It feels more so than ever that entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. This week a Wall Street Journal story made the rounds documenting the stock sales of WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann.* The point being that now startup CEOs are getting the kind of scrutiny previously reserved for public company CEOs.
To be clear, Neumann is in rarefied air. WeWork was recently valued at $47 billion in its latest investment round. More than the vast majority of public companies. The fact is the matter is that most startups fail and the vast majority never make it to this level of success.
Entrepreneurship is hard. This is true whether you are starting a one-person consultancy, a restaurant or a massive co-working conglomerate. If it were easy, more people would do and be successful at it. As Tom Kuegler recently wrote in a piece at Medium:
Staying sane mentally is probably the biggest challenge I’m facing right now. This game is not for the faint of heart. It’s not just about working hard and being smart, it’s about staying sane and not descending into madness — like Khaleesi.
Jeff Carter at Points and Figures notes the challenges entrepreneurs face on a daily basis including being told that ‘your baby is ugly’ by third parties. This requires finding some space for yourself amidst the chaos. Carter writes:
You have to enjoy the process of building the company. The journey. Never focus on the end. Focus on doing small things each day that delight your customers or employees. It will make you feel good inside. When small good things happen verbally celebrate them.
This advice is likely easier said than done for many entrepreneurs. Thankfully more attention is getting paid the issue of mental health in the workplace, in general, and in startups specifically. We can argue about which direction causality runs, but the evidence is clear that entrepreneurs are at higher risk of various issues including depression and anxiety.
Shalini Ramachandran and Rolfe Winkler in the Wall Street Journal review the evidence on entrepreneurial mental health provide some first hand accounts of startup CEOs who have been down that road and come back. They talk about the relationship between startup stress and mental health.
Stress, of course, is a part of any leadership role, and startup leaders often have more resources than most to cope with mental-health woes. But it is also becoming clear that the swashbuckling creativity that pushes many startup founders to take bold leaps often comes with inner demons.
The evidence above shouldn’t prevent someone from becoming an entrepreneur, if that’s what is in their heart. But it’s okay to give ourselves permission to simply be an employee. There is great comfort and value in earning at regular paycheck. There is as much risk in chasing the new, shiny thing as there is in becoming complacent as Fervent Finance writes:
People with more traditional careers, collecting that paycheck twice per month, might get bogged down with what others are doing in regard to their non-traditional careers. We’re in the age where everyone is posting their travel on social media and showing off their flexible self-employed schedule. It’s okay to work for “the man” and earn a regular paycheck. That paycheck has a lot of value, and it isn’t all monetary. The job and paycheck can give peace of mind, health insurance, vacation days, maternity/paternity leave, purpose, self-worth, and camaraderie.
We all need to find what works for us. For some of us, that may change over time, like the seasons. For those of you taking the entrepreneurial path be kind to yourself. For everyone else, recognize the challenges entrepreneurs face and be a friend. Which is more valuable than money any day of the week.
*Matt Levine at Bloomberg has an interesting take on what Neumann may be up to.