"You're a Human Being Before You're a Human Doing"

Entrepreneurs are at risk for depression when they over-identify their self-worth with the success of their business.

Strategies to avoid this pitfall, and "create resiliency against the violence that often happens at work":

  • Practice the art of non-attachment: do your best, give it your all, and don't be hung up on the result.
  • Engage with a multi-generational community. Learn from one another, and realize you don't have to do it all alone. 
  • Adopt the notion of practice. "Practice being a CEO."
  • Allow yourself to *be* (yourself) at work. 

Jerry Colonna, executive coach and former venture capitalist, interviews Parker J Palmer, author, educator, and activist, about "Surviving the StartUp Life". They discuss "standing in the tragic gap" - the place between harsh realities of life and knowing what could be possible; aka the "eternal human yearning to be connected with something larger than my own ego". 

Life in a startup (anywhere, really) is hectic, and it's easy to forget self-care. Unfortunately, our bodies and minds are more likely to break down when under prolonged stress. Clinical depression becomes a real issue. 

Here's Palmer's description of how he experienced depression (transcribed-ish):

He is not surprised when he hears someone under depression commits suicide. Clinical depression is utterly exhausting, and eventually you just want a rest.

The faculties he (and most of us) usually depends on are:

  • Intellect
  • Emotions
  • Will
  • Ego

In depression, each of these are rendered utterly useless. 

Intellect: You can think yourself into a depression, but you can't think your way out of it. 

Emotions: A depression is not about feeling bad, it's the terrifying knowledge that you can feel nothing at all. 

Will: It barely exists. At the advice of a therapist, he kept track of any minor gains he made every day. He learned something about using a gentler metric because his will was non-existent.

Ego: While living in ego is lonely, a depression will shatter even that. 

What he came to see is that he has another faculty, the Soul. He learned to honor his being and how to hold the other faculties more modestly. They were no longer the main tools. Nowadays, his intention is to be in the world in a more soulful, authentic, truthful, way. He is honoring his potential and his limitations. At 74, he feels it more important to be in the world as he truly is. 

The video continues with a Q&A with the audience. Here's an excerpt.

What is the one thing that stops entrepreneurs from being successful?

(Jerry) The fear of failure.

First, be sure you know how you define success. There's so much pressure, but if you apply the notion of practice to the startup and you find a way to pay the bills, then the definition of success starts to change. Take the fangs away from the monster of fear and failure. 

(I would add the old coaching adage: "there's no failure, only feedback". Didn't get many signups for the call? Try a different marketing strategy. Didn't get a high opt-in conversion? Try a different call-to-action, or change the color of the button. And for the love of chocolate, don't define yourself by the number of Twitter followers. Building a business takes time.)

How can I hold myself together in the multiple roles I play? What if I succeed as an entrepreneur but fail as a father? 

(Parker) Community has healing power. When I struggled with depression there was one phrase I needed to hear: "Welcome to the human race; we're all in this together." This experience doesn't set you apart, it pulls you closer to us. The failure or the success don't define you; they're both equally toxic. We're often taught to play different roles and segmenting our lives, but we do have control over whether we're the same person everywhere we show up. As we do it, we incrementally add to our own sense of well-being and wholeness. 

(Jerry) I went to watch a movie with my son, and was moved to tears. A part of me said, "I can't do this in front of him" - I was afraid he would love me less. But what he expressly said was, "Dad, it makes it easier to love you, knowing that you struggle."

It's ok to share your struggles with your family and kids, because you'll be modeling the wholeness of who you are

(I would add Brené Brown's books as a resource, they are powerful tools to help put vulnerability and courage into perspective.)

Here's the video:

If you can't see it, the link is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlSp16ZhiXg.

"Violence is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering." Parker Palmer

The violence that happens at work can be a harsh word (self-talk or said out loud), not taking a lunch break (denying yourself basic nourishment), withholding information, feeling resentful (envy and greed both have green eyes), sabotaging yourself or others. I invite you this week to be kind to yourself, and to recognize your (or, if you are) suffering.

Sad Clown image from flickr by Shawn Campbell, Creative Commons license