When it comes to leadership and entrepreneurship, we talk a lot about the practical struggles founders and leaders face, but we don’t spend nearly enough time talking about the emotional ones.
In my experience, and in the experience of nearly every founder I know, the emotional challenges can be equally — if not more — grueling than the practical ones. We all accept that entrepreneurship is akin to riding a roller coaster, with extreme highs and lows often playing out on the daily. And yet we don’t discuss how to cope with being on this metaphorical roller coaster, day after day, as we hustle endlessly to build our empires.
I’m here to tell you that as a leader, your emotional and mental well-being is your number one strength as a founder. In fact, especially for founders, prioritizing your mental health is the very thing that enables you to ride the roller coaster of entrepreneurship. For me, this starts with giving myself the space and time to process emotions and spend time away from my work.
Leading a Company
I’ve spent the past year in therapy, fine-tuning my ability to navigate my emotional landscape in an effort to become the best founder I can be.
As leaders of our companies, our mental well-being directly impacts our ability to do this job. When we’re feeling anxious, rejected or fearful, these emotions not only affect ourselves — they affect our teams and the quality of our work.
We’ve all been there, struggling to keep it together as we confront hurdle after hurdle.
If you’re like me, my natural instinct used to be to shove those feelings deep down inside and pretend they don’t exist. Instead of tuning into my needs and giving myself space to recharge, I’d simply work harder and longer — until I broke. I doubt anyone here is unfamiliar with the feeling of burnout, especially for the entrepreneurs who are reading.
Nowadays, instead of trying to evade my feelings, I take a mental health break.
The reality is that entrepreneurship is grueling. Being a CEO is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and the pressure is immense.
We rarely ever take time off, and when we do, it’s so easy to feel guilt-ridden and unproductive. (My partner is likely rolling his eyes as he reads this, knowing that my “breaks” almost always span for 10 minutes and end with me sneakily sending emails from my phone.)
Beyond the obvious stressors, a recent study by Michael Freeman also found that a whopping 72% of entrepreneurs are affected by mental health issues. That includes me, and virtually every entrepreneur and leader I know. It’s due time that we start taking our mental health seriously, and stop believing that the key to building a great company is by working harder, better, faster and stronger. The truth is much the opposite.
So what does taking care of our mental health even look like?
For me, the first step is feeling my emotions rather than avoiding them. This looks different every day, but when I notice I’m feeling off or “crunched inside,” as I like to say, it means it’s time for a break. Meditation has been one really effective way to pause and process my emotions. I also schedule breaks every day to spend time outside. Sunshine, fresh air, and endorphins do wonders for my brain.
Using Travel as a Form of Self-Care
Lastly, I try to schedule a quarterly trip for myself to get a change of scenery and take time off.
As an entrepreneur that also works mostly from home, it can be hard to truly get a reset from the comfort of my house — where my work is always just an arm’s-length away. Heading out of town has always given me an immediate sense of relief.
One of my favorite solo trips I’ve taken was to Spicewood. Being in a new space (equipped with a hot tub and a clawfoot tub) gave me the uninterrupted time I needed to simply feel, process and reset mentally. After just a few nights away, I came home feeling like a different person.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, listening to your needs is the first critical step. The legacy we build as entrepreneurs and leaders is not just the businesses we build, but the way we build them. It’s time we recognize that our mental health is our number-one asset on this journey, and that caring for ourselves is the foundation that enables us to build something truly great.
It turns out “harder, better, faster, stronger” really only works as lyrics to a song.
Bre Cruickshank is Founder and CEO of Radical Girl Gang, an online marketplace to discover, support and shop from emerging women-owned brands. Every purchase on their marketplace directly supports the advancement of women entrepreneurs.