When we devote so much time in life to building our companies, it’s easy to start to think of ourselves as workers. We forget that we are humans, first. We are humans who need to nourish our minds, bodies and souls in order to bring our best selves to our families, our friends and our peers every day.
A few weeks ago, our team at Pillar had the chance to join 100 leaders from the Boston community for two days in the mountains of Vermont. We left work behind to focus on life, leadership, health and wellness. We met each other as humans first, skipping past the surface level stuff, diving straight into meaningful conversation. In the era of social media, where an increasing sense of urgency abounds, it was clear that we were all craving deeper connection.
Mental health is really a topic that deserves center stage everyday. We spend plenty of time investing in the growth of our businesses, but it’s just as important to invest in our own personal growth and wellbeing. The “do what you love” mantra isn’t always enough; we also need to surround ourselves with a community of support. Even then, many of us will still find ourselves struggling through tough days. Building a company is exhilarating and rewarding, but it’s also really hard. It can be good hard, and it can be bad hard, but it’s hard.
We’ve long admired Brad Feld at Foundry Group for publicly discussing his struggle with depression, opening the door for other founders and startup team members to do the same. He’s not alone—according to research, founders are 30% more likely to experience depression that their non-founder counterparts. Pillar’s Sarah Hodges remembers reading Brad’s posts when she was building Intelligent.ly, during a time when it felt like the bottom was falling out from under her. It’s ok to feel this way, she realized. Countless other founders we’ve met over the years have been similarly touched in this way by his personal story.
If you find yourself struggling with depression or are just having a rough time, most importantly, remember that you’re not alone. You might feel like you are, but someone is always ready and waiting to listen.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273–8255
We realize that many founders in our portfolio may find themselves navigating similar struggles. Inspired by a program the team at Felicis Ventures offers, we began to provide a CEO Coach & Wellness stipend this year. The response was overwhelming — a strong signal that founders are hungry for emotional, not just financial, support.
Here are a few other ideas to fuel your mental health and wellbeing:
Join a CEO Group: Founding a company can be a lonely journey. The simple act of connecting with a group of peers traveling the same road can offer tremendous support and relief. Pillar partner, Russ Wilcox, and many of our co-founding Pillar CEOs, have all had positive experiences with the Catlin & Cookman group in Boston. If you can spare a few days in March, Jerry Colonna and the team at Reboot also offer a CEO/Founder bootcamp in Colorado; we’ve heard rave reviews, and have to imagine the trip out to Boulder alone will bring with it a breath of fresh air. Reboot also offers digital CEO groups if you are unable to attend in person.
Take a Break: It’s ok to let yourself enjoy a few days off. You’ll likely come back refreshed and recharged, able to see things you were missing when your brain was fried and you were subsisting on too little sleep. Kripalu is one of Sarah’s favorite spots outside of Boston for a few days of walking in the woods, peace and quiet, yoga, and delicious healthy meals. If you’re stuck indoors, try reading books, practicing meditation, cooking dinner, and/or completely unplugging for a while.
Connect with a Therapist: Sometimes rest and relaxation aren’t enough. When you find the right person, talking with a therapist can provide a ray of relief and clarity. Talkspace offers online therapy with a licensed therapist. Two Chairs pairs you with a therapist tailored to your own personal needs. Your primary is also always a good place to start for recommendations.
If you know someone leading a company, chances are they could use a friend. Reach out — just checking in to signal your support and see how someone is doing can go a long way.