5 Ways to Turn Mental Challenges Into Unstoppable Strengths
High achievers are a different breed.
They exist for weeks during business crunch time on a diet of vending machine snacks and caffeine. They forgo sleep, food and personal hygiene in favor of a company goal. They maintain single-minded focus and spend hours discussing the finer points of a red border versus blue border on the home page. They love to work, and it shows, particularly in the sacrifices they’re willing to make to ensure their ventures succeed.
What some people might call “obsessive” looks a lot like entrepreneurial success. And, indeed, there’s a thin line between healthy and overboard.
If you’ve ever thought (or been told) that your commitment to your work was a bit—ahem—outside the norm, you’re not alone.
According to a paper published by Michael A. Freeman, M.D., and his fellow researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University, almost three out of four entrepreneurs report suffering from some form of mental health concern, much higher than the national average.
Just as many successful businesspeople—Daymond John, Sir Richard Branson, Anita Roddick, for example—credit their dyslexia with helping them succeed in business, many entrepreneurs likewise say that their tendencies toward OCD, ADD, depression and other mental health issues have helped, not harmed, their businesses.
Alex Charfen, CEO of CHARFEN, a training and business consulting organization for entrepreneurs and small businesses, prefers to see the elements that make entrepreneurs unique as positives, when they’re used to their best and highest purpose. “Any one of the attributes that make us magical can also be what holds us back,” he explains. “Every successful entrepreneur has that period of their lives they’d rather not tell their kids about.” But once you channel those tendencies, it can be like lighting the fuse on a rocket.
If you are someone who trends toward going a bit overboard, how can you make sure you’re taking care of yourself, your business and your relationships without sacrificing that “entrepreneurial edge” or becoming a cautionary tale? Here are five tips.
Within the entrepreneurial world, those dealing with issues, such as depression, ADD or OCD are the rule, rather than the exception. “I have seen this over and over again in my millionaires,” says author and coach Jaime Masters, who has interviewed more than 350 millionaires for her Eventual Millionaire podcast.
“I was very surprised in the interviews I’ve done how many said they have dyslexia, how many said they have ADD,” she says. It is more common than not at the higher levels of the business world—and you can use these tendencies to your advantage.
All entrepreneurs need to watch their health, but it’s even more critical for those who might tend toward neglecting their nutrition, sleep and other basics in favor of a 100-hour workweek. Charfen encourages his clients to move regularly, hydrate sufficiently, meditate consistently and eat well, all in an effort to combat the stress they’re dealing with from building, running and growing a business.
If you’re prone to the highest of highs and lowest of lows, know your cycles and triggers. Seek help when you need it. Maybe you know you’re more susceptible to depression in the dark winter months, or that you experience an energy crash after a period of sustained effort and long work hours. Be ready with your remedies—self-care, therapy, vacation, sleep, etc.—when those downtimes come.
Jokes about “entrepreneurial ADD” abound for good reason. Masters says, “Because we’re so creative, it can feel a little jagged, like our brain is running us instead of us running our brain.” One solution: Keep as many elements of your life as simple as possible so you can focus on the areas that really need it or will benefit from your attention and creativity (Steve Jobs’ daily uniform of jeans, sneakers and black turtlenecks, for example). “Far too many entrepreneurs try to overcomplicate things,” Charfen adds.
Many high performers are more big-picture visionaries than detail-oriented sticklers. Couple that with an entrepreneurial ADD, and you might struggle with starting new things before finishing old things. Don’t try to tame yourself, though. Instead, Masters suggests hiring for the skills you lack. Find someone to take care of the details so you can stay in your center of genius. “Focus on your strengths,” she advises.
In sum, work with your natural flow and tendencies rather than against them. Not everyone will understand why you stay up until 5 a.m. and then sleep until 3 p.m.—and they don’t need to. Your uniqueness is what will bring you to the top—and that’s when the naysayers will back down. Know yourself, know your goal and do what it takes to keep yourself moving in the right direction.