Entrepreneur Mental Wellness Needs a New Story

by Stu Minshew

 

The Big Problem

As a global society, we’re having much more productive conversations about mental wellbeing. In many places, we’ve begun to normalize the struggles we all face, seek help, and encourage others to do the same. Yet some days, and in some circles, it feels like we still have a long way to go. I believe entrepreneur circles and startup communities have some work to do in this regard.

I’ve been in entrepreneur circles for many years and I wouldn’t change that for anything. But there is a problem, and as followers of Christ, we have the freedom and responsibility to shine the light on this problem. Doing so allows us to talk about it with openness and honesty in order to lovingly serve and care for our brothers and sisters who are entrepreneurs.

Businesses Creates Change

Business, and entrepreneurship in particular, can be and have been powerful change agents for God’s Kingdom. For thousands of years, business has transformed communities, cities, nations, and the globe. It has helped pull millions of people out of poverty.

Sadly, business has also had its share of greed-fueled disasters that have negatively impacted thousands of people, or even whole populations. Thankfully, these instances only represent a small portion of the history of business. The global story of business is filled with examples of positive impact. It has been used to drive development, education, and innovation. For those following Jesus, it creates opportunities to join His work to usher in the Kingdom.

I see glimpses of God’s Kingdom in the world of entrepreneurship. The vast majority of Christian entrepreneurs I know are deeply committed to making a difference. Are they looking to make a profit and have more control over their schedule? Absolutely! But they also believe their product or service is glorifying God and improving their lives of their customers.

Many seek to improve the lives of their employees and point them to Christ. Others use the freedom created by entrepreneurship to transform their family or community. It may take on many forms, but Christian entrepreneurs are helping usher in God’s Kingdom.

Entrepreneurship’s Dark Side

I love entrepreneurship. I have been an entrepreneur, and continue to run a small business in addition to my full-time work. I facilitate programs that teach people how to successfully start a business. I consult, coach, and mentor other entrepreneurs. I love entrepreneurship.

However, there is a dark side to entrepreneurship, one that is destructive to the mental wellbeing of all entrepreneurs. We’ve believed the lie and created a culture where “hustle” is king and taking time away to rest and recharge is judged as a lack of commitment. Entrepreneurs experience little to no grace as they work desperately hard to personify the confidence and strength demanded by both secular and faith-based entrepreneurship culture, often sacrificing their own wellbeing to fit the mold.

And that is just to fit in. We also have to take into account the stress founders face when attracting investors, becoming and staying profitable, deciding when and how to scale, finding the right people for their team, and creating their organizational culture. The list goes on, and on, and on.

I’ve personally faced many of these stressors and I’ve seen them time and again with the entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the past six years. Thankfully, others have started to notice the high-cost entrepreneurship often has on the mental and physical wellbeing of entrepreneurs.

Starting the Conversation

Several excellent articles have begun to shed light on the problem. In her award winning article from 2013, Jessica Bruder took a bold step to bring to light the struggles that lead entrepreneurs to experience anxiety and depression. She started an important conversation and provided a few practical steps, yet little has been done, even in the christian community, to move the needle forward and equip entrepreneurs to deal with depression, anxiety, and burnout.

In his December 2018 article, Jake Chapman points out many factors that lead to depression, anxiety, and burnout among entrepreneurs. He points to research conducted by Michael Freeman that highlights the extent of the problem.

Chapman addresses the devastating impact unaddressed mental health concerns can have, “Depression, anxiety and mood disorders all actively work to undermine founder performance. They often contribute to burnout, co-founder conflict, toxic company culture, increased employee turnover, an inability to hire top talent, an inability to “show up” for important meetings and pitches and poor decision making in general.”

These issues are just as prevalent among entrepreneurs who follow Jesus and those who don’t. The same toxic culture of entrepreneurship that has taken hold in secular communities has also taken hold in the communities of those who want to glorify God through their businesses.

We Need a New Story

These widely circulated articles are an excellent start and have sparked a healthy conversation in a few entrepreneurship circles. Unfortunately, I’ve found a lack of resources available to help us change the story that drives the culture of entrepreneurship. Even more, I’ve found that the few resources that do exist were created with a distinct focus on female entrepreneurs. Sadly, neither men nor women are immune to the threats posed by these challenges and all entrepreneurs need access to tools and resources to help them to promote mental wellbeing.

As followers of Jesus, we should be leading this conversation and pushing for change. Together, we must work to destigmatize the struggles entrepreneurs face and equip our community to better care for our collective wellbeing. We need to tear down the lies of Satan and speak truth and grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Where do we Start?

We know it is a problem and we need to start talking about it. But where do we begin? I believe we need to begin by equipping entrepreneurs in three key areas:

Time Management – Let’s move beyond the lie that we must push ourselves beyond the point of exhaustion to accomplish our mission.

