Time’s Up

As a female entrepreneur, I want to lend a voice to the Time’s Up Movement, and the grassroots Me Too Movement. I’m so proud of the women who have stepped-up to end sexual harassment and abuse. These are courageous movements spotlighting the power imbalance, that have traditionally kept women locked into inequality, shame and fear in the workplace. While the Time’s Up Movement is focused on building defense funds, legislation and advocacy, it has become a clarion call to men and women in business and industry to once and for all, end sexual misconduct and persistent harassment.

Women and girls are increasingly sexualized in the media. Music videos, reality shows, video games, ads, and wide-spread porn sites impact the way women and girls are depicted and treated. As women find their voice against sexual harassment and abuse, I hope we also evaluate ourselves in the process.

Women are willing participants and consumers in the production and consumption of media which sexualizes women. No doubt, the Women’s Lib movement, for all its good, also spawned sexual liberation — in part demanding parity with male counterparts. But, while a bite of milk chocolate might be tasty, a steady diet of it will wreak havoc on the body. Like too much chocolate, the saturation of sexualized women in media comes at a cost. The message permeating our culture is girls need to be sexy, not powerful; noticed and not respected.

Young Girls Are Harmed By Sexualized Media Portrayals
The American Psychological Association reports that the proliferation of sexual images of girls and young women in the media are harming their self-image and development, creating negative feelings about their own body, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and unhealthy sexual self-image. As Spark blogger, Ness Fraser puts it, “These messages tell young girls that the most important thing to be in life is sexy, desirable, and for lack of a better term, f-able – no matter what age you are or how inappropriate that might be.”

Boys Normalize Violence Against Girls
According to The American Association of University Women, “just as the media may influence how girls behave as sexual beings, sexualized and objectifying images can shape boys perceptions and expectations of women. It would be no surprise then that boys may feel they are entitled to women’s bodies or that it is ok to sexually exploit girls.” Boys see how their bodies are portrayed in relation to girls and learn to believe success or attractiveness is tied to dominance, power, and aggression. Media, fashion, music and culture affect a boy’s perceptions and expectations of girls and women; and when these boys grow up to be men, their dominance, power and aggression can influence values and behavior with adult impacts.

Women who don’t participate or consume sexualized media are not immunized. In one study, researchers randomly assigned men to view sexualized or neutral images of women. They were then told that they would have to rate the female experimenter for a task unrelated to the images. When the men had just viewed sexualized images of different women, they rated the experimenter, even though she was modestly dressed, as less competent and intelligent. This is known as the Sexual Objectification Spillover Effect. When men view sexualized images of women, there are detrimental consequences about how women in general, are perceived.

Serious Facts Not to Ignore
According to UNICEF approximately 60,000 adolescent girls die each year as a result of violence, and 120 million girls in the world today – about one in ten – have been victims of rape or forced sexual acts. In the United States, an estimated 11 percent of high school girls report that they have been raped. And globally, according to data from the Together for Girl-supported Violence Against Children Survey, one in four girls experience sexual violence before age 18 and about one in four girls’ first sex was forced. Since 1998, nearly 18 million women in America have been raped. In 2016, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistically predicted one in four people are affected by workplace sexual harassment.

Research published in peer-reviewed, journals between 1995 and 2015, in a total of 109 publications that contained 135 studies provided consistent evidence that both laboratory exposure and regular, everyday exposure to sexualized media are directly associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction, greater self-objectification, greater support of sexist beliefs and of adversarial sexual beliefs, greater tolerance of sexual violence toward women, and leads both women and men to have a diminished view of women’s competence, morality, and humanity.

To be sure, never should any woman be “slut shamed” for any form of harassment or abuse. As women, we cannot, however, ignore our responsibility to lead healthy lives and to teach our children to respect themselves and others. As we make choices of what we participate in, and what we choose to consume, let’s also say time’s up to objectifying ourselves.

Women need to re-evaluate their participation and consumption of sexualized media. Women need to say “no”. No, we will not let you use us in provocative images that harm our younger sisters and little brothers. No, we will not strip down for you to notice but not respect us. No, we will not take money to entertain you in ways that objectify us and embolden your dominance, aggression and power against us. No, we will not confuse love and acceptance with abuse of power – not in the workforce, not in our communities, and not in our families.

