Prioritizing Mental Health: A Vital Strategy to Prevent Founder Burnout

Part 1: Prioritizing Mental Health: A Vital Strategy to Prevent Founder Burnout
by Amy Wu

Entrepreneurship often feels like navigating a silent, relentless storm. As founders, we find ourselves tasked with building the ship while at the helm, all amidst tumultuous seas. We wear every hat, chase the elusive product-market fit, and grow our teams—all at once. If building your company were easy, it would already exist, wouldn’t it?

Despite the perceived “glamour,” 72% of founders report that launching and running startups has adversely affected their mental health, with 37% battling anxiety. Alarmingly, only 23% have sought psychological help. An overwhelming 81% keep their stress and fears silent and do not openly share their stress, fears, and challenges.

The Mirror of Founding a Company

When I began building Manifest, it was like holding up a mirror to my own personality. Every strength of mine was reflected back in the company’s culture and operations, but on the flip side, so was every weakness. My strong organizational skills and storytelling drove our vision forward, but my stress cascaded down to my team. My penchant for excellence and perfection–though valuable before Manifest–often hindered the speed of shipping new features.

We embody our companies. The values we live by day-to-day don’t just fill a page on our website; they animate the heart of our enterprise. It’s not enough to declare company values; we must embody them. This startup journey magnifies every trait we possess across our organization.

Enjoy the Journey

I once read that founding a company is an emotional journey disguised as an intellectual journey. It’s so true. This founder journey has pushed me into profound self-reflection, forcing me to confront my limitations and adapt my leadership style. Metacognition, or the awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes, plays a central role here. It involves continuously evaluating how we think, make decisions, and lead. As founders, we are forced to iterate and grow ourselves as often as we do our products.

The founder’s path is intensely personal yet profoundly universal. Each challenge and triumph not only shapes our business but molds our very being.

Redefining Work-Life Harmony

The notion of work-life balance often suggests a false dichotomy, implying that work and life are inherently in conflict. In reality, building a company is not about balancing it against your life but integrating it seamlessly with your personal values and vision. This integration is crucial, considering the average journey to an IPO spans 7-10 years. We must design our companies to enhance our lives, not detract from them. If our work environment and processes don’t fundamentally support our personal well-being, sustaining the long haul to significant business milestones becomes exponentially harder.

Practical implementation of this philosophy involves setting clear boundaries and prioritizing efficiency. Optimize your schedule by clustering similar tasks together to reduce context switching and set aside uninterrupted blocks for deep work to maximize productivity without extending work hours.

It Takes a Village

We all know that building a startup is a lonely endeavor. Yet paradoxically, it requires a village to truly succeed. This dichotomy often puzzles founders—how can something so personal also necessitate broad collaboration?

We often overlook the essential support we need, much like underestimating the value of a well-rounded team in sports. Imagine sending an NBA player into the playoffs without a coach, trainer, or equipment manager. Similarly, expecting founders to navigate the complex terrain of entrepreneurship alone is unrealistic. The demands of startup life require both the speed of a sprint and the endurance of a marathon.

Acknowledging that we don’t have to go it alone is a critical realization. Today, mental health experts and tools, like Manifest, are more accessible than ever. They can significantly impact a founder’s well-being, productivity, creativity, and overall success. Engaging with the right support network transforms the entrepreneurial journey from a solo race to a team effort, enhancing personal and company health.

Normalizing Failure Through Structured Experimentation

Treating failure as a stepping stone rather than a setback is crucial. We should approach setbacks with the same rigor we apply to product testing—leveraging structured experimentation to foster resilience and adaptability. Taking risks is essential because perfection is unattainable; we won’t always be right, but we can always learn.

Early in a startup’s life, the stakes might seem high, yet this is the time when you have the most to gain by embracing potential failures as growth opportunities. Over time, this mindset not only cultivates a tolerance for failure but also embeds a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within the team.

Navigating Self-Worth

In the realm of startups, it’s easy to merge our self-worth with the valuation of our companies, yet this is a narrow lens through which to view oneself. As founders, the pressure we place on ourselves inevitably spreads to our partners, families, and children. The true strength in leadership comes from understanding that we are vastly more than the sum of our business achievements. This realization fosters a more sustainable approach to leadership—one that is internally driven rather than externally pressured.

Those who succeed most profoundly in the startup world—and indeed, in any field—are often driven by internal motivations. They pursue projects that ignite their passion, not just those that offer external validation or financial rewards. This internal drive leads to unique, impactful work that might not conform to mainstream expectations but fulfills a deeper personal or societal need. This mindset also helps in making more calculated risks, free from the short-term pressures of external judgments.

In Summary

Entrepreneurship transcends the mere mechanics of running a business; it is fundamentally a profound voyage into the self. Founders venture not only through the external tumults of the market but also through the internal odysseys of their own psyche. The creation of a company and the evolution of the self are entwined—each setback, a lesson; each triumph, a reflection of inner growth.

True strength in leadership emerges from the ability to maintain one’s values and vision in the face of adversity and from fostering a culture where failure is seen as a path to growth. Let every founder remember: the path of entrepreneurship, though fraught with challenges, is profoundly enriching—embrace this odyssey with curiosity.

About Manifest

Amy Wu is the Founder and CEO of Manifest. Manifest revolutionizes mental health for Gen Z by making self-improvement as engaging and habitual as social media. Designed for a generation that craves instant digital gratification, Manifest provides a daily mental health toolkit filled with engaging micro-interactions. Our platform not only reacts to users’ immediate emotional needs but also continuously learns from their interactions, progressively enhancing its personalized support. Manifest is backed by Florida Funders, HF0, Stand Together Ventures, Soma Capital, amongst others.

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