I wrote this post at the end of 2012, and then hesitated over whether to publish it. It felt too honest and raw and I don’t normally blog about my business or entrepreneurship. But I’ve drawn strength from other startup founders sharing their experiences fighting depression (e.g. 1 2 3 4) so I’m sharing the following in case it might help someone else.
Yesterday’s return of Hyperbole and a Half prompted me to finally hit publish.
Nutshell background: I run a small music education tech startup. I’m not sure you need to know much more than that.
This year has been tough. Good, awesome, exciting, and in many ways successful… But not easy.
Huge ups and downs in my work sending me emotionally to my lowest points ever, but also some of my highest, and some interesting diversions along the way.
John Darnielle was apparently an entrepreneur in a previous life.
As this Mountain Goats song came on this morning the lyrics compelled me to jot down some reflections on the year that’s gone by. A few lessons learned – or perhaps they’re more survival tactics.
Mostly I had an urge to record (and maybe share) the fundamental and essential sense of hope and faith which underpinned the rollercoaster.
“Wake up 60 minutes after my head hits the pillow; I can’t live like this.”
Even when things were going well, the busy days and sustained focus on every aspect of my business meant even brief moments of waking during the night were immediately filled in with business thoughts, planning and keeping track of the multitude of things I was juggling.
Glad for so much activity towards my goal.
Stressed by juggling it all.
Overwhelmed by the all-consuming nature of trying to start a business.
Guilt at the other parts of my life neglected while I focus on this.
“Come on, make a joyful sound”
Fighting depression, fighting to keep a smile on my face.
Starting every day singing psalms and putting a habitual smile on my face. Trusting that it will trick my mind into a positive mindset.
“If you will believe in your heart, and confess with your lips, surely you will be saved one day.”
Keep the faith, keep on fighting forwards, don’t stop and look back, maintain the momentum.
Build on the good things, let the bad slip away.
You’re doing something worthwhile. Everyone says persistence is key to startup success, just keep at it.
“Don’t see what the point is in even trying to fight, look for the bigger picture when I close my eyes real tight”
But sometimes it’s too much and you fold in, sometimes you collapse for an evening and hide in the dark watching TV shows for the sake of escape. And your brain still quietly yearning for that sense of purpose, your mission. Where’s that passion and drive that seemed so clear and dependable yesterday?
“Wait as long as I have to for good news”
Looking back, join the dots as Steve Jobs put it. Good things always come along eventually. They arrive later than hoped and look almost entirely different to what you expected. But they do come.
Keep waiting, keep driving forwards, keep opening doors and exploring new avenues, the good news will come.
List out your 5 gratitudes every night to stay conscious of the small and big good things which have already come your way each day.
“Wake and rise and face the day and try to stop the day from staring back at me”
Find the routine that keeps your chin up and stick with it.
Prayer and song.
Daily todo lists.
Eating the same meals day after day.
Don’t pause to question a single step.
You did it yesterday, you’ll do it tomorrow, do it now.
Draw strength from these certainties to let you face the day.
“Busy hours for joyful hearts and later maybe head out to the pharmacy”
There is endless worthwhile work to do: so much to do – too much to do.
Contrariwise: there is plenty of time for everything important.
Occasionally you’ll slip. You’ll buy that red wine or junk food, order things you don’t need from Amazon, waste an hour surfing the web.
You’ll lean on these crutches that are unhelpful… yet essential.
“Won’t take the medication, but it’s good to have around.”
Know your crutches, know your points of failure. Don’t beat yourself up for using them, but take pride in choosing not to (most of the time).
“A kind and loving God won’t let my small ship run aground”
Feel the love around you. Unwavering support from friends and family. Their faith in you.
Enjoy keeping human company, even when it’s hard to wrench yourself away from your desk to go be social for a while.
That love is what will keep you from rock bottom, it’s what will inspire your passion and determination, don’t block it out.
Be grateful, always grateful, for the kindness of the people around you.
“Believe in your heart”
Then: Trust in your purpose. Remember your mission.
You can’t repeat that mission statement often enough. When you find a way to express what you’re aiming for, review it regularly.
Read it, watch it, listen to it, remind your brain constantly what it is pulling you forwards.
And remember that there’s a bigger picture, a bigger force at work, and things will never go too far off course.
You’ll get there.