Sexually objectifying portrayals of women have life-altering impacts. As women, let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard too, and ensure we are doing our part to protect, empower and promote the true value of girls and women.

Time’s up.

About The Author
Cynthia Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur, consultant and speaker specializing in start-ups. With more than 30 years experience in media, technology and education, Cynthia has worked with leading brands including Time Warner, ABC/Cap Cities, Maclean Hunter, Times Mirror, Meredith Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Kaiser Permanente among many others. With a customer-centric ethos, Cynthia’s depth of expertise across business disciplines is an exemplary and unique skill set for new ventures. Contact Cynthia at cyndimitchell.com.

Continue Reading

Ideas To Keep Kids of Busy Entrepreneurs Feeling Part of The Team

Parental entrepreneurship is the single strongest predictor of entrepreneurship in children. Having an entrepreneur for a parent increases the probability by 60% that children become entrepreneurs. Second generation entrepreneurs are two-to-three times more likely to work in the same occupation as their parent, and often choosing the same industry.

Taylor Fischer, an Applied Mathematics major at UCLA, and the daughter of this entrepreneurial mother, echoes the research: “Growing up with an entrepreneurial mom taught me that dreams are accomplished by executing a plan.  I learned that I can do most anything, build most anything, and accomplish most anything. Knowing how to get things done has been an invaluable life lesson.”

Your relationship with your child is not only the most important part of parenting, it’s what makes it possible to parent effectively.  By drawing your child near,  your child experiences being a valued member of your family, and also your entrepreneurial team. That extra interconnectedness with your business, enables your child to feel included, to have commonality and to cultivate a healthy relationship to the work that shares so much of your time, energy and attention.

As a result, the family bond is strengthened, and the conflicts that naturally arise between work and family are mitigated. Kids of entrepreneurs learn life skills that translate into business skills; and none more important than learning how to maintain, manage and grow relationships.  When your child feels connected to you, your home becomes a living laboratory for experimenting and learning about life, love and business.

Here are some activities to create a connection between the entrepreneurial side of you and your child:

Birth to Three Years Old

• Keep baby by your side if possible.  Those first years are critical to every aspect of your child’s development

• Lean on your village.  Surround yourself with trustworthy hands to help

• Book appointments and meetings during baby’s nap times if possible

• Recognize there is no such thing as work-life balance — your baby’s needs come first.     Establish clear, realistic expectations with others, and include a bit more padding in your schedule to plan for the unexpected

• Allow life to switch gears.  Savor every minute of these important years with your new baby. You and your business will be better off as a result of your full and happy life

Four to  Six Years Old

•  Start to talk with your child about your work

•  Build excitement through storytelling.  Similar to reading a good story from a book, introduce real life characters and situations that arise at work.  Talk about how people create new things, solve big problems or are a positive force for good. Make it fun. Keep the story going. Build upon your child’s imagination and interest

•  Read aloud to your child often — great biographies, historical fiction — any books that help to unveil your world, your industry and you. Snuggle up with pillows, blankets and popcorn. Make it a cozy and loving time

•  Introduce early readers for your child to read to you, about subjects that the both of you can discuss

•  Get your child drawing — ignite the child’s imagination from your stories, or  the books you read together

Seven to Ten Years Old

•  Take your child to the office on occasion and begin to introduce him/her to different aspects of business

•  Create bridges to others by fostering short conversations.  Have people you work with explain what they do and why it’s important work

•  Notice what aspects of business catch your child’s interest and expound on those at home through playful activities.   Build.  Pretend.  Make great memories

•  If it seems appropriate, give your child some simple work assignments in his/her areas of interest.  Reward work accomplished with meaningful appreciation

Eleven to Thirteen Years Old

•  Begin to give your child hands-on business experience with real work and real pay.  School and rest take precedence but the introduction of real work pays big dividends in character, work ethics, independence and self-esteem

•  Instill confidence. When a teen struggles with a work assignment, come alongside with thoughtful questions that enable your teen to participate in discovering their own solutions

•  Instruct your teen in the life skills that create successful accomplishment and recognize his/her understanding and mastery of those skills

•  Ask your teen for his/her opinion often and applaud creativity and logic. It doesn’t need to be a perfect or complete thought, just cheer-on their attempts

