Attitudes and expectations within Atlantic Canada’s innovation community need to change to improve entrepreneurs’ well-being, writes researcher Michael DeVenney in the sixth and final part of his report into entrepreneurship and mental health.
Halifax-based entrepreneur DeVenney began The Mindset Project survey in May 2016. He received 485 replies to his extensive questionnaire, 80 per cent of them from Atlantic Canada. He believes the survey may be the largest on mental health and entrepreneurship in the world.
DeVenney, who is open about his own struggles with anxiety and depression, believes the current model of entrepreneurship extracts a high toll.
“Founders of companies face incredible expectations — from themselves, government and private investors — to achieve success, and quickly,” he writes.
Entrepreneurs begin their ventures with great optimism but DeVenney states it is actually uninformed optimism as the founder is unlikely to have a full understanding of their product, the market, the customer and the potential for creating a viable business model.
“As the founder tries to deliver against the vision, many other aspects intervene . . . Expectations are high and sometimes very little goes according to plan,” he writes.
He found that entrepreneurs’ anxiety escalates as they work to meet increasing commitments.
“Confidence levels start to falter as the ceaseless pace of trying to get the business off the ground affects sleeping, eating and exercise patterns, draining energy.
“For the founder, high anxiety levels and low confidence levels intersect as critical decisions are being made. Over time this leads many businesses to fail.”
DeVenney found the experience of an entrepreneur becomes a series of conflicting objectives. He states that:
-Entrepreneurs express a high overall sense of well-being in terms of life satisfaction and meaning, with very low day-to-day happiness.
-The single greatest reason for entrepreneurs to start their business is to attain freedom, yet they spend all their time and energy meeting the expectations of others.
-When asked what they need more of, entrepreneurs answer money. Yet when asked what has been the best part of their life, they cite the people around them (family and friends).
-A great emphasis is placed on growth (faster and bigger), yet the more growth that is desired, the more entrepreneurs work in ways that hurt their ability to grow.
-Seen as optimistic (to the extreme at times) by those around them, entrepreneurs actually express a pessimistic perspective internally. The passionate disposition that drives entrepreneurs toward success can consume them and become their greatest weakness.
-While entrepreneurs are almost always networking and viewed as outgoing, they actually feel incredibly isolated and unable to talk to those around them.
-Despite being lauded as the great disrupters in an era of disruption, entrepreneurs continue to blindly follow the traditional approach to their work without question or resistance.
Entrepreneurs rate their ability to cope with stress relatively highly at 7.2 (on a scale of 1-10), yet report significant deterioration in physical (49 per cent) and mental health (42 per cent) since starting their businesses.
Still, DeVenney said, there are entrepreneurs who thrive despite working long hours. These are the ones (12 per cent of respondents) who prioritize self-care and develop resilience.
These respondents said they confided in friends, family and investors about their business issues. They exercised, took time for themselves, and focused on nutrition and sleep.
The revenues of their businesses were higher than average. Most importantly, they had a high sense of independent self-identity and did not equate their worth with the success of their business.
DeVenney thinks the community needs to redefine success for entrepreneurs, integrating the notion of entrepreneurial well-being.
“With fewer traditional job opportunities available, Millennials are being encouraged, to the point of pressured, to choose entrepreneurship as a career.
“As the incidence rate of poor mental health is much higher for Millennials than for preceding generations, there is a greater propensity for negative outcomes. The time for awareness and change is now.”