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How I Live With Diagnosed Anxiety As An Entrepreneur

The lowest point of my career came three years ago.

I was running my executive search company while scaling my investment firm into an enterprise with multiple arms. The pressure was on to assemble the right team while also being present for my young family at home. Then, a junior employee whom I’d mentored abruptly left the business, using our company contacts to set up with another firm. Another key member of my team — a friend I’d hired as a favor — was spending more time doing yoga at work than making sales.

I felt disrespected and, frankly, used by people I’d trusted and invested a lot in. I was stressed, jumpy and lashing out at those around me. My closest confidant — basically my right hand at the time — was so worried about me that she reached out to my wife. That’s when I knew I had to take control of my mental health.

As one of the most stressful careers out there, entrepreneurship may seem like an odd choice for a person with diagnosed anxiety. But I’m far from the only one drawn to this path. There’s an established relationship between entrepreneurship and various mental health concerns, like ADHD and depression. The reason for the connection is unclear, but I have a theory. The risk and stress of building businesses likely trigger conditions like anxiety, but entrepreneurship also appeals to people whose brains operate a little differently — who can’t see themselves in a typical 9-to-5.

But there’s another reason I think anxiety and entrepreneurship are so intricately linked: The archetype of the entrepreneur is someone who’s ruthlessly practical and independent, a lone wolf with relationships that, all too often, are quid pro quo. We may pay lip service to the importance of building “strong relationships” in business, but in reality, a lot of entrepreneurs are self-serving and shallow.

As I’ve learned to manage my anxiety better, I’ve realized how damaging those transactional relationships are. Learning to build genuine connections, at work and beyond, has been key to my ongoing efforts to take control of my mental health — and, ultimately, build a portfolio of multimillion-dollar companies. But it’s been a long journey.

Life Under An Anxious Shadow

Anxiety has shaped my life for as long as I can remember, although I didn’t always know what it was.

When I was a kid, my dad gave me one of those talking watches that announced the time — pretty high-tech for the 1990s. Eventually, I got bored and gave it to my cousin. But, when my dad asked where it was, I felt so guilty that I wound up at the doctor with severe stomach pains. It never occurred to me that that level of stress wasn’t normal.

Things got worse in my teens and 20s. My body was basically in fight-or-flight mode all the time, and my weight yo-yoed. I snapped at colleagues and friends and blew my fuse when I was overwhelmed. It felt easier to cut people out than to open up.

By university, I was so exhausted by my mood swings that I could only take night classes because I couldn’t get out of bed earlier in the day. My siblings were the first to suggest I get help, but I muscled through on my own and managed to graduate — and land a demanding job as a recruiter at Korn Ferry.

I was okay for a few years, but when I decided to pursue my MBA while working full-time, the stress resulted in a complete breakdown, and I had to take time off from work. The burden fell to my MBA classmates, my parents and my teammates at work, who all helped me hobble past graduation. It was during this time that a mentor gently suggested I might have anxiety, but I still hesitated to get help — until I couldn’t help myself anymore.

Coming To Grips With Connection

After boiling over at work with my team, I knew I couldn’t continue to ignore my anxiety. I finally sought medical help and got a formal diagnosis. I worked closely with my doctor to get my diet, exercise and stress levels in check. In the process, I had a big realization: My crushing anxiety had a lot to do with whom I was surrounding myself with. People who treated every interaction like a transaction made me feel like I constantly had to watch my back

 

In taking control of my mental health, I took a ruthless inventory of my relationships and got rid of people who caused me unnecessary stress. In the end, that meant letting go of most of my team and painstakingly rebuilding my enterprise. It also meant swallowing my pride and mending ties with people I’d unfairly cut out. Today, I still work with some key people from my original team who demonstrated that they value me for who I am, not just the checks that I write.

In the end, coming to terms with my anxiety has completely transformed how I approach business. From the staff I hire to the people I invest in, I look for an ability to relate on a human level before any fancy credentials. And I’ve even come to regard my anxiety as something of a strength: As an angel investor, my gut feeling helps me make quick assessments about whom I can trust. As an entrepreneur, my constantly racing brain helps me come up with original ideas.

Though my anxiety is firmly under control, I know I’ll never be “cured.” In fact, I kicked off New Year’s Day this year in fight-or-flight mode. But, after hitting the gym, having coffee with a friend and spending some time with my family, I managed to get it under control. And here’s where having the right people around you is key. They give you the time and space to take care of the most important relationship you’ll ever have: the one with yourself.

[“source-cnbc”]

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