•  Choose more challenging books, keep reading aloud and keep discovering and learning together

Fourteen to Eighteen Years Old

•  As if a journeyman, expose your teen to increasing responsibility and new business skills

•  Make opportunities for them to explore and diversify interests.  Create pathways for deeper learning experiences

•  Seek out opportunities for your teen to fly on their own whether it be projects or a new business idea

•  Keep a routine such as eating breakfast and dinner together to maintain engagement and connection

•  Heap appreciation for your teen’s opinions, ideas and solutions

Entrepreneurship education has proven to be effective in primary school and to a lesser extent, in secondary school, and not so much with older students or adults. The significance of early education is critical to shaping the next generation of entrepreneurs.  What you do at home matters.

The next time you pour milk into a sippy cup for your little one, you might just be serving the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.

 

References:

Lindquist, M J, J Sol and M van Praag (2015) “Why do entrepreneurial parents have entrepreneurial children?”, Journal of Labor Economics, 33(2): 269-296.

About The Author

Cynthia Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur,  consultant and speaker specializing in start-ups.  With more than 30 years experience in media, technology and education, Cynthia has worked with leading brands including Time Warner, ABC/Cap Cities, Maclean Hunter, Times Mirror, Meredith Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Kaiser Permanente among many others. With a customer-centric ethos, Cynthia’s depth of expertise across business disciplines is an exemplary and unique skill set for new ventures. Contact Cynthia at cyndimitchell.com.

 

 

Continue Reading

Hard Choices: Resolving Work – Family Conflict

By Cynthia Mitchell

When I married, I was a seasoned entrepreneur. My business ventures occupied a significant portion of my life.    I worked long hours, I traveled heavily and I enjoyed a full and exciting schedule in a career I loved.  My husband was an entrepreneur too, so needless to say there was a comfortable and mutual understanding for the demands of our respective businesses.

We both wanted children and when I became pregnant soon after we married, we couldn’t have been happier.  It was the greatest wedding gift we could have given one another.  The marriage and the pregnancy brought enormous joy into our lives, along with the possibility to create a loving and purposeful family.

As most women do, I began to ponder what life might be like with a new marriage and our first baby on the way.  I wanted this child, and my new husband to have the best of me.  As we considered how to architect our family,   I wondered, like millions of other working women,  whether it is really possible to balance work and family?  That question would be on the forefront of my mind for the next nine months as the new little life inside of me, began to expand my belly and challenge my thoughts about life, work and purpose.

As I surveyed how other entrepreneurs balanced family and work, I found three distinctively different camps of thought 1) You can have it all 2)  Work has to take precedence over family to be successful and 3) Family should always come first.

You Can Have It All

The first opinion, “you can have it all,” became the mantra for feminism after Cosmopolitan Magazine editor, Helen Gurley Brown’s book “Having it All“ rose to number one on the bestseller list in 1982.  It evolved the feminist movement of the 70’s and was the clarion call for women to get what they wanted without guilt.  The book further blurred the lines of traditional roles, sending women scurrying to juggle work, family and pleasure to get more out of life.

The notion of “having it all” has sparked endless debates over whether women can balance the demands of a career with the demands of family.  New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in her book “Off the Sidelines,” remarks “Please, let’s stop talking about ‘having it all’ and start talking about the real challenges of ‘doing it all.’ ”   Three decades later,  exhausted and stressed out women are feeling inferior that they don’t yet have it all.

Work Has to Take Precedence Over Family

The second opinion, “work has to take precedence over family” in order for a business to succeed, was the subject of Entrepreneur Magazine’s article entitled  “Love Your Business More Than Your Family.”   The author warned that family obligations become interruptions to business success.  He cites Valentine’s Day as a prime example of distraction:  “ By all means, make it an occasion to show your spouse, kids, loved ones that you care. Then get your behind to the office because that’s where you need to be. Your family will still be there when you get home.  The same goes for other special days, like birthdays and anniversaries. You should absolutely make note of them–but not by taking long visits to the country with your spouse or going off on weekend getaways. That’s what jewelry is for. Or treat everybody to a steak dinner. It takes less time, so you can get on with running your business.”

Work-family conflict is much higher in the United States than elsewhere in the developed world. One reason is that Americans work longer hours than workers in most other developed countries, including Japan. A whopping 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict.