Address Fear and Anxiety – When left unchecked, these emotions affect us physically, mentally, and emotionally. Let’s improve our health and well-being by walking with the Holy Spirit to transform fear and anxiety into creative power, new possibilities, and clear decision-making.

Burnout Prevention – We need to build self-awareness to learn to quickly catch burnout patterns and gain access to the tools that will help us to transform exhaustion into sustained passion, inspired motivation, and better performance.

I strongly believe that the right tools and resources can promote mental health and wellbeing, and often prevent a crisis situation. However, it is vitally important that we learn to recognize the warning signs, both in our own lives and in others in our community. We must be willing to seek professional help and encourage others to do the same. (If you live in the US and are in a time of crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Similar services and/or mental healthcare professionals are available in other countries.)

Let’s get started!

During this season of my life, I feel I have an opportunity to serve this community by continuing the conversation. I’ve noticed a lack of available resources, and I believe I can play a role in helping our community begin to take actionable steps to promote mental wellbeing.

Can you help me by joining the conversation? What struggles from your entrepreneurial journey would you be willing to share? What has been the most helpful tool you have found to help you address these challenges? What tools would you like to see that you haven’t been able to find? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Reach out to Stu via The Unleashed Startup.

Stu Minshew is the Vice President of Innovation Operations for The Chalmers Center, an organization that equips churches to walk alongside people who are poor, breaking the spiritual, social, and material bonds of poverty. He is a facilitator for CO.STARTERS, where he equips aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their passions into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. An entrepreneur at heart, Stu has started four businesses, two in East Africa and two in the United States. You can connect with him online at UnleashedStartup.com, where he helps entrepreneurs move beyond feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and stuck by teaching them how to expand their time, transform their fear & anxiety, and break free from burnout.

Post adapted by author for The BAM Review from an article first published at UnleashedStartup.com.

 

 

BAM Endurance: Principles and Habits for Long-term Fruitfulness

One of the foundations of business as mission is that the company must be profitable and sustainable – otherwise how can it be a business long-term? We know that making sales, maintaining cash-flow and reaching profitability are a non-negotiables for BAM company health. Commercial success is critical.

But what else besides commercial success is vital to the endurance of a BAM company – or indeed to the BAM practitioners who run it?

Endurance vs Attrition

Missionary attrition is a term adopted by ‘member care’ experts to describe missionaries quitting the field earlier than planned and the factors that contribute to that. There is much we can learn from the wider mission community about the causes and cures of stress and attrition, however, when you add a commercial operation into the mix, there is an added layer of complexity.

What are the stressors common to business as mission that wear down a company’s chances of long-term survival? What causes practitioners to give up and go home? What causes BAM attrition, and conversely, what helps BAMers endure? Read more

Thriving vs Surviving: Building Skills and Support for BAMers

by Robert Andrews

Editors Note: When we asked veteran BAM leaders to identify some of the pressing issues that are facing the business as mission movement in the next decade, among the issues they identified were several areas that could broadly be categorized as ‘resource gaps for BAM companies’, including:

1. Adequate financial capital flow.

2. Adequate human capital flow – both in terms of a) recruiting the right kind of people to begin and sustain a BAM company, and b) succession planning and the successful transition of a BAM company from one generation of owners to another.

3. Adequate support for BAM practitioners, especially mentoring, accountability and care.

We have been posting articles covering each of these issues during the month of June, this week concluding with providing adequate support for BAMers.

Building Adequate Skills and Support for BAM Practitioners

There are many challenges facing the BAM community and it’s encouraging to see so much effort going to understanding and addressing these. One of the thornier issues is how best to support BAM practitioners in their work. These can be nationals trying to build the Kingdom in their home countries or foreigners who have committed to business in a cross-cultural setting. Both need support, but what support to give and how to give it is a current and urgent discussion.

Leading a BAM business requires a large set of skills, some of which one hopes the BAMer has at the outset, but many of which will have to be learned, hired, purchased, or borrowed from others. A beginning list of these skills could fall under the following headings:

  • General business:  finance, marketing, sales, HR, strategy, operations, business law; the stuff of an MBA
  • Industry specific:  how to make the product or deliver the service, the industry sales and pricing dynamics, and familiarity with the global market leaders
  • BAM general:  the theology of BAM and an understanding of how to make a spiritual impact while operating a business, plus access to a BAM network
  • Country/Region specific:  language, culture, worldview, local religion, local political, social or environmental issues, local business practices and law; plus the local spiritual dynamics, the status & challenges of the local church, and an awareness of what God is doing in the region
  • Personal/Family: emotional intelligence, strong personal spiritual life, character, care for family members, marital strength, physical health and habits

Read more

Are We Drifting? The Dangers of Secularization for a BAM Company

by David Skews

The Problem

While we can talk about the dangers of “mission drift” or the “secularization of BAM businesses”, I would argue that it is not really the mission that drifts, nor do businesses, come to think about it!

