No one really talks about how challenging starting and running a business is. One day you're making great sales; the next day, a whole batch of products is damaged, setting you back months in production. Or even worse, one disgruntled customer rants on social media, single-handedly ruining the brand you have been creating for years. Even further, the burnout from overworking as you can't afford to hire staff.
The journey of entrepreneurship is not smooth, and founders aren't immune to mental health issues. In fact, according to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, entrepreneurs are more likely to experience mental health challenges than the general population. If you're feeling overwhelmed as a founder, that's natural. Remember, it's possible to overcome mental health challenges and achieve success.
Here are ten entrepreneurs who overcame mental health challenges and built thriving businesses:
1. Elon Musk: Therapy, self-care, work breaks.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is known for his ambitious goals and relentless work ethic. However, Musk has also been open about his struggles with mental health, particularly concerning burnout. In a 2018 interview, Musk spoke about how he worked up to 120 hours a week and used sleeping pills to manage his schedule. However, this lifestyle eventually took a toll on his health, leading to exhaustion and physical symptoms like back pain.
Musk has changed his work habits and lifestyle to manage his mental health. He now limits his workweek to 80-90 hours (which is still insane), takes time off when needed, and prioritizes self-care through activities like exercise and spending time with his children. Musk has sought help from therapists and relied on close friends and family for support during difficult times.
Musk's story shows that even the most successful entrepreneurs struggle with mental health challenges and that seeking help and making lifestyle changes can bring more balance into your life.
2. Oprah Winfrey: Mindfulness, meditation, therapy, and gratitude journaling.
If 'I don't need an introduction' was a person, it would be Oprah Winfrey. She is one of the most successful Black women in the world. With all her success, she has struggled with depression and has been very open about it.
OWN's media mogul and founder has spoken about her struggles and how she overcame them. In a 2020 interview with People, Winfrey shared that she had experienced depressive episodes and anxiety throughout her life, including during the early years of her television career. To manage her depression, Winfrey sought therapy and practiced mindfulness activities like meditation and gratitude journaling.
She has credited her daily meditation practice with helping her manage her mental health and focus on her goals. Winfrey also seeks therapy when needed and has become an advocate for mental health awareness, donating millions to mental health research and treatment.
Winfrey emphasizes the importance of seeking professional help for mental health challenges and using self-care practices to counter symptoms. She also encourages individuals to be open about their mental health struggles by opening up to loved ones.
3. Jeff Bezos: Taking breaks, self-care.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has spoken about his experiences with burnout and the importance of work-life balance. In a 2018 interview with Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner, Bezos said, "I believe if you're not getting enough sleep if you're not taking care of yourself in the right way, you're not going to be as effective at work." He also noted the importance of taking breaks and disconnecting from work to recharge. Bezos has prioritized self-care and encourages his employees to do the same.
4. Sara Blakely: Positive self-talk, gratitude.
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, has spoken about her experiences with anxiety and how she learned to manage it. In a 2017 interview with Forbes, Blakely said that she used to get panic attacks before speaking in public, but she learned to reframe the experience as excitement rather than fear. She also practices gratitude and positive self-talk to manage her anxiety. Blakely has become an advocate for mental health awareness and has donated to mental health organizations.
5. Bill Gates: Work-life balance.
Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has spoken about his struggles with anxiety and how he learned to manage it. In a 2019 interview with CNN, Gates said he used to get "very tense" before public speaking engagements but learned to manage his anxiety through practice and preparation. Gates also takes time off to recharge and encourages his employees to prioritize work-life balance.
6. Sheryl Sandberg: Self-care and self-compassion.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has spoken about her experiences with grief and how she coped after her husband's sudden death in 2015. In her book Option B, Sandberg writes about how she sought help from therapists and leaned on her support system during difficult times. She also emphasizes the importance of self-compassion and self-care in dealing with grief and mental health.
7. Richard Branson: Self-care and work breaks.
Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, has spoken about his struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. In his book, Finding My Virginity, Branson writes about how he struggled in school and was told that he would never succeed. However, he learned to manage his conditions and developed coping mechanisms that allowed him to achieve great success. Branson also emphasizes the importance of self-care and taking time off work to relax.
8. Sophia Amoruso: Self-care, therapists, and practicing gratitude.
Sophia Amoruso, the founder of Nasty Gal and Girlboss, has spoken about her struggles with depression and what she did to manage it. In her book #Girlboss, Amoruso writes about how she used to isolate herself and engage in negative self-talk. She sought help from therapists and began practicing better self-care and gratitude to manage her depression. Amoruso also emphasizes the importance of building a supportive community and surrounding oneself with positive influences.
9. Mark Cuban: Meditation and exercise.
Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and Shark Tank investor, has spoken about his experiences with anxiety and how he learned to manage it. In a 2014 interview with Inc., Cuban said he used to get anxiety attacks when he first started his business, but he learned to manage his anxiety through meditation and exercise. Cuban also emphasizes prioritizing one's mental health and taking time off to recharge.
10. Arianna Huffington: Work-life balance and self-care.
Arianna Huffington, the founder of Huffington Post and Thrive Global, has spoken about her experiences with burnout. In her book, Thrive, Huffington writes about how she collapsed from exhaustion and realized that success should not come at the cost of one's health. She has become an advocate for work-life balance and encourages individuals to prioritize their sleep and self-care.
These real stories from ten successful entrepreneurs demonstrate that mental health challenges do not have to hinder one's success. By seeking help, practicing self-care, and surrounding yourself with positive influences, you can manage your mental health and achieve your goals. These entrepreneurs serve as examples if you're struggling with mental health challenges and show that overcoming them and thriving is possible. You can find more ways to support your mental health here.