My world collapsed and I was still saying “I can do better”
Creating & innovating, raising funds, managing employees, incessantly trying to meet the expectation of both customers and investors, the constant fear of failure…This is the daily life of an entrepreneur.
The founders-mantra: dream, create, grow, repeat, might carry for some feelings of romanticized 21st-century adventures.
Yet, as the often-cited study by Dr. Micheal Freeman shows, a shockingly high proportion of entrepreneurs are suffering from mental health issues. Moreover, this problem is seldom directly addressed. Indeed, a Business Insiders report in 2015 called this mental-health problem “The Tech’s dark secret”.
At Chinaccelerator we aim to break the silence and raise awareness of this issue. We asked entrepreneurs two questions last week, which we deem relevant in explaining the problems entrepreneurs are facing.
「Q1: When was the last time you broke down? Felt burnt out? What was your feeling?」
「Q2: Do you know why you broke down or felt burnt out?」
Furthermore, we would like to give a big applause to everyone who participated in this campaign and shared his or her story.
. . .
@Christopher Nheu 饶乃昆
1. My heart rate was pounding so hard… I couldn’t breathe anymore
In July 2018, when I was working in a high-growth, tech startup, we had a huge project that was months overdue. Each week the team was burning cash and not delivering any features. It was an extremely stressful time and it resulted in my first experience of depression and anxiety.
When I was depressed, I couldn’t do anything. The first time I had an anxiety attack, I was at the gym. I had finished my session and was cooling down, but I noticed my heart rate was pounding so hard to the point where I couldn’t breathe anymore. That was so scary, I had to call my partner up and she helped me calm down.
I felt like I had become a different person. I was unmotivated, physically weak, I was pessimistic, I just felt like crying. I was disabled.
In fact, the number 1 cause of disability worldwide is not physiological impairment, it’s now mental illness.
2. Turn from ‘”I can do better” to “I am not good enough”
I started seeing a psychologist who helped me unpack the answers. She taught me how the stories we tell ourselves can often start with good intentions but turn bad under a different situation.
I have always had a growth-mindset : “I can do better”.
But during the project, I was stressed and tired out of my mind.
So when my relationships started suffering, I said: “I can do better”.
When I’d sleep late and have no energy at work, I said: “I can do better”.
When I was mindlessly chasing endless notifications and deadlines, I said “I can do better”.
Then, out of nowhere, two of my team members quit, and as a leader I couldn’t stop it…
That’s when it hit me and I experienced my first bout of depression and anxiety.
The reality was I was doing my very best. And due to external factors that I couldn’t control, that story, playing on repeat, had turned from “I can do better” to “I’m not good enough”.
When that core belief flipped, that’s when everything changed.
That’s why today I’m working on a mindfulness journal to help people cultivate happiness.
Image credit: pixabay
. . .
Founder of the Beijing Mindfulness Centre
1. I even thought about suicide
I had depression in 2009 with suicidal thoughts and a lot of anxieties. I sought therapy and started to practice mindfulness.
2. My whole world was collapsing
I was going through a divorce, I was scared of the economy crisis and didn’t feel I had support from my friends. My whole world was collapsing and I doubted my capacity to make right decisions.
. . .
Founder of Culture Yard and Co-Founder of B-Electric
1. It is an endless circle
That happened more than once. The usual – a few cases of anxiety turning to depression that manifested in one or more of these – sleepless nights / not being able to get out of bed for weeks / complete loss of appetite / not being able to stop myself from eating and gaining 20 extra kilos / mood swings etc. etc.
2. Have time without your phone!
There is a multitude of reasons why it happened to me – financial stress is usually the biggest cause. Others can be – loneliness in my role or overwork.
I am still mostly very functioning and can hide it quite well for a while but only up to a certain point.
What helps me personally is a combination of these – preparing contingency plans, staying active, being honest about how I feel earlier on before I reach complete burnout, regular sharing with other entrepreneurs, watching my diet, exercising, taking regular breaks, having time without my phone.
. . .
Boss of Wasavy’s Printshop
1. Feeling empty doing my daily work
I would say last spring. By the end of June I was feeling completely drained, drained of energy and mental strength.
