Founders on Mental Health: Taking Care of Yourself In Order to Care for Others

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Emily Branton

CEO and Co-Founder, Link2Feed

Oct 5, 2021

Founders tend to put their teams and their business first. But, in order to keep taking care of those around them, founders need to consider their own mental health.

Founding a business is challenging on every level.

You take on an immense risk, often pledging your home or assets as collateral to your high-interest start-up loans. You hire people and take on the responsibility of their career and economic future. You meet customers and partners and vendors who you end up talking to more than your own family.

There are weeks or months (or years) where you count every dollar to make payroll, wear every hat in the business because there are no other heads to put them on and sacrifice…well… everything…

All because you believe in your dream.

As your business grows, you grow with it. Without realizing it, it becomes a part of you and you a part of it. It can be hard to tell where the business ends and you begin.

On the outside, it looks glamorous. You’re a self-appointed CEO who has control of your destiny, you call the shots, you answer to no one. If you’re lucky enough, you succeed. Maybe even have a chance to secure an exit. There are wins, but they can come at the expense of your mental health.

It’s time to start talking about that.

Founders have a tendency to take care of the business, and those around them, before themselves. But the reality is that the mental health of the team is only as good as that of the founder – you have to put on your own oxygen mask first.

So below are some considerations for founders who would like to look after their own mental health and, in the process, lead by example for their teams. 

  1. Celebrate the wins – Any business will have its ups and downs. For a founder, the highs can be extra high, and the lows can be extra low. It’s human nature to harp on the lows. So when there’s something to celebrate, make sure to celebrate it. Buy your team lunch, give them a surprise day off, ring a gong, etc….Do not miss these opportunities to get the team – and yourself – excited.
  1. Weekly one on ones – Founder loneliness is real, especially in this remote world. Prioritize one on one conversations with your employees, build personal connections, and let yourself be reminded that business is about people. You’re likely less alone than you think. 
  1. Schedule send – No one wants a Saturday morning email from their boss, even if it says “don’t worry about this until Monday.” First off, the work can probably wait. But if it can’t, don’t pass along your burden to someone else just so you can check something off your list. In these situations, make “Schedule Send” your friend. By scheduling your messages to send during working hours, you can happily check things off your list, but without creating stress for someone else when they shouldn’t be thinking about work. 
  1. Sleep with your phone in a different room – If your phone’s next to your bed, you’ll be tempted to check it throughout the night, and first thing in the morning when you wake up. With your phone in a different room, the only way you can get to it is by climbing out of bed. Boundaries are important, so when you go to bed, make sure to keep your phone out of the room (or at least put it on airplane mode).
  1. Make yourself redundant – As your business scales, it’s important to shed some hats. In the early days, you had to wear them. But do you have to wear them today? It’s scary, but try to make yourself redundant in as many places as you possibly can, and – if you can afford to do so – build your team not for today, but for 12-18 months out in the future. It will be extremely liberating.
  1. Enjoy the weekend – You’ll probably feel wiped out at the end of the day on Friday. It’s okay to enjoy the weekend! The work will always be there, and you’ll probably do a better job with it if you recharge the batteries once every five days.
  1. Find a hobby – Many founders’ identities are tightly intertwined with their business. And that’s okay – but it’s important to find balance and have an identity outside of work. So find a hobby, ideally one that has nothing to do with your business.
  1. Consider sharing the load – At some point it may make sense to consider aligning yourself with a strategic partner. Depending on what you’re looking for, that partner may be interested in buying some, or all of your business. It feels scary to trust what you’ve built with someone else, but there are many options if you’re craving some combination of additional resources, thought partnership, a new role for yourself, or liquidity. It feels good to breathe new life into the business and work on it with someone else.

While taking your foot off the gas is scary, it’s also liberating and can help you have more impact in the hours you do work. Remember that taking care of yourself isn’t selfish – it’s necessary. And sometimes small changes can make a big difference.

Let’s help the organizations our communities depend on.