If you’re reading this, chances are good you’re an entrepreneur, just like us.
We’re all in good company, with entrepreneurship skyrocketing over the last decade -- especially in the eCommerce space.
Simultaneously, discussion on the intersection of entrepreneurship, depression, and maintaining business motivation has accelerated.
Motivation and depression have a complex relationship. In fact, difficulty maintaining motivation is literally a symptom of depression. Lack of motivation has a keenly negative effect for business owners in particular because low motivation = doing fewer things = deteriorated quality of life and work = worse depression.
What’s more, the demands of the entrepreneurial lifestyle (and – tut! – hustle culture) certainly presents its own set of unique challenges for individuals with depression.
Although depression can have a severe isolating effect, those of us who have struggled with it are not alone – and that widespread common experience has produced a deep pool of information and tools for managing it, some of which we’ll cover today.
“I’m not sure I’m depressed, but I sure as hell am having trouble maintaining my motivation.”
No problem! There’s plenty ahead ahead for you, too.
Depression & Entrepreneurs: What Science Says
In one study, a self-survey was administered to a pool of MBA students, psychology undergrads, and faculty at UC Berkeley, plus 110 entrepreneurs.
Of those who reported a history of self-employment or founding or co-founding a business (categorized as entrepreneurs):
- 72% were directly or indirectly impacted by mental health conditions
- 49% had a personal history of mental health issues
- 32% had two or more mental health conditions
- 30% were more likely to experience depression
Recently published scoping reviews on depression and entrepreneurs offer a goldmine of insight. We’ll dive into some of those themes and strategies in a moment, but first, let’s debunk some patently unhelpful (and, honestly, annoying af) myths about depression.
Myths About Depression
"Happiness is a Choice"
AKA: “It’s all in your head!” (like, no shit) and “You just have to think positive!” (Just kill me.)
Touting this type of rhetoric is not only flat out misguided, but it can also carry some damaging and painful implications – like framing the sufferer as having “chosen” their situation (as if undoing it is as simple as choosing something else). Depression cannot be magicked away with a bit of positive thinking, and suggesting so fails to acknowledge it as the mental illness it is.
We are literally begging you to never say this to anyone who tells you they’re struggling with depression. That discourse is unhelpful, unsupportive, and perpetuates demotivating feelings of guilt and isolation.
Our emotions, and happiness, are more complicated than simply making a choice. The only choice available here is how we decide to cope with and treat depression.
Depression Only Happens Because of Sad Situations in Your Life
False! There are myriad theories about the causes of depression. Trying painstakingly to pinpoint external factors may devalue your experience and enhance feelings of guilt commonly associated with depression. Instead of playing detective, simply honor the feelings and leave the investigation to a trusted medical professional or therapist.
A Self-Critical Mindset Can Make You a Stronger Entrepreneur
While we can all agree you shouldn’t be an arrogant prick, an overactive self-critical voice left unchecked can diminish healthy levels of self-confidence and elevate negative feelings associated with depression.
We’ll stick to water, thanks.
Being Open About Mental Health Issues May Negatively Impact Future Opportunities
For generations, there has been a heavy stigma around mental health, so it makes sense that we’d have assumed a don’t ask, don’t tell policy at work when it comes to our mental health.
Thankfully, today’s entrepreneurs understand that being open about mental health isn’t just…not bad, but can actually produce productive conversations and ultimately create stronger employees, teams, and companies. It’s certainly worked for Tako:
Our leadership team strives to lead by example with “radical vulnerability” that, at its core, reinforces the idea that we’re all people behind the screen.
Unique Challenges for Business Owners with Depression
Feeling empty after the initial excitement wears off from achieving a goal, like launching a company, is a commonly acknowledged phenomenon.
With unending to-do lists packed with ONLY URGENT tasks, being a business owner is often like a never ending ride on Rainbow Road. Avoid a crash, pick up some mushrooms, hit a banana peel, repeat. Entrepreneurs often simply do not have time for little joys.
Not being able to experience small successes can exacerbate the hopeless feelings often associated with depression, and contributes to a prolonged state of stress which – you guessed it – begets more depression.
Entrepreneurs may not experience quite the same type of daily rejection as all those cold callers you’ve blocked, but handling regular rejection is still considered a challenge for entrepreneurs.
For business owners with depression, rejection can feel especially personal.
“No Days Off” Culture & Entrepreneur Burnout
Glorification of “the hustle” is not only exhausting in and of itself, but has often been used as a litmus test for an entrepreneur's dedication to their company (“If you really want this, you’ll make it happen, no matter the cost!”) – making it nearly impossible for a business owner to feel successful unless they’re out-of-their mind tired.
Add lack of relaxation to prolonged periods of stress, and – voilà – you’ve got the recipe for burnout.
Burnout syndrome is a scientifically recognized condition, and a growing concern within the field of mental health. It combines both mental and physical exhaustion, usually attributed to occupational overwhelm and stress. There is also an emphasis on low motivation and unusually poor work performance.
The relationship between burnout and depression is still inconclusive, but given their similar symptoms (and research suggesting prolonged burnout may lead to depression) it’s important to recognize warning signs.
(Not that you have the time for that…)
Business owners often find themselves in a somewhat isolating career space.
First of all – no time.
Secondly, entrepreneurs are unique birds. There is a very specific personality profile most likely to become one, and while it’s characterized by high extraversion, it’s also riddled with qualities that can isolate entrepreneurs from feeling understood by the outside world.
(For example, people with ADHD – another commonly misunderstood mental phenomenon – are about 100% more likely to start their own businesses than people who do not have the same disorder.)
Coping with Heightened Feelings of Individual Responsibility
Being your own boss (and one to others, who rely on you for their living) can mean increased feelings of fault when faced with “failure”. Since depression is already strongly linked to self-blame, it’s easy to see how that can be exacerbated by the entrepreneurial lifestyle and all its pressures.
Balancing Brand & Personal Identity
Research continuously finds that depressed entrepreneurs reportedly struggle with a desire to project a positive brand identity – which most do not believe can include a stigmatized mental disorder.
Consequently, those folks are less likely to seek help when they need it. Since mental illness flourishes in darkened silence, refusal to acknowledge the issue can lead to more intensified struggle down the road.
Whether depression is a factor or not, it is often tough for entrepreneurs to extricate their identity from that of their business. (Personal identity tied to a fledgling company in a cutthroat capitalist society? What could possibly go wrong?) Learning to separate yourself is critical for maintaining positive mental health and motivation.
“OK well, I wasn’t depressed before, but I might be now…”
Hang in there! Here comes the fun stuff –
How to Maintain Your Motivation as an Entrepreneur, Even If You Have Depression
Remember: You and Your Company are Not The Same Person
Yup, we’re really driving this one home: Mindfully creating a separation between your personal identity and your business is critical when it comes to maintaining optimal mental health. Actively maintaining this healthy distance will go a long way to keeping you in a motivated headspace, because the highs and lows of your work life will not equate to highs and lows in your personal value.
Start Talking About Your Experience
Practice being honest and compassionate with yourself about your experience. Open dialogues with those you trust about how you’re feeling.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking with others, try journaling or other ways to express your mind state. Honoring your low motivation (and related symptoms), rather than automatically seeing it as something negative to be extinguished or ignored until absent, puts you on the track to overcoming. Not only is it better for you personally, but being forthright and vulnerable with your team can make you more human and relatable, building stronger bonds through radical vulnerability.
Create a Routine
Yes, maybe you were drawn to becoming an entrepreneur because it promised the freedom of your own schedule and power to give a big FU to routines.
But – allow us to assert that:
- Humans are naturally inclined to do well with routines.
- Routines make collaboration easier.
- Committing to a routine can help minimize feelings of overwhelm and increase motivation.
Give Yourself a Break (Planned + Unplanned)
Yeah, this might feel laughable given your schedule, but please 👏🏻 take 👏🏻 breaks – throughout your workday and throughout the year. There's plenty of evidence that supports taking breaks and time off in relation to motivation.
This also means allowing yourself to take unplanned breaks. If you feel pressure mounting and recognize a lack of productivity, give yourself an unplanned break to recharge before it leads to even further diminished motivation.
And don’t stop with you! Back this practice up with policy. If you can offer paid mental health days for your employees, set a good example by demonstrating that mental health “sick days” are just as important as any other.
You’re not alone in your struggle for motivation, remember? Like-minded entrepreneurs (hi!) have created various apps uniquely designed to increase motivation and productivity for entrepreneurs.
Our personal favorite for Shopify merchants? Milestone Motivator. (OK, OK, we may be a little biased.)
We designed Milestone Motivator to empower Shopify merchants to maintain excitement about their business, every day. With the app, you can set and track goals for sales, products, and traffic – and even reward customers who help you reach your milestones!
Not a merchant, but still need motivation fuel? Whether you want a way to track your habits (and get helpful reminders!) or measure progress toward specific, quantifiable goals, Strides can do it all – in one slick, easy-to-use dashboard.
There’s a reason that mindfulness (and related practices like meditation) is rapidly growing in popularity. It’s backed by a sharp increase in global research, is a highly regarded tool for coping with mental health struggles, and is considered an incredibly useful practice for entrepreneurs, in particular.
Just some of the benefits include: reduced stress, increased motivation and patience, clearer decisions, enhanced focus, and better management of feelings of uncertainty.
If you’re new to meditation, consider starting with podcasts or playlists geared toward beginners. There are also a growing number of apps to guide you. Don’t give up on the practice if you don’t see results right away – some don’t start seeing benefits for a few weeks.
Get Professional Help
It’s 2022. Over the last two years as a country (and a planet) we’ve weathered severe social unrest, jarring political and economic instability, actual war, and – for crying out loud – a global pandemic. Everyone should be in therapy.
Seeking professional help is nothing to be embarrassed about. Even if you’re feeling 100% right now, proactively looking into therapy options is the type of ahead-of-the-curve thinking that made you into the incredible entrepreneur you are today.
You’re Never As Alone as You Feel
If you’re struggling right now, please reach out to someone you trust. If you don’t have someone you feel comfortable talking to, check out these resources.
From all of us at Tako,
Be well. ❤️