Just being empty going through these days trying to cope with my daily work.
Image credit: pixabay
2. Get some rest!
I mean it’s probably caused by lots of small things adding up together, but I feel last spring the biggest issue was my workload.
So first, what I do is I custom print t-shirts, from a one-off quirky sentence to hundreds of uniforms or giveaways for a brand. It’s fun to do, it’s manual work and I’ve been doing that for years, so I know that spring is always a peak time.
Last year, after I improved a bunch of things on how I work, I got into spring feeling invincible, so I think I took on a bit too many orders. I didn’t keep count but I think I ended up working 7 days a week for about 2 or 3 months straight. I wasn’t pulling all-nighters, so I felt I was OK, but little by little exhaustion caught up.
And this is where it gets harder. The more exhausted you get, the more small mistakes you make. Then you get slower at what you do. Then you need to work more hours for the same task. Then you get even more tired. Then comes in the stress of not finishing things in time. And as an entrepreneur (I feel we almost all got that issue), it’s really hard to let go of things, to just say “no” to an order or to extend a deadline so you can catch a break.
As I was going through that, the more it went and the less I enjoyed doing what I do, and I love doing what I do! At the end, I was completely washed out, just mindlessly going to work everyday, doing nothing outside of it, zombie-mode.
The main reason I hung on is that I knew that right after that, in July, I was going home for a few weeks and giving a surprise to my brother who was about to be a dad for the 2nd time. Having that goal, and that goal being completely disconnected from my struggles at that time was really helpful.
But I needed to change something so it doesn’t happen again at a time where I don’t have that cool goal at the end. So now I just stick to this rule: 6 days work weeks max. I mean it must seem normal, or actually even too much for a lot of people. But when you start and run your own company, it’s really easy to be so enthusiastic about it, so much into it, that you use every shred of time for it. There is a plus side to doing that, things go faster, it does feel great too in some way. But in the end, there is always a limit to what a body and mind can do at full capacity on the long run, it’s that simple.
That one day break per week might not seem much, but I feel much more balanced. I rest a bit more with that, eat a bit better with that, see a few more people with that. And most of all I do get to enjoy my work more, be more efficient, and get some fresh ideas too when I step back just a little.
. . .
General Partner at Haitao Capital
1. This is also a personal issue for us as investors
As a founder-driven VC we are only too aware of the very real issue of mental health and wellbeing of our portfolio ‘s Co-Founders, and the dangerous stigma still associated with mental wellness in general.
Over past 12 months we have worked intensively with 2 portfolio’s co-founders to construct strategies and frameworks, ensure sufficient resource allocation and policy / culture changes as a result of founders/co-founders stress & breakdown. In both cases, significant changes were required and the founders/co-founders have both returned to the businesses after 6-8 months.
Aside from the obvious health of the affected founders/co-founders, one of the main hurdles to overcome was re-stigma, from the wider team and sadly, from the Board.
This is a personal issue for us as investors. In my own experience one of my own co-founders and CTO of a past company I started suffered a complete mental breakdown from unmanaged stress. Unfortunately, that did not have a positive outcome, my co-founder was ultimately admitted under care remaining for over 2 years and significantly affecting his life. The experience took a toll on family, friendships & the business. It is an area that needs focus & attention BEFORE negative events occur.
2. It’s our responsibility to tackle this issue
Especially in this day and age as more and more studies show correlations of higher incidences of bi-polarity and founders of high growth co’s ~ as investors, advisors etc it is our responsibility to tackle this issue head on in the open.
Chinaccelerator just interviewed Enoch Li for the China Startup Pulse Podcast. Enoch Li is the author of “Stress in the City: Playing My Way Out of Depression” and Founder of BEARAPY, which was founded with the mission to reduce burnout and mental health issues in the community through helping adults access their inner playfulness.
In this episode, Enoch shares her own struggles with mental health and the importance of taking care of employees’ mental wellbeing. She emphasizes that mentors and investors also need to take on the role of creating a healthy environment for entrepreneurs. Check it out HERE!
You can find our podcast by searching “China Startup Pulse” on any podcast platforms or visiting our page HERE.
Contact Enoch Li: