Achievement-oriented people are given to depression both when they fail and when they succeed. If your identity is tied up in your work, then you feel bad about yourself when work isn't going well. That's obvious, and that's the message of this blog post. The implicit message is that you're depressed because you're not succeeding, so get your shit together and succeed and be happy like everyone else.
But then if you do succeed, you start to wonder, why did I just spend my youth in this masochistic, narcissistic path, and why the fuck am I not as happy as I was expecting, and is this really all there is in life. This is a classic "achiever in crisis." The problem is that you realize all along you've been doing things that OTHER people wanted -- that is, you've been doing things that make you valuable in society -- perfect summed up in the raison d'etre du jour, "making the world a better place." And nobody stopped you, because who can argue with making the world a better place? (Or being a doctor, or whatever.) But upon reflection, you quickly realize that this was in many ways easier than asking yourself what YOU wanted out of life. I.e. you've pushed aside your innate feelings and desires, whatever they may have been, and replaced them with the external motivation of achievement, under the rationale that you'd be able to "figure it out" after you had "made it".
Unfortunately achievers aren't really sure what they want "deep down" because achievement is inherently defined by society, and then after they've "made it" they freak out because they start to wonder if there even is a "deep down" or if they're just a highly educated donkey chasing a carrot.
If you talk to e.g. people who've gone through rigorous Ph.D. programs, you'll find a number of them were severely depressed after their defense. It was just kind of a let-down after such a long buildup, and then they started to wonder why they invested the entirety of their twenties into it and question whether that's really what they wanted their life to be. At least before the defense they could have something look forward to, and the various requirements provided a source of manic energy to propel the achiever forward.
Anyway I don't think the problem here is "not enough success," and I don't think the solution is having more coffee meetings. Founders need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why they're doing what they're doing and whether their depression is truly a function of their free cash flow or if there's a deeper dissonance between the founder's feelings and the expectations of society, i.e. the heroic mythology of the founder that Silicon Valley has been inculcating in susceptible teenagers for the last 20 years.
Just my 2c. I am not a founder just an observer and aspiring societal psychiatrist. If you want to learn more I highly recommend "The Wisdom of the Enneagram":
>Founders need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why they're doing what they're doing
I'm happy. The happiest I've ever been, in fact. I just graduated after a decade of fucking around and I have a job that I enjoy and that pays me fairly well. Tomorrow, I'm going to buy myself a motorcycle. I like my friends. Life is good.
I've never been able to look in a mirror and honestly answer that question. Of all of the things I've ever felt insecure about, "why are you making the choices you are" tops the list. The biggest mental block I've ever experienced is trying to answer that question, and even as I write honestly about my struggles to do so I'm still not able to face it.
The only explanation I've ever come up with is that I'm terrified of where that question might lead me. I'm afraid of losing the happiness I have, of somehow breaking the spell and being expelled from Mt Achievement to wallow in the shadows with the rest of the benighted. I'm worried that subjecting my actions and beliefs to rigorous analysis might somehow invalidate them, and with them the foundation of my happiness.
It's a strange sort of cognitive dissonance, to at once kneel at the altar of skepticism and rationality, and also to shield my most cherished beliefs from same. To be aware of that dissonance, and yet be unwilling or unable to fix it, is stranger still.
When you are down you question yourself a lot more than when you are up. When you are depressed that is all you end up doing. When life is good things aotomatically falls into place becuase you realize that it doesn't matter what you do, all paths are alright, we are all star dust, a spec of life in an ocean of nothing and all that, and in the end it it won't matter if you got good at js or c#. I wouldn't worry about feeling up and oblivious as to why. Just be happy you are.
It's disappointing to see this as the top comment, as it fundamentally misunderstands and misrepresents the point of Sam's post.
Running a startup is a very difficult and stressful activity, especially when things are not going well. The message is not, "get your shit together and succeed." The message is to talk to someone when things are difficult, because loneliness will only make it worse. This is true for any major stressor, whether business, health, or relationship, and the comments here from actual founders all reflect the value of this advice.
It's possible to do both, though. As I pointed out elsewhere in this thead, Sam's post is very helpful and to the point, but there is a lot of undiagnosed psychiatric illness in the startup world. Much of it largely self-inflicted by excessive pressure, lack of sleep and long hours. This is a point which is willfully ignored in this forum, so it's very worthy of being discussed.
It's reassuring to hear someone who's definitely a high-profile industry insider say this, thanks for taking the time to respond. Seems obvious to me as an outsider, but it's probably easy to be blinded by the status quo.
I think you're spot on with your premise (not so sure about your conclusion), and I've certainly heard this sentiment before:
"Success and failure are both difficult to endure. Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, meditation, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide. With failure comes failure."
I've thought a lot about depression over the years. I also
talked to a Psychiatrist about my melancholy for over 20 years. He has told me there are basically three differnt
types of depression; situational(your life sucks), dysthymia(low level depression, that seems to linger),
clinical depression(you want to end it all).
Supposedly, drugs are effective in clinical depression--I
don't think I have been that depressed.
My life flew off the rails years ago. I went from a guy who
thought life, school, and sucess came to easy; to a guy who
couldn't walk in a grocery store because I felt dizzy around
people, and had daily panic attacks. Over the years, the
anxiety improved, but then depression set in. Sleep became
reversed. I became an alohoholic, etc.
Well, I don't have any sure fire cures, but I do know this you will get better with age. There were times when I thought it just isn't going away, but the bad feelings do
go away. You will forget just how bad you felt. I spent
about a year in Therapy(2 x week). I'm not sure how nuch it helped, but it did alleviate some concerns I had at the time. I didn't have any big break throughs, but I'm glad I
went. I found the more a Psychologist charged, or the fact
that they had a Ph.D didn't matter whatsoever. The worst
person I saw was a $400/hr Psychiatrist. The best was a 15.00/hr student working on their Masters. As to medication, you will need to see a Psychiatrist; shop around! Personally, the only medications that worked in my case were highly addictive, but they were better on my body than alcohol I was abusing
All I can say is you will feel better, and you are not alone.
I'm sorry about your experience and hope you keep improving your situation. I do have one question: you say you went from someone who was quite ok to someone who was having a hard time and then you say you know things will get better with age; how do you make sense of this? I'm asking because some people do get more anxious with age so my understanding is things tend to get worse with age but, on a somewhat positive note, you will eventually learn how to deal with it with age as well. So, given you can only work on one of the sides, the end net result can be positive.
What does suck though is you migth spend a big part of your life fighting against yourself. That's something I still have a hard time thinking about, it's hard to accept it.
Yup. I think the real problem here is the overly tight coupling of achievement and self-esteem. You have to separate the two, because otherwise you're stuck on a treadmill with no escape.
I think Elizabeth Gilbert put together an accessible TED talk about this, and it's also in parallel with Albert Ellis's idea of Conditional-Self-Esteem vs Unconditional-Self-Acceptance. All you can hold yourself to is a commitment to showing up and doing the work. The results are almost irrelevant.
After a first reading I felt that it really resonated.
However, if you think of people that do persue what THEY want from life, they are often quite miserable too. Asking yourself "what would you do if money wasn't a concern and you had all the time in the world" ends up not being particularly meaningful. People born into wealthy families try to figure out what THEY want out of life, and end they are just as depressed and full of self-doubt. Sure you can spend a year surfing in Hawaii, or painting, or gardening, but they end up feeling like ephemeral distractions (unless you go all out and turn into an adrenalin junky - though I don't know honestly how happy they are). Lasting motivation comes from your interactions with the world - and often "doing things that OTHER people wanted" is (if you're honest with yourself) to a degree "what YOU wanted out of life" .
As one of those achievers I think it's even worse than you say. I have pretty much made peace with the fact that I am going to be fundamentally miserable for most if not all of my life.
The reason why that is, is because even though I never do things just because others want me to do them, I am still very much driven by success and achievement. Not because society compels me to achieve, but because there is an internal drive that just will not shut up. Kundera explained it well in Lightness of Being - there is an inner voice that says you have to. You must. Even though you know full well following this path does not make you happy, moving away from that voice makes you even more miserable. Just because you're not following your talents/gifts.
When it comes to success vs. failure. Succeeding brings with it doubts in terms of whether you're succeeding rapidly enough, whether there's more you could be doing, whether your goals are high enough. When you're failing, you're failing and failing never feels good.
And there's nothing that even compares to the emptiness that comes when you achieve a goal. It's soul crushing. All that work and now you're done ... what can you possibly do with your life now? What else is there? What's the next step? If I could achieve this goal, was it even lofty enough?
In the end, I've learned to simply manage my depression and live with it.
 I think I fall in the camp, it's hard to say, I've never achieved much that the outside world would laud me for, but I tend to behave like achievers do and have been obsessed with success/achievement ever since I can remember
 ask anyone, I am impossible to motivate externally. Beating me with a stick until I do what you ask would probably work eventually, but that's a tad severe.
I'm curious - could you reframe "following your gifts" as an opportunity instead of an obligation?
I also feel that same drive where I get restless when I feel my talents are being wasted. I think a lot of people do. But when my talents are actually being used, I don't feel miserable or unhappy, but rather content. I think this may be because I don't think in terms of "Am I accomplishing everything I set out to do? Have I made enough of a mark on the world?", but rather in terms of "Am I doing the right things? Am I following the path that will maximize my contributions to the world, given the information I have available?" (Okay, admittedly I've fallen into thinking like the former on occasion, and I tend to become miserably neurotic when I do. But I've worked pretty hard to try and view things in the latter light.)
The former puts the locus of control on the outside world, where you feel responsible for the effects of your actions, even if those effects are outside your control. The latter puts the locus of control on yourself, about your choices. In theory (and in my experience), success follows as a consequence of doing the right things, not as a cause.
And then when I find that something is preventing me from doing the right thing, I ask what it is. Very often, it's myself, and I have some internal fear I need to face and get over. Sometimes, it's someone else, in which case it's time to cut that person or organization out of my life.
> But when my talents are actually being used, I don't feel miserable or unhappy, but rather content.
I think a large part of the problem for me personally is that I am simply getting bored. I need to find either new talents, or a new way to apply my talents. I've been following the same talents and passions for as long as I can remember. Started when I was 9-ish, still going strong 17 years later.
As you allude to, I need a better WHY than "because this is what I'm good at". Hell, very often even just a better WHY than "because I want(ed) to" would be great.
I think the crushing-ness may come from a (somewhat justifiable, IMHO) fear of solipsism. "Because I want to" is a fundamentally ego-centric view of the universe: your feelings are your own, so what happens if nobody else wants what I want? Are we then alone in the universe?
The solution (at least for me) comes from expanding our view of what "I want" to include people close to us and the outside world as well. And so I do what I want, but my wants also include making the people I care about happy, being a net positive influence on the world, and not turning away from reality even when it seems bleak or painful. In this way, there's no contradiction between achieving things and doing what I want to be doing.
"Be good to yourself, and to others. You cannot do one or the other; it has to be both, or neither."
Well, not all founders are Threes. It would be interesting to type everyone in a YC class (or several) and see what the distribution was. I'd certainly expect some Eights and a smaller number of Sixes. And Fives will of course be well represented among the technical founders.
(Interesting to see someone plugging the Enneagram on HN. Doesn't look like anyone else has picked up on it, though.)
I am very pleased to see other HN readers mention the enneagram. A good friend told me about it a couple of years back and I can honestly say it has helped me better understand myself and others. I see lots of 3's in startups, along with some 1's and 7's. I agree that 5's/8's seem to make up the majority of engineers I've met.
Evan, I disagree. Your comment goes to great lengths explaining unhappiness in "achievement-oriented" people but you make the mistake of treating "achievement" and "success" as synonyms and therefore the whole reasoning is wrong.
The reality is that achievement and success are really quite different:
Achievement is (some examples)
- running a marathon,
- finishing a PhD,
- winning a prize at a competition,
- getting promoted.
Success is a higher level goal. For a large percentage of males (individual preferences may vary) this includes:
- being well off financially,
- the love of a girl/woman,
- being popular / respect from your peers,
- being powerful and influential.
Unhappiness and depression emerge when your achievements are not in alignment with your picture of success or when there exists the notion of a causality in your head between the two. Finishing a PhD can leave you feel empty and exhausted if your definition of success involves making money quickly. Running a marathon might get you nothing but sore legs if your final goal is to win the heart of a woman.
When achievement and success go hand in hand though I see little very room for depression.
Very well formulated and insightful comment. Thanks for taking the time to write this. A lot of ambitious people seem to struggle with this question of external vs. internal motivation - although I think the most successful entrepeneurs don't, because for some of us this motivation is in fact internal. Some can actually say "do what you love/love what you do" and not lie through their teeth. And others are able to treat it in a purely businesslike manner, i.e. "this is a job and it's only temporary".
Many others, though, are as you say: Ambitious because external pressures have always told you it is a good idea, and because teachers, parents, professors and peers have always given you recognition for good work - it's a central part of your identity.
What a good response, I first read sam article and agreed to him but with good response changed a lot. I still feel there is a problem with life that is tradeoff. Lets see right from the start when we are born in this world we don't have any thoughts or goals nothing. The world start giving us reality. Suppose most of the people here on HN will want to be a better programmer and improve themselves. In Programming they find something good. Ideally as they were born with nothing so how they can say this is actually they want, so when people say this is what they really want I think they still say what the world them to say. Now the next point come when people make decision and then repent, its a tradeoff. Suppose Right now someone have option of doing a PHD in Physics( which is my passion) and other to roam across world in some job( which also he wants). He choose PHD and after 10 years he say he didn't satisfied with PHD he must have took the job, I feel we human always do that because we enjoy the first think and now we will say we didn't enjoy it much and want other think. Yes, I agree people say that enjoy their work and is in resonance with it because they don't have some equal tradeoff to make their work for them is given to world by them as a best thing.
If I don't indulge in that coffee-guzzling manic carrot chasing mind-set then I'm not going to be as productive as the next guy it would seem. If you want to be an olympic bike racer then you have to do the same harsh practice regime that the rest of the athletes are doing in order to stay in shape.
The difference is that some founders learn how to 'snap out of it', to decompress when they need to decompress. In other words they learn how to relax deeply into the felt presence of whatever arises in the mind and body. They don't teach that in school, nor on the job, but quite often life finds a way to teach that lesson.
The forth way stuff doesn't resonate with me personally. I'm feeling the buddha dhamma especially the early stuff.. ie the 3 characteristics, vipassana/samatha. If I had to delve into something less ancient I'd look more closely at Zen.
I felt the blind achievement in college. Defining your year through the pressure of graduating, until you see your marksheet. The fear turns into happiness for about 5 minutes. As soon as you left the room, you start to wonder ... So what do you do ? well enroll for the next year. Until colleges end and you feel void.
>Founders need to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why they're doing what they're doing and whether their depression is truly a function of their free cash flow or if there's a deeper dissonance between the founder's feelings and the expectations of society, i.e. the heroic mythology of the founder that Silicon Valley has been inculcating in susceptible teenagers for the last 20 years.
No, I think depression is a function of free cash flow for most "founders." The heroic mythology is mostly about getting really rich.
And how else do you justify highly intelligent people caring so much about laundry? Because I seriously doubt solving laundry or food delivery or ridesharing has anything to do with any social mission.
These boring things have everything to do with making lots of money.
The video is about women, because as men we like to take pride in the idea that we're "fixers", but if we're honest about it we'll have to admit that when it comes to the important things in life we're just as full of crap.
