Richard Bartlett on depression and entrepreneurship
When I first started working for myself, I soon learnt that the 40hr week was a really bad fit for me. When inspiration strikes, I would get a surge of creativity that might last for a week or two, where I’d spend every waking moment working like a maniac. Then I would spend a week or two in a lower energy state, reading books, meeting with people, drinking lots of coffee, not getting much done. When I learnt to just ride that wave, my anxiety left me. Before that, I had been stressing out whenever I wasn’t being productive. Learning to just go with it was a huge step up in my day-to-day contentment. Trying to force myself into a 9-5 box just wasn’t working.
I think entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to depression, as they tend to be the kind of people that:
- are dissatisfied with the status quo,
- have to deal with huge uncertainty and immense pressure,
- have manic bursts of creative energy that inevitably come down at some stage,
- have their identity wrapped up in a project that is statistically quite likely to fail.
Mental health is something we care a lot about in our start-up. Most of us have some experience of depression. In fact, as we’ve been through the mill together, we’ve learned that everyone has their own symptoms when we’re under stress, e.g. one person loses their decision-making ability, and I turn into a jerk who leaves no space for other people’s opinions.
As we’ve come together to build an organisation from scratch, we’ve prioritised well-being. For instance, most of our meetings start with a ‘check-in’, where everyone is invited to share how they’re feeling, before we start talking about work. This one practice is probably the most important thing we do to maintain our health as an organisation. Practising paying attention to how your feeling, and then articulating it, is hugely effective in maintaining your mental health. And it means that people are really quick to reach out with support if you’re ever feeling low. Anytime I’m feeling stressed out, my colleagues spring into action to see what they can take off my plate. That is amazing.
Being a part of the Enspiral network is really key too. We are basically just a big group of friends that are all going through similar experiences, so everyone’s really good at looking out for each other. We go away together for a weekend out of the city every 6 months. Developing those community relationships, spending some time in nature, sharing our hopes and dreams… that stuff is all key to maintaining a healthy state of mind.
The thing is though, it really takes work to develop this kind of culture, it doesn’t just happen. It is something we consciously invest in, both at Loomio and Enspiral. The other factor that contributes to us all feeling engaged in our work is that we are solving meaningful problems, and we operate democratically, so there’s no stupid boss telling me what to do!