Entrepreneurs often justify work preference with the notion that “everybody will be happy as soon as the money starts flowing, ”  but does money really buy happiness?  Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton analyzed the lives and incomes of nearly half-a-million randomly selected U.S. citizens and published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research showed that a lack of money brings unhappiness, but an overabundance of income does not have the opposite effect. The happiness money offers does not keep getting more and more potent – in fact, it plateaus.   No matter how you turn it, the science says once your basic needs are taken care of, money and other rewards don’t make you happier.

Family Should Always Come First

The third opinion, “ family should always come first”  is exhorted by Larry Birnback, a psychotherapist who warns “Failure to give marriage top priority is a major cause of the breakdown of marriages in our country. “

According to Rosemary Frank,  a certified divorce financial analyst, “about one in 10 employees will divorce in any given year. Employees are affected the year prior, and up to five years after the divorce. A divorce is a seven-year event, with 70 percent of the workforce at one stage or another at any given time.  Employee productivity is reduced by an estimated 40 percent. Disrupted co-workers are down 4 percent, during the six months prior and the year of divorce; their supervisor is down 2.5 percent to deal with the situation. For one year post-divorce, employee productivity is down 20 percent; co-workers lose 2 percent, and the supervisor loses 1 percent. During the second, third, fourth and fifth post-divorce years, the employee loses 15 percent, 10 percent, 4 percent and 2.5 percent productivity, respectively. Rather conservative estimates considering the trauma of divorce, realities of “presenteeism” (present in body but not in mind), actual absences and the fact that many divorces do not conclude within one year, the divorce of a $60,000 per year employee is estimated to cost $85,934 in lost productivity. This does not include the costs of mistakes or potential profits on lost productivity.”

The personal loss and the emotional strain of work-family conflict can impose a heavy toll on the family, but never more than the sense of loss of the marital relationship itself.    When two people make a vow, the fulfillment of the relationship rests in the quality and investment of both parties.  If one denies the other, the marriage goes without.  Gaps can widen over time causing resentment, depression and unhappiness.

The impact to kids, however, is probably the most potentially injurious.   There’s no amount of goodies that will ever replace quality time with mom and dad.  Both parents play a vital role in shaping a child’s life and creating a sense of security, childhood joy and critical parent-child bonding.   When one parent is missing frequently or distracted by continual deadlines and endless work demands, it sends a message that family relationships are not valued. The pressures and obligations on the other spouse may grow so heavily, that even their relationship with the children can become exasperated.

Conclusion

After assessing the options, I came to the conclusion that the natural conflict between work and family requires some deep, honest soul searching to determine whether they can exist in harmony.  In my case, it took some trial and error,  a bit of failure and the encouragement of some wins to sort it out.  Inevitably, just when I thought I had what I imagined to be work – life balance, those two living, breathing entities called work and family would shake it all up again.

I came to the conclusion that I could not “have it all. ” Time is finite and tradeoffs are essential.    I also couldn’t buy into the notion “work has to take precedence over family” —arguably the most important people in one’s life.  While there are many seasons, I didn’t want to miss a moment of this one.  I opted to put “family first” and soon discovered that choice was not a singular event but a daily unrelenting endeavor.

I retooled my business.  I slowed down my own personal work pace, delegated more, worked remotely from my home office and made provision for baby to be by my side.  I routinely measured the impact of my businesses on my family, including my own need for rest, refueling and time to savor the sweetness of this all too fleeting season.   When we welcomed our second child, life changed yet again.  With each stage through the years,  I learned how to adjust my businesses to align with my priorities. Though I’m quite certain that work – family conflict never fully resolves, having a clear vision of priority provides a brilliant north star.  For an entrepreneur, hard choices are inevitable and always.

As I look at my two babies today — one graduated from college and off to law school, and the other soon to enter her third year of college studying Applied Mathematics — both learning to make hard choices of their own — I see two fine young ladies whom I would not have traded the world for.  .  .  at least until they turned seventeen — but that’s another story.

