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In 2012 I attended a conference for entrepreneurs. It was at a ski resort in Lake Tahoe.
The conference was filled with a lot of really smart and impressive business people. I can’t remember all of them, but it was a very open scene. Regardless of the level of “success” people had, everyone treated each other more or less as equals.
I was just starting my second startup venture. I wanted to meet other founders and there were random encounters and opportunities to chat.
During one meal I chatted with one of the founders of Lyft (called “Zimride” at the time).1
Lots of people mingled in the “pop up barbershop”. You could get a shave or haircut if you wanted.
I met a founder there named Jody. I had read about him before in a news article on his startup “Ecomom”. He was a larger than life type guy and everyone there seemed to know him already. He had an air of effortless success about him.
Almost a year to the day later, I read that he killed himself. Apparently he battled with clinical depression.
Depression in Entrepreneurs is Common
Even though entrepreneurs are revered, they experience depression just like anyone else.
Indeed, entrepreneurs may be more likely to suffer from depression. In addition to dealing with life, they’re leading investors, customers, employees, etc. on a journey with no map to a place that doesn’t exist yet.
Solopreneurs have it worse.
If you’re lucky, very lucky, they’ll have a loving family as a sounding board.
As a solopreneur, for many years I suffered from intermittent bouts of depression.
Working at home by myself was great in many ways. And I was always ready to believe that I could accomplish anything, just by putting my mind to it.
But sometimes I went overboard… And putting my mind to it lead to “analysis paralysis”.
Analysis paralysis can lead to depression if you’re a solopreneur.
What happens is that fear creeps into your analysis…You start thinking that your work is too flawed. You have no one to check with on this, so to compensate, you do work that you believe is “safe” from criticism… But “safe” never something you never really imagined your work would be.
More fear… More flaws… Then paralysis.
You’re stuck in your own head. And depression starts to take hold.
After working more or less by myself for the past almost 10 years, I’ve found several ways to cope when feelings of depression start to set in.
Five Ways to Overcome Depression as a Solopreneur
The following are things you can do to mitigate feelings of depression as a solopreneur, or entrepreneur.
1) Expose Yourself to Healthy Collisions:
Getting out of your house can mean opportunities for a healthy “collision”.
A healthy collision is a diverse encounter with someone from a different background, a different industry, or perhaps someone who’s… just plain weird.
It could be a checkout person at the store, or someone you’re sitting next to at Starbucks or even a bar2 Strike up a conversation with them.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos believes such collisions can increase productivity (he refers to them as “serendipitous encounters”).
Indeed, recent research shows that gender diversity produce higher quality science. And research from Stanford University suggests that heterogeneous teams that foster constructive conflict perform better than otherwise “comfortable” homogeneous teams.
2) Get Some Exercise:
When analysis paralysis sets in, you may just need to get out of the house for a serendipitous encounter…
But you may benefit even more from getting exercise.
Go for a walk. Go for a run. Do some gardening outside. Anything that can get your heart pumping, and more oxygen into your body can help you to hit the reset button. Running can be especially useful for combatting a bout of depression.
When exercising, it’s hard to focus on anything else. But when you’re running you can also get the benefits of both. A mental “escape” is possible, and your body needs to be performing a coordinated activity. It’s the best of both worlds. Indeed, not only are the health aspects beneficial, but I found my creativity spikes when going for a run.
3) Call a Friend:
Calling a friend to have a conversation about nothing can be surprisingly helpful. Since your friend won’t have a clue what you’re going through at the moment, a conversation to catch up wipes the slate clean. It also opens up a chance for sharing about how you’re feeling. If your friend is interested in how you’re doing, you can share as much as you want with him or her about your state of mind.
Most importantly, during the call, tell your friend that you’re feeling better because you called them. This has a double benefit. It sets the stage for your unconscious mind to receive the information that you’re feeling better. And two, it is a compliment to your friend. This can only strengthen your friendship.
4) Make Five Cold Calls:
If you’re feeling depressed, I highly recommend hitting the phones. Nothing kills depression like making a sale…
There are three reasons why making cold calls is an automatic depression killer.
- Cold calling sucks: It’s just a fact that calling people unannounced and asking them for money is tough. You’re not only interrupting them, but you’re asking them to give something to a total stranger.
- It’s Scary: Unless you’re a psycho, cold calling automatically triggers a fear response. You’re reaching outside the herd and opening yourself up to rejection.
- Making a Deal or a Contact: At least one, if not more, of your cold calls could be successful. If you succeed, I guarantee you will no longer be depressed. You will be dancing a freakin’ jig. You will feel like a superhero.
The three reasons above are why cold calling kills depression. In each case, you’ve done something that is both a real accomplishment and is also an “ego killer”.
1) You’ve done something that sucks, but that you know you must do. 2) You’ve overcome your fear and done something scary. And 3) you’ve actually succeeded at that thing.
5) Make Some Good Food:
I used to eat a lot of sugar and sugary snacks throughout the day. But for the last few months, I’ve been eating 2-3 Brazil nuts each morning, in addition to my regular cup(s) of coffee, as my only “breakfast”. I wait until noon to eat anything else.3
Doing this has not been difficult… And I am not sure if it’s the Brazil nuts, or eating less food that’s working, but I feel better doing it.
When I start eating food, I try to make my lunch something healthy. Usually it’s eggs, cheese and some spinach or some leftovers from the night before.
The important thing, I think, is watching what you eat. Eating too much sugar can make you depressed for sure. Instead, make some vegetables and protein for your meal. Eat some nuts. Drink water, not Gatorade, juice or soda.
To make it easier to do these things, hit Trader Joes, or your local grocery store and get some pre-made frozen vegetable meals in some spicy sauce, like curry. This means the only thing separating you from better eating and better moods, is 5 minutes and the microwave.
- His name was John Zimmer. He told me about the ride sharing idea he was working on. I have to admit I didn’t get it at the time.
- Those of us who’ve seen the “Imitation Game” may recall that Alan Turing was entirely on the verge of giving up on his attempt to crack the Enigma Code when a chance encounter in a bar provides him with the insight needed to solve the problem, and defeat Germany.
- I started doing this after reading that eating 2-5 Brazil nuts per day can help reduce depression because they contain a lot of selenium (100 micrograms).