Recently, while talking to the owners of a failed start-up I was advised that the reason the “business failed” was that there was not enough customers to buy their products. I mused, “How was that the business’s fault?” You may accuse me of being too particular about the use of language. However, our use of language can sometimes be a mask that causes us to deceive ourselves. Sometimes it is easier to blame “something”, anything, before fully examining ourselves.

I would argue that any “drift” or “secularization” for a BAM company is more likely to be our drift from our personal relationship with God and His people, over any external influence.

So why did that business fail? It would help if we could apply the “5 Whys” method for getting to the core issue. We can apply this method anywhere, whether it to our mission, our business, our marriage, church, school etc. Some people ask 6 or even 7 whys, like I have here:

  • Why did the business fail? (failed to plan)
  • Why did the market move? (markets do)
  • Why did you not see that before? (failed to research)
  • Why did you not do the research? (failed to appreciate the importance of research)
  • Why did you feel it was not necessary? (sales, quality, environment, staff were taking my time)
  • Why did you fail to prioritize? (failed to take time for the important things)
  • Why did you not do the important things? (failed to balance life)

Read more

8 Ways to Strengthen Marriage and Family Relationships: BAM Practitioner Tips

Those who have a family and run a BAM company will have already experienced the challenges and stresses in one spilling over into the other! Threats to the healthy functioning of family life can end up becoming threats to the health of the business, and vice versa.

To close this BAM Endurance series, we are sharing insights from 12 married BAM practitioners. In Part 1 read about the 3 greatest challenges to marriage and family life these BAMers have faced while running a company.

In Part 2, we offer 8 ways to strengthen marriage and family relationships that these BAM practitioners share from their own experiences:

8 Ways to Strengthen Marriage and Family Relationships

1. Get your priorities straight

At the foundations, are you putting the first things first in your life? BAM practitioners shared that having the right foundation for decision making – shaped by the word of God, and wise advice – led them to making better choices about how they spent their time.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I own the business, the business doesn’t own me. If I value family time I need to structure my business in such a way that it allows me to spend time with them. There will always be busy periods at work but if I’m always working 14 hour days I’m not doing a good job structuring things. I love the classic business book, The E-Myth which is a great reminder that I need to be working “on” the business not “in” the business. It is possible to build a business the suits the lifestyle I want to live but it takes intentional planning, strategizing and structuring. – Peter, Nepal

There are certain habits I’ve leaned on over the years and one of them is reading the Word of God. While the entirety of God’s Word, through direct reading as well as through exposition by preachers, has been helpful in guiding my thoughts and actions, I have benefitted the most from reading Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These books of the Bible have helped me to recognize what is most important in life and to let go of things that are not fundamental to my identity and purpose in life. – John, India/USA Read more

The 3 Greatest Challenges to Marriage and Family Life: BAM Practitioner Stories

Some BAM practitioners are married. Some are married to their business partners! Some BAMers have children. Others don’t. The shape and size of our families – and our companies – varies tremendously. Those who have a family and run a BAM company will have already experienced the challenges and stresses in one spilling over into the other! Threats to the healthy functioning of family life can end up becoming threats to the health of the business, and vice versa.

As we close this BAM Endurance series, we share insights from 12 married BAMers on the three greatest challenges to marriage and family life they face while running a company.

In Part 2, we offer 8 ways to strengthen marriage and family relationships that these BAM practitioners have shared from their own experiences.

The 3 Greatest Challenges to Marriage and Family Life

Of all the challenges to health marriage and family relationships that the 12 BAMers shared, they essentially boil down to one of three main issues:

1. Time management and stress build up

2. Blurred lines between business and home

3. Lack of understanding and support

1. Time Management and Stress Build Up

The sheer scale of the task and the responsibilities of the business can easily overtake family priorities. Running a business can become all consuming and erode time that should be spent with family. For those who work together, this problem may be exasperated if you both enjoy working hard and end up with a lack of balance between work and family-focused time. In the short-term there may be seasons where the pressures of the business mean working longer hours. However, if this is allowed to become a long-term pattern, a build up of personal and relational stress will become a threat to healthy marriage and family relationships – and ultimately the business itself. Read more

The Ingredients for a Healthy Business Team Part 2: Best Practices

‘Team troubles’ were one of the top 4 reasons BAM mentors gave for practitioners giving up and going home. The ability to build effective teams and work through difficult team dynamics is therefore crucial for the sustainability of BAM companies. In this interview, we talk to Luke, a BAM business owner living in the Middle East, about his business story and what ingredients make for healthy business teams.