 

About The Author

Cynthia Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur,  consultant and speaker specializing in start-ups.  With more than 30 years experience in media, technology and education, Cynthia has worked with leading brands including Time Warner, ABC/Cap Cities, Maclean Hunter, Times Mirror, Meredith Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Kaiser Permanente among many others. With a customer-centric ethos, Cynthia’s depth of expertise across business disciplines is an exemplary and unique skill set for new ventures. Contact Cynthia at cyndimitchell.com.

Continue Reading

Four Ways To Manage Entrepreneurial Stress

By Cynthia Mitchell

Stress plagues entrepreneurs. Workload, deadlines, funding and expectations create an ideal environment for stress to bubble up and while the media glamorizes entrepreneurs to near rock star status, the adulation that comes with the job makes introspection difficult.  Failures and vulnerabilities are often inadmissible. Stress, in its different forms, is a relentless attribute of the executive office.

Positive stress, known as eustress is typically short-term.  This kind of stress can feel exciting. It’s perceived to be within our coping abilities. Some examples of eustress are launching a new company or product,  pitching and closing an investor or a big client.  Eustress enhances performance. because it creates a motivating force and often elevates cognitive and physical abilities.

Negative stress, however, known as distress can be damaging. Distress can be short term or long term. The feeling of distress can range from unpleasant to debilitating.  It’s perceived outside of our coping abilities causing concern and anxiety. Distress decreases performance and can often lead to mental and physical problems. Some examples are job insecurity, excessive demands, and inadequate authority to carry out responsibilities.  The corrosive effects of distress can be damaging for both entrepreneur and the venture.

Here are a few suggestions to conquer negative stress:

1.  Take Back Control
Perhaps the deepest need people have is for a sense of control.  When we feel out-of-control, we experience a powerful and uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the evidence of inadequate control.   For instance, holding a leadership role boosts one’s sense of control,  a psychological resource known to have a stress-buffering effect. Possessing control or having a perception of control over a stressor alters its physiological consequences, reducing the release of cortisol. Adverse health effects of job strain are buffered by having a sense of control in one’s job.  But, there are situations that spin an entrepreneur out-of-control — such as low startup salaries,  toxic relationships, investors who usurp control, insufficient funding, or rapidly changing situations that topple business expectations.  So, how do you regain a sense of control when everything seems to be heading out-of-control?

•  Breathe: There’s a reason airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first: you’re not much use to others when you can’t get your breath. So pause, get some space and allow yourself to think.  Take as much time as you need in order to pick the reins up and put the control back into your hands

•  Be courageous.  Courage is neither blind fearlessness nor cowardice.  It is, as conveyed by Aristotle, a mean lying between these excesses. Elliot D. Cohen, a  principal founder of philosophical counseling in the U.S. says “ It means having the courage to accept yourself as inherently flawed; as part of a universe that offers no guarantees, and as a being that lives imperfectly in this imperfect universe”

•  Remember your rights.  No matter the pressure, it’s your right to ask for what you want and need; to change your mind; to make mistakes and not have to be perfect; to follow your own values and standards; to say “no”  to anything that interferes with your wellbeing or values;  to determine your own priorities; to not be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings or problems; to expect honesty and integrity from others; to be treated with dignity and respect;  to say “I don’t know “ and to not give excuses when you fail to meet expectations

2.  Plan For Uncertainty
Entrepreneurs are by nature optimistic.  There’s pressure to set unreasonable deadlines and to over- promise to please investors, clients, employees, and family.  Leaders, however, can’t accurately predict and manage the future, but they can have some probabilistic and uncertain handle on it.  The truth is uncertainty is the norm and conveying that expectation to stakeholders buffers their expectations.   Make plans, but keep them agile and pivot or optimize as you learn.  Build in contingencies for the unexpected. Limit promises and unnecessary obligations.

3.  Develop Healthy Responses
Be aware of your less than optimal go-to strategies for coping with stress, such as excessive work, consumption of fast food, alcohol, drugs or isolating from friends and family.  Take steps to respond to stress with conscious choices that nourish your mind, body, and soul.   Exercise is a great stress buster,  so are prayer and meditation.  Get plenty of sleep.  Eat well.  Turn off all the screens.  Keep up with relationships and choose to make work and life coexist in harmony.  Remember to nourish and to be nourished by your family and friends, since this has the greatest impact for anchoring healthy responses.   Creating a holistic life ultimately seeds more productivity, more creativity, and a greater capacity to overcome mental and physical fatigue.  Care for your own mental, physical and spiritual needs as an essential investment in your venture.

