even feel so extreme that they don’t even remember feeling anxiety in the past (as it most likely was at a much more manageable level or they did not have the self-awareness to call it anxiety at the time).
Here are the most common issues that I encounter with entrepreneurial clients:
1. Anxiety: Many of the entrepreneurs I see in therapy come to address their anxiety that has been exacerbated by some of the inherent themes in being an entrepreneur. This includes: stress about the financials of the company (wanting to grow and generate more income), anxiety over various deals going through, lawsuits, daily anxiety about the ups and downs within the organization, issues with employees (including hiring and firing, social dynamics, company structural issues, etc.), and the ongoing pressure of having to keep generating revenue, and supporting their families and themselves.
2. Depression: Often when entrepreneurs come to me to work on improving their depression, there tends to be one of two themes. The first is when their business crashes in some way, they lose a significant amount of money, or something majorly negative happens. At that point they sometimes feel worthless, hopeless, stuck in the situation, and/or full of shame. The other time I often see depressed entrepreneurs is during the opposite phase, when they have already surpassed the point they considered “success”. While they have imagined this moment for practically their whole life being the best time ever, they now find themselves bored, without purpose, wishing they were still “in the game”, and realizing that it can be lonely at the top of the mountain and some say that it feels like the only place to go, is “down”.
3. Insecurity and Self-Doubt: Many entrepreneurs talk about having to put on a very confident front at work, in their personal life, at social gatherings, or anywhere else that they feel they have to positively represent “their brand”. However, many of them find themselves filled with self-doubt, fear that they aren’t as good as they think, negatively comparing themselves to the competition, and even becoming immobilized by fear of making the wrong decision and not knowing if they can trust their instincts (personally and professionally).
4. Difficulty Finding Work/Life Balance: One of the hardest parts about becoming an entrepreneur is figuring out one’s own work/life balance. Due to the “round the clock” nature of building and running your own company, they often find they don’t have much time for their family, friends, or even meeting a love interest. It can be painful for people in this situation to constantly feel like they are missing out on meeting “the one”, missing their child’s first ballet recital or little league game, or working on holidays like Thanksgiving, etc.
5. Loneliness: This one is often closely related to depression, but slightly different. Many people tell me that they have been fantasizing about having their own company for as long as they can remember, and hated working for other people. However, they often suddenly realize that when they are “the boss” they don’t have the camaraderie that they used to have when they were on the same corporate level as other people who could share their experience, grab lunch together, or be themselves with.
Suddenly, when they become the “the boss”, the dynamic is very different from how it was when they worked for someone else. They are often not included when their employees go out together, everything they say is held to a different standard, and the struggles are very different. I often hear, “it’s very lonely at the top”. In addition, many of their friends and family may not be entrepreneurs and often can’t relate to this struggle. Some of my clients feel embarrassed to discuss this issue with anyone outside of therapy, as they feel they may come across as ungrateful when other people can’t empathize.
Being an entrepreneur has recently become glorified as the “cool” career choice of the moment, where people picture themselves being able to do whatever they want, having lots of freedom, making tons of money, and never having to work for someone they hate again. However, like any career choice, it has its positives and negatives, and often people feel surprised by the magnitude of the negative surprises.
Of course, this list is very simplified and generalized, and there are other reasons someone who is an entrepreneur might seek therapy. In general, I don’t think that being an entrepreneur in and of itself “creates these issues”, but more often, it may serve as a catalyst to ignite a person’s pre-existing emotional “themes”, that they have not yet resolved.