No amount of talking, hand-holding, support groups and nods of understanding will amount to any kind of personal progress, until you are willing to answer the question "What do you really want?"
You want to be productive? Have a successful startup? Million dollars? Improve the lives of others?
Sure. But why? What's behind it? We like to look for an objective meaning in things, but what is meaning other than the belief in a cosmic points system that will bestow rewards upon us if we play our roles right?
Whether you are a startup founder, career person, scientist, devout christian, philanthropist, volunteer or whatever makes no essential difference here - pretty much everyone chases some ill-defined ideal in the hope that somehow some ill-defined someone or something will save us and make everything alright when we reach some ill-defined goal.
And when you do succeed, what do you really have to show for it? Years of sacrifice gone that you'll never get back, even more expectations than before, because now you're supposed to act like a successful person, even more anxiety that you'll disappoint the people who idolize you, eager to believe in the fairy-tale that you've made it and everything's happily-ever-after-picture-perfect. Everyone has at least some stories of disappointment with success. Everyone knows people who do. Show me one happily ever after.
It's a blind gamble with the only thing we do have - time, and we keep pissing that away because it's easier than seriously asking the question that could shake the very foundation of the persons we believe ourselves to be and the reality we believe ourselves to live in.
Everything needs to be ill-defined, because otherwise we would see that it doesn't make sense and couldn't keep pretending that we're doing something worthwhile while what we're actually doing is killing time waiting for death and imagining that there's no hurry and someone's coming to save us.
To seriously and honestly admit what you want is fucking hard. It's a question that takes no prisoners. The very act of asking sets you apart from family, friends and society, forces you to see that in the things that matter to you most, you are in fact alone. For most of us considering an honest answer to that question amounts to what is commonly considered one of the greatest sins - being selfish.
We're afraid of being selfish, we're afraid of sinning against the people around us by rejecting their rules and desires, we're afraid of being alone and we're afraid of dying, so we keep playing our roles and pretending to everyone around us.
At the same time deep inside we know that nothing matters, we know that we're all selfish by design, we know we have nothing to lose because we'll all be gone soon anyway and we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do before we end up cancer-ridden in a hospice, smiling bitterly at the memory of what used to matter to us and the times when we could have lived but didn't because we were too busy pretending we could hide from death.
My girlfriend just came in the room and glanced at my screen as I'm finishing typing this and for a second I was really terrified she'd see what I was writing. It seemed ridiculous to at first, but then I realized I just don't want to admit that realizing things amounts to nothing unless you act.
Everything we do in life is to feel a certain way.
Anything with a brain is driven to acquire certain feelings and move away from others.
And all feelings have to do with the future.
That is, feelings are either
1. a prediction of what you believe will happen in the future. For example, happiness is the belief that something good will happen in the future.
2. a feeling that you should feel in the future when you come across this event again (data for #1 to work). For example, pain happens after you lose something, and this serves as a reminder for the future, if you ever come across this event again, don't do what you just did.
So on the topic of the post, what is depression?
Depression is the belief that you will not have good things happen to you in the future.
It comes from what you believe (in your emotional brain), not what you think. And your beliefs come from memories (which in turn come from experiences).
The more recent a memory / experience, the stronger it is. If you have few experiences of good things happening in the past X timeframe, you will start to become depressed. X varies for people, it can be 3 months or 3 years.
So what counts as a good thing or a bad thing?
It all comes from how you interpret experiences. This can be controlled consciously, but only if you bring your emotional brain into the meeting and communicate with it in language it understands (action and visualization).
For example, I used to be addicted to reddit. While I consciously knew it wasn't good to be going to reddit so much, my emotional brain didn't mind. But after discovering a process that uses these principles, I quit "cold-turkey" by imagining a lot of bad stuff in relation to reddit. I wrote (I find writing a good method for visualizing) about all the stuff I was missing out on because of reddit. I wrote about how all I was doing there was arguing with a bunch of fat sweaty no-life neckbeards, which would only lead to bad things to me. Then after I wrote this, I went to delete my reddit account and I thought "whoa this is serious" (you HAVE to feel this way, a.k.a. surprise. Surprise happens when your emotional brain realizes it's past way of thinking is invalid). I thought about it for a couple minutes, but followed through and deleted it. After that, I never went on it for months and would be repulsed at the idea of going there. I rarely go there now.
Anyway, about depression specifically to entrepreneurs or "goal oriented" people.
I believe the way to be happy here is to change our beliefs. The goal shouldn't be to have success, but to do the things well that lead to success.
Let's say you want to build a wall (think of the wall as your goal). If you're only happy if you have the wall, then you will be sad throughout the journey until the end when the wall is easy to see finished.
Then after the wall is made, well you don't necessarily have anything good to look forward to now (which is what happiness is), so your happiness will start to drop.
But what if instead, our happiness wasn't dependant on whether we have a wall or not, but rather how many bricks we laid today?
Then we could look forward to "I'm going to lay X bricks today!" and get a much faster success feedback loop.
I'm going to try a process similar to the reddit one above to link good things not with having the wall, but with laying the bricks.
I'm not disagreeing with anything you say, but it's interesting to see how different people get different things out of Reddit. Reddit (and to a similar extent, YouTube) makes me laugh my ass off and see different perspectives every single day that it absolutely improves my state of mind with no real negatives (although I don't generally comment or get into long threads when I do) :-) Any day with a few bouts of hard laughter is a good one by me, despite anything else that happens.
>Everything we do in life is to feel a certain way.
I've heard that hypothesised, mostly in Tony Robbins style self help books, but have come to the conclusion that it's an oversimplification of the human condition. I mean if you were building a Mk2 human from scratch you might build it that way be we did not arise that way - we evolved from reptile like creatures which had extra stuff bolted on when they evolved to monkey like, chimp like and finally human like beings. As a result much of what we do is as a result of ancient mechanisms resulting in actions that do not always make us feel good. For example you might lose you temper and hit or shout at someone in ways you feel bad about almost straight away but it was not done to feel good, it was done because some ancient aggression instinct got triggered.
This stuff I think complicates the whole business of dealing with depression which like aggression often comes from the more primitive parts of the brain. I'm not sure what the answer is. Trial and error to some extent. Also it can be interesting to look at what makes cat, dogs and the like happy or sad as we are probably subject to the same mechanisms.
To put it in a different way, everything we do is because of the feelings we feel.
'Feeling' is a very broad term. My definition is the sum of your nervous system's activity.
What your nervous system decides to do - and what you feel like doing, are equal statements in my view.
That doesn't mean there's no inner conflict - there is. But if you imagine every neuron as a voter in a democratic election, the decision that gets the most votes is the one that you feel like doing, even though you are aware there are private interest groups of neurons that want something else.
> For example, I used to be addicted to reddit. While I consciously knew it wasn't good to be going to reddit so much, my emotional brain didn't mind. But after discovering a process that uses these principles, I quit "cold-turkey" by imagining a lot of bad stuff in relation to reddit.
I like what you did there ... but when the wall is finished, if there isn't another to build, then there are no more bricks to lay. Or is that not a problem, since the new cause of joy (brick-laying, not wall completion) is one which was continuous over an extended time?
I disagree. Your psychological understanding has a long way to go.
In fact, this sounds like someone rationalizing a lack of achievement rather than trying to understand the true motivations of an achievement oriented person.
The path is not masochistic or narcissistic. In fact, I take offense to that.
The path is what separates the wheat from the chaff. It is the price for admission...table stakes.
Achievement oriented people don't suffer depression because of regret, they suffer depression because that too is a requirement for playing the game. I can only speak for myself, but by the time I have achieved something I wanted, I'm already thinking about the next goal. When I finally reach the first goal, I have little time to celebrate, but that's OK because it's not the goal that rewards us, but the path to achieving it.
The difference between being depressed by it and not being depressed by it is realizing that one cannot continually achieve without being dissatisfied. The two go hand in hand. Once I realized that, everything changed.
That said, there is some insight buried within your conclusion. Depression reaches its peak when a person defines themselves by their work and/or achievements. The best way to overcome that is to become a whole person. My personal approach is to play sports, go running, practice hobbies, and spend time with my family.
Of course, none of this really helps when things are going poorly or you are failing. In those times, the only remedy is to come to terms with the fact that you could lose it all, and let's face it - that's a reality that none of us want to accept until it happens, and even then we'll battle it.
I've been to that point twice, and each time sucked worse than that last. However, it's the only fuel I need to prevent myself from allowing it to happen again.
So to get back to Sam's point and give it the attention it deserves - yes, talking to someone will help, but so too will the realization that it's never over. It sounds cliche, but Lombardi was right. "It's not whether you got knocked down, it's whether you get back up" that counts. Define yourself as a fighter, not by a single fight.
you insulted the OP twice in your first two sentences. then you said that depression is "table stakes"...after that, it's extremely hard for the rest of your long and well-written comment to be taken seriously. just an observation.
If being honest and truthful is an insult, then there's nothing I can do about that. I'm insulted by his attempts to get into my head without actually understanding what makes it tick. His comment was extremely presumptuous.
Am I qualified to chime in? We just shut down today after 4.5 years. ;)
This is very true, and unfortunate. It makes it easy to feel like everyone is being successful except you. I realized this a couple years ago and, when talking to other founders, I just stopped sugar coating things about my situation. I would tell them about our struggles, what was going on, and its affect on me. I don't think I've ever been brought to tears as many times as this year. It is super painful, but lying about it is bad for all involved. You can't get the support you need, nor provide proper support to others.
I can definitely vouch for the dark days. I feel fortunate to be an eternal optimist who knows these things are temporary, but the startup lows are about as low as they come. On top of that, you have things like breakups, family emergencies and other tragedies that are already hard enough to deal with when you are not nursing a struggling company. When those things hit at the same time, it can feel impossible to do anything.
Seriously, as a founder, find a few people you can really confide in and do so. And, don't be afraid to say things aren't going well. You never know what people can do to help. On that note, though today isn't the best day for me to cheer up others, I'm available to chat for any founder going through dark days. firstname.lastname@example.org
> It makes it easy to feel like everyone is being successful except you.
I'd say this is hardly a case only when you're a founder. Throughout life, if you keep high expectations of yourself (which is IMHO a good thing in the long run), you will constantly feel like people around you are succeeding, and you're struggling. I've sometimes felt that way, but the key, for me at least, was to learn to take it easy on myself from time to time and not to be sickly critical of my own work.
Sometimes people feel like everyone else is succeeding and they are failing because, well, it is true to some extent observable by them. (It sounds grim, but in reality you can mostly turn the tables if you invest enough effort.) However, sometimes you can get that feel if you constantly observe the people who simply set the bar lower. Psychological processes that drive us are curious; sometimes they may make us redefine success so that we can appear more successful to other people. But this is not a real, healthy gain: it's a pathological one. A giant, impressive pile of counterfeit, useless money, if you will.
Just my two cents. I'm most likely talking out of my ass :)
By the way, kudos to you and everyone else for being a founder. It sounds like both a great struggle and a fun journey, and everyone with the courage (or the madness!) to go down that path has my deepest respect.
> You’ll also be surprised how much you find other founders are willing to listen.
This is super important. Non-founders often will not get it, in my experience. If you haven't started a company, you often will not have experienced the intense ups and downs, and just how fucked everything can be, even when you pour your life and soul into it, and that there really can be a light on the other side of the tunnel.
One brief tip: it is OK to give up your startup - don't feel that you can't.
If you're in a dark place, do take up the kind offers that people are making in this thread. (I'm email@example.com if you want to chat, and I've publicly fucked up one startup, so I understand.)
>Non-founders often will not get it, in my experience.
This is the kind of self important nonsense I would expect from a high schooler. Sorry, but starting a company is not the only way to feel intense ups and downs, or to put your heart into something only to be disappointed. Maybe thinking that you're problems are completely unique is contributing to the problem. There are lots of other people with their own problems who are either able to relate or at least empathize.
> One brief tip: it is OK to give up your startup - don't feel that you can't.
It is hard for me to accept this Paul. If I talk to someone giving up their startup, I'd ask them to hold on for some more time and keep trying.
It has been more than 6 months since we wound up our startup. I have plenty of reasons why it failed. Team conflicts, No focussed idea - and many more. But whatever reasoning I come up with, what hits me when I gave up on my startup and even now, is my lack of persistence and determination. I've failed...
I've moved on physically. But I haven't been able to forgive myself for not being determined and persistent; which is what a founder should have. It haunts me. I wish I could have seen through it, even if it boils down to being a solo-founder.
My first thought on reading this: "Great, but who shouldn't I talk to?"
I've known founders whose VCs took their "down" moments as weakness. They "helped" them dilute to pave the way for future takeover. They exploited founders' weakness and talked about them behind their backs. Who can you really trust when you and your company are at their weakest?
Thanks for bringing this up. Even worse is trying to raise a round of funding when you can barely raise yourself out of bed in the morning. VC/Investors are probably the last people I would ever talk to about the low feelings during dark startup days.
Father died in final year of college. Only child moved home to mourning mother(of course!) Went on huge sarge to find a women. Did side work, but focused on 2nd startup(1st one in back of my mind to reboot.) Failed. Arrogant and never found a full time job. Was in love and my girl needed to marry to stay in country. She was fine I thought while i went after my dreams. Finally found my 3rd idea and was working on skills. Eventually wife lost faith and cheated(multiple times and not just sex on one, successful man.) Found out, blew my retirement(roth) I made working when I was younger on booze. Lost faith in myself, saw no point in my great idea, mother attacks, no real man to fend off. Sleep in a truck, brain so fried from settling divorce and lack of self confidence or a dime. Idea still viable, even after all this time, timing might be right. "If you are going through hell, keep going."
I upvoted. Those are dark times indeed, I empathise.
Keep on keepin' on, you'll get there. As an aside, this is evidently a poor forum for this discussion.
To the rest: the trough following a failure isn't depression, it's merely a stepping stone on a greater journey. Learn from it and move on, don't liken it to depression, which is for some, a day-to-day reality.
Yea, it is kind of sad that the only person opening up is seemingly chastised, when the whole point of the article is such. Btw, my cofounder of my first 2 startups is entrepreneur of the year in certain states and programs(missed that one.)
I worked up the restaurant industry, opened my first restaurant in 2007. Second in 2009. In 2009 I was 24.
Leased the first location, bought the second for about $2 mil, ($100k down)... Economy took a crap, road work, city restrictions, fking Denny's decided to open right next to my first location. I closed in 2010. Sole-Proprietor. Combine taxes, bills, loans, etc.. I was looking at around 1.5 mil in debt. I had $400 about at the time. The newspaper had me front page for closing, social media blew up, everyone wants to know wtf happened.
I made ALOT of mistakes, not saying I am a complete victim but it hurts... REAL bad. So I ran and hid. Couldn't own a bank account, had to move. All those "friends" ain't friends we you are in the gutter. Worked random jobs just to eat and pay rent on a shared room in a new town. Decided to code because it looked better than my bartending/sales jobs.
Learned code and now in the industry. Its fun to hear people get VC help, a co-founder, community support, nothing really on the line but other peoples money and time. Not saying that it's everyone or even the OP, but things could be sooooo much harder when falling from grace. When you get on your knees in front of all your staff and beg the power company rep not to shut off the lights, you are pretty close to that wonderful feeling. "Run it till the wheels fall off.."
Can someone provide insight on life after a failed startup, in terms of career prospects? Often depression can make you feel as if you're failing on all fronts, that nothing will get better in the foreseeable future. Most of the time that really isn't true. You're often stuck in a temporary rut that your mind drastically exaggerates. But for a founder who's going through a dark time and whose startup ultimately fails, is it easy to pick yourself up again? Can you realistically transition into a more stable job where you'll have more energy to improve your life? I've heard from quite a few that the years spent on a failed startup do not improve your career options, and for a founder that may find themselves depressed running a company, I can't imagine such poor prospects lending any hope.
Basically, I sucked it up, felt depressed and aimless for about 3 months, and then went and got a job at Google and moved out to California. Had a very successful 5+ year career there where I generally felt that my startup experience was an advantage, although there were definitely a few moments where I thought "I wish I'd joined Google in 2005 instead of wasting 4 years with this startup dream." Such is life though - I remember talking to a Google coworker (who later become a 2-time YC founder with a successful exit) who said "Dude, pretty much everyone at Google wishes they joined 4 years earlier." Now gearing up to try it all again.
I suspect that a major factor that accounted for that was that I founded my startup thinking it was an experiment and not a goal - I needed to know, myself, what I was capable of. If the answer was "Not founding a company, apparently", well, then I had my answer, and I could be happy in a regular company. If the answer was "You're rich now", well, so much the better. At no point did I feel I had to get rich, or that it was my destiny, or that I was worthless if I didn't succeed.
I've also seen some of the posts you mention that describe how years spent on a failed startup do not improve their career options, and the thing that's jumped out about most of them is that the founders there founded a company to escape having a real job, and then continued working on it long past the point where it would be rational to quit and do something else. Of course that'll hurt your prospects - you are losing time that can be spent developing skills and working on projects that actually will have an impact, and it also shows that you're not entirely rational. I also know a number of startup founders who tried it, realized their business concept was flawed (or in some, it was even successful but they just didn't want to do it anymore), and then went to work for Google. You typically don't hear about them on Hacker News, however, because they close that chapter of their life and feel no need to dwell on it and no bitterness to it, and so they don't post.
Just from empirical observation, healthy people will naturally adjust to new circumstances, even terrible ones. It's the time spent transitioning between states that makes us depressed. Otherwise, we'd never be able to overcome the loss of a loved one, a bad diagnosis, bankruptcy, etc. This is why it's important to have someone to talk to so you can get through this period of downtime, and if you notice a friend struggling, go the extra mile to help take her mind off whatever she's going through to avoid something like suicide which, sadly, happened to someone close to me.
On the flip side, this probably explains why the extremely wealthy are usually not happier than the not so wealthy - they've mentally adjusted to their new state.
So if you find yourself depressed and can't talk to anyone, you can at least count on time to heal your wound.
I'll chime in with my experience. I'm in an emerging market in the middle east (Saudi).
I'm the founder of one of the very few funded Internet companies in the country. Spent the last 24 months fundraising with little luck. My God what a brutal time it's been.
When the company ran out of money, I talked with our leading investor about my need for temporary employment (we were talking with a couple of VCs at the time and I didn't want to commit before hearing from them). He ran an Internet company as well, and I worked with them for a while.
I did that for about six months till I knew the investments were not coming. After that I polished my resume and started contacting people and companies about possible full time jobs.
The first question that came to my mind was about which type position to apply for. Before starting the company, I was a software engineer - so I could always fall back on that. But the years I spent working on the startup forced me to be a generalist. It really worried me to think I wasn't sure what sort of position I should be seeking.
It came down to three main options,
1- managing a software product team (which aligns well with my passion for building things) at a software company.
2- working with investment companies interested in Internet/tech investment. What helped me in this area was that I did my homework when we were discussing the term sheet for our seed investment. And that I blogged and spoke about the experience (Arabic content about the topic is very rare, aside from general entrepreneurship hype).
3- working in digital marketing. This drew upon our experience with digital marketing our product. This was my least favorite option, but it had the most market demand.
One of the things that really helped me in this job hunt was that I was visible to the local industry in my attempts to promote the company. I spoke at events about lessons learned, I blogged about the various experiences... Etc.
I think the best way to do well after failure is to be intellectually honest with yourself.
Polonius said it best "To thine own self be true."
As an engineer, in Seattle and the Bay Area, you will always have access to jobs.
For non-technical founders, you will have had gained valuable experience that will make you significantly more attractive.
You often have to wear multiple hats, manage your time, focus on what matters, and you gain a lot of experience in finance, shipping product, dealing with investors, dealing with customers, all of which is harder to get if you have a specific role at a larger organization.
Now, there are startups, and there are startups. If you quit your job and tinker at something for a few months to a few years and never really do anything to show for it (ship an MVP, hire an employee or two, raise or attempt to raise money), then, I imagine you didn't really learn anything, but if you were able to do those things, you will have gained real world applicable experience.
Being a founder, was the 2nd best thing that I could have ever done to my career.
My start-up didn't fail, but I ended up leaving because I was slowing it down.
My role now is basically a founder working for a late stage organization. I use lean methodology and entrepreneurship thinking to build new services to explore untapped market opportunities. Instead of raising funding with investors, my company will fund the growth of the service into a full fledged business unit.
Honestly, and this is all my personal experience so not really generalizable, but finally admitting that my old startup had failed and we were going to shut it down was like getting released from a prison. Instantly you no longer have to worry about the thing you spent all your time worrying about and you can re-balance. It's pretty liberating in all honesty.
Just make sure you have people around to support you and also to use all that new found mental capacity on.
You can't afford to follow this advice. Saying you're crushing it is part of your 24/7 job description.
There is a story of the founder who had just put a round together with a VC. Then, privately, the founder confided to a mutual friend, over dinner, about some of the difficulties. Result? The friend told the VC, the VC pulled out, and cited this conversation, saying that it was because his mutual friend said the company was having difficulties.
well okay but Sam's blog post makes it seem like it's almost a coincidence that everyone happens to talk all the time about crushing it. It's not. It's part of the job description. You have to learn to do it.
Stories like that exists, true, but so what? The moral of your story is not that one shouldn't talk to friends about their actual situation, but rather that some VCs are not the best people. Also, surround yourself with smarter friends.
While the situation is most acute for founders, I feel that the general situation is true for most if not all professionals with strong aspirations.
You can't show weakness in public (web) for fear that a potential employer will flag you. You can't express your lament to many coworkers since it can come back to bite you.
Non-founders generally aren't subjected to the kind of lows that founders are, and have more room for camaraderie and confidants. But no matter who we are, it seems that were need to put on an air of invulnerability, and this bothers me immensely.
Same here. Email in profile. Located in SF and Palo Alto.
(sometimes it helps to mention backgrounds so people can relate. I'm on my 3rd-ish startup, failed twice, digital nomad, 29 years old from the midwest, lived in London, NYC, Philly, and Germany, gf is also doing a startup but in the hardware space, I console her a lot on startup life)
Same diagnosis. I struggle so much with wanting to help others and wanting not to tell anyone. Wanting to talk to my bosses so they can understand and wanting my privacy. Wanting not to use it as an excuse, or get special treatment but then being so angry when they don't get it (how could they?).
Also struggling with starting something and the need to finish it the same night. That one hit hard. The anxiety while I work on something only goes away when I finish, so longer projects are impossible. To avoid the pain I just stop trying to work on them.
I'm trying to get better with medication and a doctor and it is certainly better than constantly thinking about suicide but I worry that I'm never going to be productive.
Thanks for so much for your talk. And having the courage to put such a big part of yourself out there to help others.
Try dedicating your life to music its freakin brutal. Write some songs and go sing em in a public forum, thats some serious vulnerability. Not saying its tougher than being a founder, but no way the opposite is true. Anyway my point is that these days many people who are attracted to being founders tend to be shocked by the costs because they don't have the natural temperament to sharply veer from the path of established norms. Many don't believe in something greater than themselves or money which would allow them to suffer the pain as a cost of doing business. This is a given in the arts. Its like the marines, pain is part of the practice.
1. Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.
Aiming therefore at such great things, remember that you must not allow yourself to be carried, even with a slight tendency, towards the attainment of lesser things. Instead, you must entirely quit some things and for the present postpone the rest. But if you would both have these great things, along with power and riches, then you will not gain even the latter, because you aim at the former too: but you will absolutely fail of the former, by which alone happiness and freedom are achieved.
Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, "You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be." And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.
> If you ask a founder how her startup is going, the answer is almost always some version of “Great!”
This is not founder-specific but a fairly typical American greeting. "How's it going?" "Pretty good, you?" "Not too bad, how 'bout the weather / sports team?"
By comparison, the next time someone initiates the standard greeting try responding with something out of the ordinary. "I'm having a difficult time with foo" or "My wife and I just did this". Breaking the pattern will result in a lot more meaningful conversations.
I think there's two different things going on here. What you talk about is very much real -- the standard "how's it going?" or "how are you?" American question/response ("Good! You?"). Answering that sort of question in the way you suggest is a fairly non-American thing.
But I think there is also a more specific founder/startup conversation that Sam refers to -- that's more like this:
Q: "Hey, how are you?"
A: "Good! You?"
Q: "I'm good. So how are things with the company? How are you guys doing?"
That's where the typical "Oh we're killing it!" is coming in and where it might be nice for some to be a bit more honest. "We're trying. It's a struggle." You can also learn a lot about the person you're talking to by seeing how they respond to this. The good ones are the ones who respond with empathy and who want to listen.
The enthusiastic "GREAT!" responses were something I had to adapt to while in the US. In LatAm/Europe, even when great things have happened, the standard answer is "The company is ok, how about yours?" -- boasting about your successes isn't socially accepted.
I can definitely relate to this. There are definitely times when it's hard to talk to anybody... and I don't know about you guys, but with some topics I actually find it harder to talk to someone I know, than, say, a random stranger at a bar. Luckily I have at least one or two friends, who, for whatever reason, I can talk to about "founder depression" issues more easily than other people. Strangely enough, it's not even that they're my closer friends, they're just people where the nature of the relationship feels "different" in some subtle way.
I also find that being more frank, than is probably expected, on forums like this is somewhat cathartic. If you were to dig through my old posts (don't waste your time, it's not actually that interesting) you'll find my admitting to suicidal ideation, and talking openly about how I think I'd off myself in the "doomsday" scenario. I hope it never comes to that, and I doubt it will, but something about this almost pseudonymous forum leaves me feeling more comfortable about saying certain things. This is true even though my "real life" identity is clearly spelled out in my profile and is trivially easy to find. shrug
Anyway, I'm no mental health expert, but if anybody just needs a friendly ear to listen to them vent, feel free to give me a shout. If you're in the RTP, NC area, I'm happy to meet for coffee/food/drinks or whatever. Email and contact info in profile.
>I can definitely relate to this. There are definitely times when it's hard to talk to anybody... and I don't know about you guys, but with some topics I actually find it harder to talk to someone I know, than, say, a random stranger at a bar. Luckily I have at least one or two friends, who, for whatever reason, I can talk to about "founder depression" issues more easily than other people. Strangely enough, it's not even that they're my closer friends, they're just people where the nature of the relationship feels "different" in some subtle way
That's because you're trying to maintain / live up to a reputation you've set to people close to you.
You believe that if you admit fault, they will love you / want you less.
Where if you talk to people that aren't close, you have no reputation to maintain and their love doesn't mean as much.
On the flipside of this is the fact that, as a founder, you are a clear target for subconscious repression by everyone, thanks to the tall poppy syndrome. So, many times, discussing the issues and problems with others is precisely what you shouldn't do, because you will trigger the syndrome.
Its very important, thus, to have established trust with your support network before you go into the founder seat. If you don't have a support network that consciously navigates around such things as TPS and mobbing-mentality, then you're going to be in for a hard time. The fact of the matter is that humans are subconsciously hard-wired to dissent against organizational structures requiring hard work and honest production, and a founder getting up there on the hill and attempting to work hard and produce new things needs to understand that the most difficult thing about organizing humans, is humans.
Disclaimer: founder who just went through all of the above, and still working hard to survive in spite of it all.
I wanted to chime in here to whine about my founder problems (loneliness, destruction of personal relationships, total chaos in one's life, no time for oneself etc) and I realized that I can't even anonymously talk about this without feeling like a spoiled entitled brat. I feel that no matter how much I lose to this absurd path I've forced myself into, I still have no right to complain about it, otherwise I'm obviously not "founder material".
I think to myself "Well, I've certainly turned my life into a clusterfuck, but at least I'm not like some of these guys who went bankrupt, couldn't afford medical for their children or who died from overworking. Can't really complain, right?"
I guess I find it very hard to whine about my struggles and all the fuck-ups when it's self-imposed martyrdom. Nobody asked me to quit my cushy 6 figures 9 to 5. I was miserable at it, but doesn't mean I needed to do a startup instead.
It's interesting to hear you speak about founder depression as you sit on top of the world.
Our team, openhospital.com, interviewed at YCombinator 6 weeks ago for the current batch and we failed (rejection email below). The $1100 interview reimbursement we received from YC only covered 1/3 of the cost of the trip and the time/energy spent applying could have been time and money spent coding and developing our product (and paying rent).
In the last 7 months I've managed to burn through my 401k from years software engineering jobs in pursuit building a cash medicine marketplace. I barely have enough money to pay my rent next month. In a desperate attempt to find capital, I also charged a trip to San Jose on my credit card 2 weeks ago to knock on doors up and down Sand Hill Road.
If you or anyone on this forum is interested in starting a cash medicine marketplace there is an opportunity to change the world and this needs to be done. Ironically my wife has horrible stomach problems and I spent two hours calling GI/colonoscopy doctors trying to find a cash price as I will be charging this on my credit cards as well.
I am desperate to start this and I don't care if I end up with 1/10000th of founder ownership at the end. We have a working provider site with several providers (18k lines of code). The other engineer on my team is smart (Stanford educated) and an awesome co-founder to work with.
Am I depressed? Yes. Am I giving up? Never.
My contact info is joe (at) openhospital.com if you Sam or anyone on this forum would like to chat.
You might have more success if you explain your business model a bit better. What pain point are you addressing? Who's the customer? How big is the market? How do you plan to introduce your innovation and induce behavior change in the current marketplace and insert yourself into the transaction? etc..
I am not doing a startup, so take all these suggestions fwiw.
1. You website looks great. Looks like functionality is not fully done though? I was clicking on "Book Now" but it didnt do anything. Maybe it was because I did not sign in. Maybe make that clear in error box.
2. YC keeps repeating the advice to do things that do not scale; focus on week at a time. Your vision is ambitious-- which is great, but on execution, scale down to bare minimum. e.g.,
2a) Website is designed for search anywhere, but drop down is only for Phoenix. It is totally fine to focus on Phoenix only initially. In fact, go more aggressive, remove that screen altogether, make it clear that this is only for Phoenix. In fact remove the search form too. Directly list the 8 results you have on the page.
2b) The result page has airbnb like feeling.. but you have only 8 listing so far. Can you make that result page more catchy, remove the need to click through into each listing. Design it more like Pinterest, large picture, title, brief description, and book now link, all in that page. No need to click through to detail page. FWIW, airbnb in its early days went to each one of their hosts home, took pictures, and edited descriptions manually. Totally worth it.
2c) Why ask for account? You need that only for repeat users.. for one time bookings, just give them a form with email/phone, etc. fields. An account is a high barrier for intial adoption. Dont force it until you must. PG hated even a service like quora for a long time, because it forced an account creation.
3) Who is your target user? Initially, you do not need internet to promote this type of service. Do something old-school, like physical banners, with a phone number. People will call you, and you tell them on phone which doctors are available for what price. And do the booking on phone. Put your fliers in walgreens/cvs (dont worry about policy, you only need to convince the store manager). Put flier infront of walmart or wholefoods or target-- depending on demographic of your intial users.
4) Dont beat yourself for not getting into YC. They have two goals-- a) do good in the world, and b) make money. I can see you are early enough that signal is not clear for making money aspect. Fix that-- show some intial traction by doing things that do not scale.
5) Their feedback email tells you clearly that the issue is founders have varying commitments. Fix that. You do not need four founders-- two great ones, who are on board full time or with significant commitment in time or money-- is sufficient. Talk with them, ask them to leave if they are not on board fully. It is even fine to do this alone-- you are passionate enough, and you will have no excuse then.
6) If you need help with programming, I can offer some of my free time. Tweet me: @kabragovind
When I first became a manager at a large corporation, I often felt stressed out and alone. So a year into it, I created an informal "support group" of other new managers. We'd trade stories, tips, and beers.
This was nowhere near the pressure of founding a company, but I took that experience and created an informal support group of founders amongst my colleagues too. It didn't last unfortunately, but I later got into an accelerator and found the same support group.
No matter what the cause of your stress or depression, having a good support system is extremely helpful. It ranges from Mommy/Daddy groups to AA to even a single good friend.
Unfortunately for many people, it's very difficult to find and/or build a support system.
P.S. I vaguely recall seeing an organization (maybe a startup) listed on HN that basically helped people find someone to talk to. Anyone remember the name?
All the lows are worth it for the highs, because the alternative is working n wasting ur life away at a desk job. Which after experiencing many highs sitting at that desk makes you hate it and for me I only keep jobs for a year because of my incessant need to start up. Needless to say I don't lead the normal societal life as I have sacrificed such for my startups/dreams.
But oh the lows(depression) and instability... Like today because of my startup addiction it's time to find a new desk job.
For founders, it is a good idea to scope which socio-economic-environmental factors would contribute to their dissonance or depression. For me it's the lack of face-to-face contact, being an 'outlier' in so many respects, being in an environment that is not as innovative or open to entrepreneurs and so on. The list is not that encouraging but as long as the factors are known at least they are 'known'. Also these factors can easily contribute to freelancers, independent workers, etc.
The next item to know is that there are factors that would actively contribute to depression. I used to have some really bad habits that would otherwise feed into some sort of circle of depression and these would pop up when I am triggered. These habits formed because of thought patterns that I have somewhat developed growing up. Whenever I feel the triggers, I need to make sure that I don't engage in any of these bad habits or that if I do, I need to try and get out of that zone.
I've had my first episode when I was really young - culminated in a few sessions with a psychologist at school - so I've had this affliction for a while now. On top of that, I've been entrepreneurial since I was young so I think that the external 'being a founder' is hard to separate from the biology.
It's a bit of a circle for me - I get in founder phases and then when the business or idea fizzles out or when I need the cash, I get into employee phase which then culminates in me wanting to get my feet back into the entrepreneur game... and so on and so forth. At the moment I'm in that founder phase and have made commitments and arrangements so that I don't get back into being an employee for at least January 2015.
Lots of interesting comments here. I'll put some thoughts here, too...
I have always thought there are two kinds of people in this world. One who do things that make other people's life better. Others who reap benefits of things done by the former group. To me the question is about whether you want to be selfless in the service of others or live a steady life. Once you have figured out, there is no shame in failing if your goals are high and intentions are right. If you base your success based on how people perceive you that is a very wrong way to think. The only reason because public opinion tends to change very so often. So, for me at least, being successful implies reaching for a bigger goal than the self. Being principled and finding happiness in doing the right thing.
Just imagine if Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Dr King, etc would have only thought for themselves what kind of a messed up world we all would have been living in?
With greater goals come even greater challenges in some shape or form of "failures." "If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress”
Feeling the need to constantly be trying to improve the world and help others is a noble concept but also one that, if focused on too intensely, can unintentionally lead you down a dark path. By setting unrealistic expectations for yourself you can often set yourself up for failure by reaching too far too early. It also puts a heavy burden on your shoulders of being your own worst critic, undermining your motivation and clashing with your basic human desires that fall out of natural selfishness. As PG said in "Good and Bad Procrastination":
"You can't look a big problem too directly in the eye. You have to approach it somewhat obliquely. But you have to adjust the angle just right: you have to be facing the big problem directly enough that you catch some of the excitement radiating from it, but not so much that it paralyzes you. You can tighten the angle once you get going, just as a sailboat can sail closer to the wind once it gets underway."
I think the effects of trying to tackle big problems in the name of helping others head on can go beyond paralysis and into poor judgement in both strategy and tactics. The best way to change the world in my view is to first, know thyself, and then point yourself in the general direction you want to go.
From there, let your passions lead you where they may but be conscious if you are straying too far from the direction you were headed. Also, it seems more important to know if you've certainly begun heading in the wrong direction than knowing what exactly the right direction was from the outset.
At the beginning most founders getting some kind of depression but the better founders quickly adapt to the situation and answer 'some version of great' when asked how their startup is going.
The reason is quite simple -- successful founders are always positive because every event which happens has some positive impact in their perception, even if it might feel as a failure. Successful founders don't use the word failure, nothing is a failure to them.
People who are depressed -- it doesn't matter if those are founders or not -- tend to let external circumstances determine the mood or happyness level. Most people are happy when it's good weather and sad if it is raining, successful people do not let something like rain influence their mood level.
The question is rather why the topic 'depression' pops up quite often on HN.
My theory: I had very successful times as a founder and also -- let's call them -- 'slow' times as a founder, in particular in the beginning. When I had successful times I didn't check HN for months a single time, when I had 'slow' times, I checked HN every 30 minutes.
That's very kind of you. I used to live in Utah, and still have many connections there. If you don't mind, I'll drop your name if any friends there could benefit from a quick chat with a real person. I'm in San Diego and the reverse offer stands.
I wish I could explain what I'm going through right now, as a founder, but I legally can't. The few people that know what I'm going through have said it's the hardest situation they've heard a startup founder in, ever. I hope to one day tell my story.
Let's just say, it involves dealing with somebody that developed severe mental illness, quickly.
For me, startup depression was just something to get familiar with. I've been working on mine for about 3 years now, bootstrapped... on the weekends... making no money.... while supporting a family... being an involved father... but fuck it, I still believe in it and will continue working on it until I believe that the opportunity has passed.
The first two years consisted of my mind bouncing back and forth between dreams and depression. Now I've matured, at least emotionally, to where I feel emotionally invincible. I guess I just got used to it, the uncertainty, the hopes, the fears. This has become my norm, and living with it is much easier and honestly pretty effortless at this point.
I listened to a surprising podcast from John Lloyd (UK comedy producer deity (Spitting Image, BlackAdder etc))
He talked about his breakdown, about how he was fired from ten or so jobs and slowly came to a realisation that I think is worth repeating - that you can accept your life is yours, if possible live "with no fear and no blame"
I certainly don't suggest his approach is perfect but I is interesting to see someone widely successful and respected talking about the same fears and depression pervasive within us.
When I went solo-fulltime on my startup, I started a Mailchimp newsletter and asked all my friends who I thought cared about the startup to join (I'm just shy of 100 subscribers now). It's been incredibly useful for battling loneliness; every few weeks I talk about a success, a failure, or maybe just something random. It's helped make the whole process less isolating; I always get personal replies after I send one.
If you need help with depression and would rather try to figure it out yourself, consider Julian Simon's "Good Mood: The New Psychology of Overcoming Depression". Some of it didn't make sense to me, but I know much of it has helped me and a few depressed friends.
Just remember that the failure of your startup/project does not mean that you are a failure. In the last years you most likely "merged" yourself with your startup, you need to keep reminding yourself that your are more than it. You have friends, family, other ideas. You always can try again. And yes, would be happy to have coffee/lunch/whatever to chat (I am in the Bay Area).
In San Diego. Like Utah poster, let me know if you'd like to grab food. I haven't been a founder until recently, but I've worked as an employee at three previous startups. I'm familiar with some of the feelings and would love to share my experiences if it helps others. Let me know - my twitter handle is on my HN profile.
I don't think it is as simple as learning that you can talk about it - you have to learn who to talk about it too. Not everyone wants to hear that things are not working quite as planned - most people would rather just hear "Great!"
The app Secret seems to be a big vent for this feeling. I regularly see people posting about their own companies and feeling overwhelmed. The replies are always supportive and typically several are along the lines of being in the same boat.
Maybe I'm crazy but I'm a solo founder (I have a great support system of other founders) and I rarely find myself depressed. At times I'm angry at myself for decisions I've made but hindsight is 20:20.
No. It's not good for that at all. Depression is a monster. It eats relationships for breakfast. Friends who have not had depression will not understand it. There will be almost nothing they can do to help, but they'll want to help and find it a very frustrating experience. In the long run, those relationships will be very difficult to maintain.
Doing what you love is the key to happiness. This may not make you a billionaire but will certainly make you very happy. There is just too much pressure in wanting to be a billion dollar startup. If you take a VC's money as a means to your happiness, you will end up working for the VC's happiness and not yours.
I usually tell people it's "peaks and valleys". The peaks are really, really high, and the valleys are really, really low. But that's the whole point, isn't it? It's the ride that makes everything worth it.
Great post. I wonder whether organizations like YC might consider offering compensation for seeing a therapist during and after their batch, and even perhaps going as far as recommending a particular local therapist.
I've experienced depression while running a startup, and seeing a therapist was immensely helpful. A therapist who regularly sees founders as clients would have a stronger-than-usual feedback loop on what sorts of advice and recommendations can help.
Edit: While I think the advice of talking to other founders about depression is really excellent for those who have that option, I think back to when I've experienced depression and wonder whether it would have helped. Specifically I'm not sure I was even in a state to be able to act upon that advice. Generally my sense of self-worth was so deflated that it was very difficult to discuss it with anyone, and particularly anyone who I wasn't close friends with. Beyond my co-founders, few of my close friends were entrepreneurs.
In the particular case of founders it may be that simply having others (outside their fellow founders) to talk to about their problems might stem off the depression in the first place. Isolation is great for causing depression, especially in the presence of all kinds of stresses and pressures.
Once it passes into depression it simply doesn't matter whether it is "founder depression" or any other kind of depression. For true, major depression, therapy is an absolute must. Pharmaceuticals may also help in the short term. Anything else, including all the awesome people offering an ear in this thread, need to be in support of the professional help.
> I wonder whether organizations like YC might consider offering compensation for seeing a therapist.
YC is not an employer of founders. It's just an investor. They don't give founders money on a regular basis. They do help you find other investors but other than that just give you the usual dose of probably non-applicable advice that might not help you much. The main benefit of getting into YC is saying that you got into YC and a Techcrunch article.
wtf is that? yes, depression is bad, but YC should compensate treatment? Entrepreneurship is hard, everyone says that. So you should either expect to deal with consequences or not even get started. What kinda entrepreneur will graduate from YC if they have to be kinder-gardened?
But to be honest, this is a false dichotomy. One shouldn't have to choose between being an hardened veteran or going through therapy. There should be (there is?) a path to entrepreneurship that does not involve unnecessary suffering. Maybe it's a question of outlook.
Not everybody make a fortune doing entrepreneurship and that's why it is hard. If you are psychologically weak and can't man it up - make adjustments and put some cash aside for therapy or living without job for few months.
Your comments in this thread are illogical, antiquated, and misogynistic.
Illogical -- "Not everybody make a fortune doing entrepreneurship and that's why it's hard." It's hard because not everybody gets rich? No, it's hard because you're doing something difficult; the difficulty level has nothing to do with getting rich. Many people work on startups for reasons other than cashing in.
Antiquated -- suffering depression, in no way, makes you "psychologically weak".
Misogynistic -- life tip: if you find yourself using the phrase, "man up", you should reconsider your entire personality.
For the record, I'm currently in one of the downswings of the startup roller coaster ride, and am suffering from depression. You know nothing about me, or my situation, but offer your anti-sympathetic comment regardless.
Seriously, please rethink your opinions. Or, at the very least, stop sharing your thoughts.
To anyone else suffering from mental health issues, especially while running a startup, I strongly suggest internalizing this line: "Failing sucks—there is no way to sugarcoat that. But startups are not life-and-death matters—it’s just work."
Then find a person (therapist, significant other, family, friends) who can offer you support. Someone who is as sympathetic as hippich is ignorant.
Just a tip that I hope is helpful to you. I agree that the parent comment is a bad comment. But it's also a two-sentence comment, and one that was clearly heading for the illegible light grey abyss.
So what I'm suggesting you think about next time you comment is how much weight you're donating to that comment by dignifying it with a long response.
Another thing to consider is that when you take an ill-considered and mean-spirited comment and pick it apart in detail, you beg other people on the thread to critique your analysis. At which point (from several years of experience on HN) we're all off to the races in a meta-debate, the terms of which were set by a self-evidently terrible comment.
When you see terrible comments like this, just vote them down. Or, if you have to reply, vote it down and then write a careful reply, with brevity.
This is hard-won HN wisdom. It's 100% correct and, if everyone would take it to heart, would make a huge difference around here. Flames would still break out, but they'd die off for being oxygen-deprived.
If I may tack on one thing: if you have flagging privileges, please flag comments that are truly bad for HN. You can do that by clicking 'link' above the comment, which will take you to the item page which has a 'flag' link. We monitor those flags and take action based on them.
Yes, I see problem in trying to shift responsibility to YC. But I do not see how your second part is any different? It seems essentially the same, except that wanna-be-entrepreneur would not pay for it out of pocket right away and get compensated later.
sillysaurus3, two things:
- if you are so sensitive (especially to random comment on interwebs), you should see specialist BEFORE you even start thinking about entrepreneurship. And make sure your doctor says "yes, you are good to go".
- Yes, i never been through awful depressions. But I been in situation which probably could trigger it. I knew what I am doing, what I am capable of and that I can man it up.
It is ok to seek specialist attention, but then you are not ready for real world yet.
It is like 300lbs fat kid will seek counseling because he can't withstand failures on a track. C'mon. You guys too spoiled here in USA.
seek all help you need. i do not see problem with that. just don't try to run a distance while not being ready for it. or, more accurate, run it, but expect failure and be ready to go through it to get better at running. and don't think YC or anybody also somehow owe you for failing. failing IS norm.
I congratulate you on feeling like you're an emotional superman, and thus superior and impervious to mental health challenges.
I hope, when you are in a difficult situation, that someone offers you some support and sympathy. When that happens, please remember your unsympathetic attitude here, and use that opportunity to grow a bit as a person.
Oh, I wasn't kidding myself, I was expecting down votes. I just noticed that some my less "hurting" comments were down voted too, so I guess someone was just letting steam go ofg on all my comments here, including the one you replied to :)
And I don't think these down votes had something to do with comment not belonging here, rather it hit people too close and they let their feelings go. And fun fact - first 5 or so minutes this comment was up voted, so some people here actually share thoughts. Don't just assume something not belong here if it is just you and few other people think so.
I did not really intend to say that counseling by itself is something to be ashamed of (what many assumed is,) but rather that it is wrong to expect that organization like YC should provide counseling, and attracting less business capable people. I don't believe there is lack of people who are ready to challenges.