4.  Talk
Being stoic is not part of the job.  Seek out a trustworthy confidant — someone with whom you can be raw, without expectations or judgment.  Consider joining a CEO peer group, hiring an executive coach or a life coach,  speak to a pastor or clergy, or talk with a therapist.  While entrepreneurs tend not to want to worry family, investors or co-workers, a frank conversation will help to engage others to bear the stress with you.  When more shoulders support the weight of the venture, the lesser the burden and the greater chance for success.  Your own vulnerability and openness will foster a similar culture within your company,  giving you deeper insight into how you can best lead and support your team.

In a career where mental functions drive creativity, innovation and performance, entrepreneurs would do well to create an environment that supports and nourishes mental wellness not only for themselves but also for their companies.  By acknowledging the existence and impact of stress, leaders can develop strategies that buffer and even eliminate its negative effects.

About The Author
Cynthia Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur, consultant and speaker specializing in start-ups.  With more than 30 years experience in media, technology and education, Cynthia has worked with leading brands including Time Warner, ABC/Cap Cities, Maclean Hunter, Times Mirror, Meredith Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Kaiser Permanente among many others. With a customer-centric ethos, Cynthia’s depth of expertise across business disciplines is an exemplary and unique skill set for new ventures. Contact Cynthia at cyndimitchell.com.
Continue Reading

Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown

By Cynthia Mitchell

Being an entrepreneur is the modern day American dream. The potential to create your own destiny and to do the kind of work about which you are most passionate is alluring. The rewards are plenty for those who build a successful business, but while society elevates entrepreneurs to rockstar status, little is revealed about its personal toll.

According to Careercast.com, the job of being a senior executive is among the top ten most stressful jobs in 2017, right up there with police officer, airline pilot, firefighter and enlisted military personnel.

For starters, there’s a high risk of business failure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of all new businesses make it to their fifth year and one-third make it to their tenth year. Other sources cite greater failure rates. The Small Business Administration states that 66 percent of businesses make it to two years. The Startup Genome Report Extra on Premature Scaling (a project coauthored by Berkeley & Stanford faculty members with Steve Blank and ten startup accelerators as contributors) reports 92% of startups fail within three years. One thing all of these statistics have in common — the odds are against startups.

Staying on course is as difficult as staying in business. More than 95% of startups fall short of their initial projections according to research by Shikhar Ghosh, a Harvard Business School lecturer and the founder and CEO or Chairman of eight technology-based companies.

Access to capital, decision-making, maintaining leadership, managing clients and investors, obtaining and retaining talent and delivering on promises are but a few more of the stresses that create seemingly unrelenting emotional turbulence for entrepreneurs.

Complicating matters, entrepreneurs tend to focus more so on business than quality of life. Entrepreneurs carry more responsibility with greater personal risk. They have lower initial wages, lower earnings growth and lower long-term earnings. They work crazy long hours, upwards of 60, and most working closer to 80 hours per week with fewer weekends and holidays off. They are sleep- deprived, fail to exercise and typically they don’t eat well. They neglect relationships outside of their business circle. There’s little natural harmony between work and life for entrepreneurs.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, wrote: “First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day – one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined and back again. Over and over and over. . . The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things with incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. ”

In 2015, Michael A. Freeman, a clinical professor of psychology at University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Sheri Johnson found a strong correlation between mental health conditions and entrepreneurs. Forty-nine percent of entrepreneurs surveyed reported at least one mental health condition. Nearly a third reported having two or more mental health issues, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety or substance use conditions. Half of entrepreneurs who reported no mental-health conditions identified themselves as coming from families with a history of mental illness. Ironically, Freeman points out that there’s a beneficial side to these mental health conditions. These weaknesses also come with corresponding strengths that the average healthy person doesn’t possess.

Given how much emphasis is placed on intelligence, creativity and mental fortitude, it’s surprising how startup culture does not embed mental health into the mix of success factors. Instead, workplace culture rewards long hours as a show of confidence and strength, while penalizing the outworking of stress as displays of vulnerability or weakness. The topic of mental wellness and work-life harmony is untaught in business schools and frankly rarely discussed between entrepreneurs and investors. In a fast-paced, competitive environment in which investments and jobs are at stake, transparency can be met with harsh judgment rather than empathy and solutions. Without a true partnership that embraces the human side of the business, stress can take a costly toll.

