If we’re going to foster a true entrepreneurial community + safe space, we need to have these conversations. We need to stop letting ignorance masquerade as self-help and giving it a pass, and instead we need to give real help – even if it’s not as comfortable or easy, or even if that’s just the willingness to listen.
This post comes to you courtesy of Off We Go: Entrepreneurs & Mental Illness, a guest post series coming to you every Tuesday while I’m off, writing and Internet-less, at Hedgebrook. Today’s post is by Michelle Nickolaisen.
Listen to me read this piece below:
As entrepreneurs, we’re a pretty determined bunch. You don’t decide to go into business for yourself without having some stubbornness or desperation (or both) (what’s the difference, really?) deep-seated in your soul. Choosing to be an entrepreneur is intentionally choosing a path that can often be difficult, lonely, will often be misunderstood, and it means that everyone from strangers to your SO will ask you a lot of (not always friendly) questions.
Naturally, this creates the perfect environment for self-help binges. The entrepreneurs I know, combined, read enough self-help/personal development books to build a bonfire big enough to be seen from outer space.
Which is fine. Except for when it’s not.
Way, way too often, people think that having voraciously consumed mountains of self-help literature makes them an expert on the human brain, how it works, and what, exactly, every single person ever can do to fix their lives…rightthisinstant.
You are not an expert on the human brain.
Quite frankly, even the real-actual-have-been-studying-this-for-years experts don’t know everything there is to know yet. This is why SSRIs are literal lifesavers for some people, but when I was on one for anxiety, it made me lose weight, stop sleeping, and generally want to die. (No bueno.)
Acting like you know everything there is to know because you’ve read a few regurgitated summaries of studies about the benefits of meditation is not only unhelpful, it’s downright obnoxious and bordering on dangerous. (Telling a suicidal person to just get over it and meditate more and practice gratitude? Prrrrobably not a good idea.)
Now, the one thing you can be an expert on is how your human brain works. You know what helps you out of a rut and what is incredibly, actually, totally not helpful — so trust that other people know the same about themselves.
Which brings us to…
Depression is not “laziness.” Anxiety is not “worrying.” Mental illness is not the same thing as “self sabotage” or an “upper limit problem.”
Part of the problem with the Self-Help Brigade is that to an inexperienced outsider, these things can and often do look the same. And if you’re from the “tough love” school of self-help, it can be tempting to give someone an unsolicited kick in the pants about their “laziness” or their “inability” to just calm down and stop worrying so much!
You know what would be really compassionate and enlightened and Zen as all get-out?
Listening to them and being there for them without judging, condemning, or giving them the same crap they’re probably used to hearing.
There is no one-size-fits-all.
Something I was struck by when reading this piece that starts out with artisanal toast and wound up almost making me sob on the bus is that for her, entrepreneurship was a lifeline. Running her own business saved her. For me, it got to the point of being incredibly isolating and lonely. (Now that I’m out of that headspace, I know I could do entrepreneurship again, better, as a full time gig, if I decided to… but it’s key that I had to step back and have that breathing room before I could see that.)
In other words: our solutions were different. Nigh-on polar opposites, in fact. But they worked, for each of us.
I still do my own thing (clearly, here I am!) while getting many of my needs met by my job. I didn’t “give up,” and while I’m sure I could have stayed on my then-path, I’m equally sure it would have ended badly.
As mentioned, we’re all different. We do things different ways. My mental health — my doing better — is not the same as yours. My self-care is probably not the same as yours. My entrepreneurial path could look very different than yours.
And that’s okay. That doesn’t make it better or worse. Just not the same.
If we’re going to foster a true entrepreneurial community and safe space, we need to have these conversations. We need to stop letting ignorance masquerade as self-help and giving it a pass, and instead we need to give real help — even if it’s not as comfortable or easy, or even if that’s just the willingness to listen. That’s the only way, in my humble (…or not) opinion, to make this new wave of 21st-century entrepreneurship sustainable.
Michelle Nickolaisen is a writer who lives in Austin, TX with her Shiba Inu, where she works in marketing and eats way too much dark chocolate. You can hit her up on Twitter or Instagram (especially if you have any interest in seeing a ridiculous amount of dog photos and a some silly videos that involve reading tea labels in a macho fashion), or check out her writings on personal productivity & life at Bombchelle.