Entrepreneurship and mental health


World Mental Health Day happens every year on October 10th, but this is the first year I experienced it as a “social entrepreneur”.

Although I had been laying the groundwork for Bounce Black since December 2019, the brand has only been public since August this year, and the website since September. And yet in the short time since launching this passion project, I have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions.

So, I joined Deborah Okenla, Founder and CEO of YSYS (Your Startup, Your Story), a thriving tech startup community, in an Instagram Live chat about the importance of mental health for entrepreneurs. The wifi wasn’t great, which affected the recording, so here’s a summary of the themes of our conversation instead:

#FounderFeels: the courage to begin

Deborah and I started off by talking about emotions around starting up.

It’s not easy to put yourself and your ideas out there, and bear the whole responsibility of the success or failure of your project or business. Quite frankly, it can feel as daunting or terrifying as it can feel exciting and thrilling.

But rarely can we move forward without taking a chance.

Like in financial markets, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. The possibility of loss or failure is always there, but that shouldn’t stop you from daring to get started anyway. A beautiful poem comes to mind:

There is freedom waiting for you,

On the breezes of the sky,

And you ask “What if I fall?”

Oh but my darling, 

What if you fly?

Erin Hanson

Eventually, you will make mistakes. And that’s okay.

Deborah made a useful point about it being difficult to separate ourselves from our company. It’s hard not to take any failures personally, but developing a growth mindset can help you accept and prepare for failure by seeing it as an opportunity to learn, improve on your ideas and change directions.

And it’s important to stress here that it is okay to change direction. That’s a necessary part of personal and professional development. So, trust the process, and follow it wherever it leads.

Getting started takes courage. You’ve got to have some audacity to put something out into the world. So, do it. Take heart and take part!

#FounderFeels: (lack of) confidence and (lots of) competition

There are a lot of people on the planet. So, there is no shortage of good ideas. Just as we might have some, so might the next person. And that’s a good thing. That’s how any society, institution and industry advances. Innovation matters.

Yet it can still be daunting to step out and add your own ideas to the mix. Imposter syndrome, the feeling of not being good enough or qualified for a task, can flare up, and make it difficult to manage along with the demands of whatever you’re doing.

I think in metaphors, so I find it helpful to remind myself that every brand and big name didn’t come in the flat pack IKEA box of creation (i.e. the universe). All of them were built over time. Frankly, they all rest on history and hype. So, my message to early stage founders and hopeful entrepreneurs is to believe in your right to shape the future you want to see just as much as existing brands have shaped the present we currently see.

As for competition, it depends on the kind of product or service being offered. For me, as a social entrepreneur in the mental health space, I am not allowing myself to look around fretfully.

Mental health is no light matter, and as the infamous 2020 continues to have adverse effects on people, the demand for suitable services is only going to increase.

We need all hands on deck, so it’s important that Bounce Black be seen as part of a collaborative effort to meet this growing need.

Simply put, I don’t see competition, only co-labourers.

#FounderFeels: anxiety along the way

As a founder, anxiety is inevitable.

Whether you see it as that or as adrenaline, it’s the same thing. All of our bodies release stress hormones: ‘adrenaline’ provides the energy to face a challenging situation, and ‘cortisol’ helps us focus as we do so. This is completely normal, but it can become unhealthy when these hormones are overproduced in our bodies. So, it’s important to be mindful of, and manage, our levels of stress.

That’s the only way we can make a sustainable pursuit of whatever vision we have of success.

You might find yourself working hard, in and out of meetings, and juggling deadlines and other commitments. You may even experience restless nights because you find it hard to stop and switch off, tempting you to work around the clock. But that’s not a healthy way to live long-term. At all.

“Time is money” is a popular phrase that can have unfortunate consequences if care is not taken.

It’s true that our time is valuable and we should spend it wisely, but the idea that we should be constantly working as a result is counterproductive at best and dangerous at worst. Burning the candle at both ends in this way could be the very thing that shortens your lifespan. It’s your life and choice to make, so, “sleep when you die” if you want to.

Just be aware you could be heading there a lot sooner as a result.

Self care for founders

Through Bounce Black, I want to encourage people to strive for a healthier, sustainable pursuit of success built on rhythms of work and rest. So, for me, that looks like carving out time to stop, slow down and relax.

It looks like doing things I enjoy, like listening and dancing to my favourite music, catching up with friends, or doing craft activities like painting.

It looks like getting massages when I can to physically relieve my body of built up stress.

It also looks like working to improve my sleep hygiene by reading before bed rather than using my phone, and leaving it in a different part of my room to encourage boundaries.

Therapy is another self care practice that Deborah and I have in common. It’s nice to be able to regularly offload on someone who is trained to handle it with compassion. We highly recommend it, if you can access it (here’s a blog on what types of therapy there are and where to get started).

We both also recommend taking regular breaks. Not taking time out to replenish yourself eventually catches up with you, so listen to your body voluntarily before your body demands you to listen. Whether that’s through mindfulness meditations, deep breathing, yoga and exercise, just be sure to tune into your body often and look after it. Deborah and I both happen to be praying people, so that helps with managing stress as well.

Another thing I do sometimes is turn my phone off / on silent and out of sight while I meditate. I use marked sand timers rather than phone alarms to help me focus on being still during that period of time. It’s not easy, but that’s okay. I acknowledge the restlessness I feel and wait it out anyway. Over time, my ability to be still gets better.

Your circle, your corner

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we spoke about the importance of having a good support network around you. In addition to a therapist, we recommend keeping good friends and family close to keep you grounded and keep your spirits high.

It’s also important to have other entrepreneurs around you, whether they’re at the same stage as you or further ahead, because they will most likely be experiencing the same things. So, they can be a source of both support and accountability. And that’s exactly what YSYS is for, so make sure you sign up to join their wonderful community!

For updates on more content like this, sign up to join the Bounce Black community too via our Manifesto page.

Check out this @iBounceBlack blog post on #mentalhealth for #entrepreneurs:

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