The Cost of Stress
While everyone has their own distinctive set of stress symptoms, the cost of stress impacts psychological, physical and behavioral well-being. While the latter two are more easily recognizable, mental health is not always as obvious, and therefore is one of the most overlooked and unattended aspects of entrepreneurship.

Anxiety is  the foremost symptom of mental stress. The University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business finds that CEO anxiety has powerful influences on judgment and strategic decision-making. The study concluded anxious executives (a) create a social buffer against threats by surrounding themselves with supportive decision-making teams therefore risking the balance of diverse ideas and opinions, and (b) pursue lower-risk firm strategies critical to business success even though calculated risk taking is essential to startup leadership and innovation.

Depression is another cost of stress often triggered by the isolation that comes along with being at-the-top. Most entrepreneurs don’t want to take stress home to worry their loved ones; they don’t want to create uncertainty among the staff and they don’t want investors to lose confidence in them. Instead, they keep the pressure to themselves, enabling depression to flourish in the dark. Entrepreneurs are 30% more likely to experience depression than their non entrepreneurial counterparts.

Behavioral addictions such as obsessive thoughts, withdrawal-engagement cycles and negative emotional outcomes can accompany stress. Similar to other addictive behaviors like gambling, serial entrepreneurs suffer consequences that stem from their need to keep going.  A 2014 study in the Journal of Business Venturing, found that habitual entrepreneurs may also be at an increased risk for other addictions. People with addiction in one area are more likely to have addictions in other areas.  Even “entrepreneurship addiction,” the compulsion to create and grow new ventures, has been compared to other behavioral addictions such as workaholism.

Self-worth is also a companion of stress. CEO’s often tie their self-worth to their net worth. When business is on an upward swing, self-worth is high, and when business has inevitable setbacks, self- worth plummets. Business becomes who they are instead of what they do.

While CEOs are often thought of as unflappable captains of industry, entrepreneurs are simply high achievers with vulnerabilities like anyone else. But their natural optimism and confidence demonstrate a clear difference in their decision-making priorities than their employed peers.

Entrepreneurs Run Into the Fire
With such stress, why would anyone choose to be an entrepreneur? The truth is most would never want to be doing anything else. In a U.S. Trust survey of high net worth business owners and corporate executives, eight-in-ten prefer owning a business even though they believe it’s harder than working for someone else. The dream of building something remarkable is a catalyst to face the odds head-on. It’s an adrenaline-pumping extreme sport akin to climbing Mount Everest or running the New York City Marathon. It tests the mettle of even the most seasoned executive, and it breaks down every newbie into a thousand wonderful pieces. In the context of work, entrepreneurs learn who they really are and like an elite athlete, have opportunity to evolve into their best selves.

Starting a business is meaningful work. Venturing and innovation drive growth and create the vast number of new jobs. It’s personally satisfying to contribute to society and the economy at large. If you ask any entrepreneur who exits their business, what they remember most about their journey, often they harken back to the most pressure filled days — recounting the contagious team spirit and the somewhat dysfunctional family of talent who dreamed with them.

And the failures. . . well, entrepreneurs learn how to embrace them right along with the wins. It’s all part of the fragile entrepreneurial ecosystem — as natural and inevitable as life and death. It is a gut- wrenching blow that fires up all five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally — acceptance. But when the sun rises again, new opportunities emerge and life goes on with its full spectrum of possibilities. After all is said and done, experts agree, business failure forges valuable assets of contacts, knowledge and experience to carry into the next venture.

As for the relentless stress, it just keeps coming . . .

About The Author
Cynthia Mitchell is a serial entrepreneur, consultant and speaker specializing in start-ups.  With more than 30 years experience in media, technology and education, Cynthia has worked with leading brands including Time Warner, ABC/Cap Cities, Maclean Hunter, Times Mirror, Meredith Corporation, Mutual of Omaha and Kaiser Permanente among many others. With a customer-centric ethos, Cynthia’s depth of expertise across business disciplines is an exemplary and unique skill set for new ventures. Contact Cynthia at cyndimitchell.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading