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.