Read Part 1: Business Story

What general principles do you have for any company team for building healthy team relationships?

As soon as you want to build a scalable business the business team becomes super-important. The essence of a successful business is in the team, rather than the individual. To grow you need to be able to manage the business as a team, you need to be able to be on the same page.

I think at the heart of healthy team relationships there is good communication and honesty. These build trust, they reduce the sense of isolation, and they bring unity and agreement on strategy. This is particularly important for teams in multiple locations when there is a high risk of feeling isolated or misunderstood.

Honesty is crucial. Getting to the right level of honesty to enable the team to be most effective can be painful and humbling. Sometimes I don’t want to share when things go wrong, or it’s not looking as good as I hoped. Pride can lead us to partial honesty. I am talking about the temptation to overplay a lead or exaggerate about a potential client because you want to look good. However, partial honesty seriously reduces the ability of the team to manage the business, because they don’t have a clear enough picture of what’s going on. Read more

The Ingredients for a Healthy Business Team Part 1: Business Story

‘Team troubles’ were one of the top 4 reasons BAM mentors gave for practitioners giving up and going home. The ability to build effective teams and work through difficult team dynamics is therefore crucial for the sustainability of BAM companies. In this interview, we talk to Luke, a BAM business owner living in the Middle East, about his business story and what ingredients make for healthy business teams.

Luke, you have a company in the Middle East that offers corporate team building experiences. What lead you into that business?

My professional background is in engineering and engineering requires a high degree of collaboration. There is a strong need to work in effective teams. Then early on in my career, I worked on some projects in the Middle East that got me interested in the dynamics of business and recognising how companies create employment and other benefits for communities.

Over 20 years ago, we got involved in youth ministry with a mission organisation. As part of their training, this mission uses a very intensive week-long personal and team building exercise. Trainees are put under extreme pressure to see how they cope in a team situation. Our experience with that opened my eyes further to the need for healthy team dynamics. Mission workers spend months, maybe years, preparing to go overseas, but if their team falls apart, they may have to come home.

I realised I’d had years of training as an engineer and I didn’t just want to give all that away. I was learning lessons about effective teams myself and becoming motivated to help others be effective. Alongside that, I felt drawn to do business at a heart level. So I had a sense of calling to business, but  it was also becoming a personal passion. I was praying and asking God, “What should I do, youth ministry with this mission organisation or business and engineering?” When God spoke he said, “It’s AND, not OR – do both.” Read more

So What Shall We Do Tomorrow? How We Have Endured

One day down

Sleep deprived, stressed, hiding in the office to cry, then pulling it together and working hard physically, attempting to speak a foreign language, smiling at potential customers, doing everything for the first time, from start to finish, from nerve-wracking open to exhausted and exuberant close. We did it! There was cash in the drawer to prove it. Success!!! We made it through… Day one.

We arrived home near midnight, our three small boys in tow. As we straggled through the door, my husband turned to me and said, “So what shall we do tomorrow?”

I stopped. I stared at him. Then I’m pretty sure I laughed. Barely.

All the focus for years and months had been to start a business. Now it was started. We were worn out, but the real work had just begun.

Later we learned that starting a business is like having a baby. In so many ways. One moment it appears unbelievably fragile. The next moment it’s screaming its lungs out in a show of robust strength. Helpless. Demanding. Exceedingly needy!

There was one American woman who understood this business-baby analogy before we did. She visited us the first day at the shop, congratulated us, and gave us a lasagne. Read more

Succession Planning: How Do We Plan for Our Exit?

Our panel of mentors regularly answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!

 

Dear BAM Mentor,

I keep hearing about succession planning and having an exit strategy… But when should I be thinking about this? How does it tie in with leadership development in my team?

~ Thinking Long-term

Dear Thinking,

Start the Beginning with the End in Mind

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. – Philippians 3:15-16 MSG

Every life experience has a beginning and an end. The multiple stages of parenting is a fairly accurate depiction of this truism. First-time parents know, even in those first days of newborn-nuzzling, they must one day release that child. The busyness of the initial parenting season blurs the reality of inevitable separation. When the eventual becomes the reality, the detachment process can be palpable. As painful as this process can be, if it doesn’t happen, the child will most likely never continue to develop into a fully productive, self-sufficient individual.

Similarly, one can view the life-cycle of a business and its founder in the same manner. For founders, the early stages require us to do just about everything. We build and test product, we market and sell, we provide customer service, we make coffee, we clean toilets, and we take on any and every unenviable task, if seen as advancing our vision. Our “new baby” is solely dependent on us. For some in this stage, we can’t even leave the “baby” for fear we will return to a mess at best, or a dangerous situation at worst.  Read more