daily articles for founders

Sad, tired and alone - or not  

Zak Homuth discusses his perspective on getting depressed while running a startup:

The highs are higher, and the lows are lower. If you're a founder you've felt like this before. If you're about to startup you will feel like this someday. And it's ok. It's baked in. You quite simply can't change the world in a couple of years without doing more than most people do in a lifetime.

That's true, but...

I am currently in the midst of the deepest, darkest, and longest depression I have had in the last 2 years of my life. Possibly ever. (...) 82 weeks ago I started my third startup. Since starting Upverter I've felt this depression about a half a dozen times, I guess once a quarter. Its normally just a really, really bad day. Sometimes longer. (...) For me, the sadness normally means I hide. I sleep. I stare at my screen knowing what I need to do, but not doing it. I eat too much or not at all. And I drink. Im at a coffee shop right now writing this - and its the first time I've left my room in three days. During school and Sandvine I got fat - like 265lbs fat. It was pretty bad. I was able to lose the weight (80lbs), but it wasn't easy - it was a lot of support, a lot of friends and family, and a lot of quiet-time introspection.

This seems a little bit extreme.

Everyone has up days and down days. Most of the people I've worked with consider me to be very productive. I don't sit around and do nothing... or do I? I regularly have days when I just can't summon the energy to do anything. Even in the midst of being extremely busy, there'll be the odd day (probably once every couple of weeks at the very least, sometimes once a week) when I just don't do anything at all for a whole day. No blogging, no working, barely answering emails, etc. You know, one of those kinds of days where you just feel like you wasted the day.

It sounds very much like what Zak describes, except for one huge difference: I don't call it depression. I accept it as a natural side-effect of the way my brain works.

As Zak rightly points out, "the highs are higher, and the lows are lower". That's not just a function of being a startup founder, but simply of having the kind of highly creative, driven, productive mind that can even consider starting a startup. Certainly, the pressure of running your own business (particularly if you've taken funding and/or people's livelihoods depend on you) will exacerbate both the highs and the lows (not many jobs give you the high of earning yourself £100k in one day - or the lows of failing to earn it when it was just within your reach).

However, whether it is "depression" or simply a natural low is a matter of perspective. Instead of fighting the lows, I embrace them. I learn to recognise "those days" as symptoms of my brain telling me "hey, today I'm on a break." Instead of trying to force myself to work through that (which rarely works anyway), I embrace it and allow myself to not do anything. I allow myself to let go, to feel like nothing is working out (despite evidence to the contrary), like everything is out of shape. What enables me to do this is the knowledge that a) it's temporary, I'll feel different tomorrow, and b) it's ok, I'm productive enough the rest of the time to make up for a day off every now and then.

Sometimes the answer to being down is simply to accept that it's ok to be down, and do something else while you wait for it to pass.

More from the library:
Advice for a young entrepreneur
How to validate a startup idea
Use the tools you're displacing
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