Ask startup founders why they’re willing to take the leap into entrepreneurship and you’ll often hear, “high risk, high reward.” This ethos embodies the adventurous spirit and inspirational visions that motivate modern entrepreneurs to pioneer into new spaces.
5 Tips to Achieve Well-Being
- Learn to prioritize your responsibilities.
- Get a change of scenery.
- Make time to attend to your physical and mental health.
- Build an identity outside of work.
- Enjoy the journey that is entrepreneurship.
Yet behind the glint in their eyes is a depth of hard-won knowledge about how much they put on the line when running the gauntlet. High risk indeed.
Succeeding in business is hard enough, but many entrepreneurs personally stake their incomes, savings and reputations to run an under-resourced race. They often do this under extreme time pressure to deliver products so new that some customers struggle to integrate with them. When one thing begins to go wrong, failure can cascade across multiple foundational elements of the business and their personal lives.
All that risk, uncertainty and exertion takes a significant toll on founders’ well-being. More than nine out of 10 startups fail in the U.S. market, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. While there are excellent analyses on why startups fail, issues with entrepreneurs’ well-being are consistently left out of the discussion.
Fitness, Fulfillment and Foresight, an annual report published by KPMG Australia High Growth Ventures, focuses on two key hypotheses: A founder’s ability to lead their business is a critical success factor that determines the fate of their startup, and a founder’s personal well-being impacts how well they lead. A founder’s personal performance is the determining factor for the success of their business, KPMG data confirmed.
That tracks with research detailed in The Founder’s Dilemma, which revealed that 65 percent of startups fail due to ineffective founder management. Low estimates assess that lack of well-being accounts for at least a third of that 65 percent, meaning that more than 20 percent of startups fail due to challenges with the mental and physical health of the founder.
Founders constantly face difficult odds and realities with incredible grit and determination. They’re wired to go big or go home and that won’t change. What can they do to avoid the more than one in five chance their startup will go under due to well-being issues? Entrepreneurs are explorers heading into uncharted waters and new climates. They need the right tools to navigate and survive in extreme conditions.
Here are a few approaches that have helped some founders address their biggest challenges.
Learn to Prioritize
Entrepreneurs often describe feeling overwhelmed with the sheer volume of responsibilities. When they hit that cognitive overload, it can prompt a cascade of neurochemicals that makes it harder to focus, think, communicate and complete tasks. This can then create a downward spiral toward stress, depression or anxiety.
The ability to see the big picture while knowing what tasks to prioritize and complete is a key skill that leaders need to hone in over time. Much of this skill comes from managing the perspectives, context and stories built around what is happening.
It is especially useful during crises, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter details in her HBR article, Zoom In, Zoom Out. Practicing this framing with mentors and other trusted colleagues empowers entrepreneurs to learn this life skill in real time, day in and day out, and even apply it to challenges beyond business.
Change Your Scenery
Startups can become an entrepreneur’s entire world. Relegated to the same topics, in the same environment, day after day, can feel suffocating. Moving to a completely different place, either physically or mentally, can help entrepreneurs recalibrate what is actually urgent, important or worth spending precious resources upon. Getting away from the work world several times a day helps entrepreneurs take much-needed mental breaks, immerse in other parts of life and explore the world in new ways.
Things as simple as walks outside, exercise, social engagement and local adventures can provide new physical environments that lower stress levels and provide new mental stimuli. If travel isn’t an option, taking a mental break with meditation or mental travel to an envisioned place can lift the weight of daily tasks temporarily, refresh energy reserves, enter a state of awe and provide new perspectives that shift how entrepreneurs come back to their work.
Hold Space for Well-Being
Entrepreneurs often try to cram as much into their schedules as possible, understandable considering all the responsibilities they must fulfill. With so much on their plate, taking time for anything else seems unimaginable.
In 2021, KPMG’s report noted that 15 percent of founders never leave the office for fresh air, and that 27 percent have not taken sick leave in the past year. Allowing work to consume every ounce of attention and energy is a recipe for failing fast. Deliberately shifting to prioritize their wellness needs can provide a profound improvement in entrepreneurs’ quality of life and performance in their startups. From simply blocking out time on the calendar and silencing notifications to designing new elements of their company culture or ensuring they take vacations, founders have a wide array of options to hold space for well-being.
Reframing mental and physical health as critical to helping the business thrive, protecting precious company resources and caring for the team in a fundamental way replaces old biases against self-care.
Build Your Identity Beyond Work
While entrepreneurs come with unique personalities and working styles, they are known for their drive, determination and grit. Those behaviors are assets to entrepreneurs pushing the boulder up the proverbial hill, but left unchecked, those same tendencies can push entrepreneurs too far toward self harm.
Entrepreneurs sometimes become so immersed in their work it consumes their personal identity. Over-valorizing extreme work or becoming a workaholic can have toxic ripple effects across business and other areas of life. Feeling profoundly alone in a venture and perpetuating social isolation can lead to health issues and a reduction in longevity. By actively including other activities and relationships, it becomes easier for entrepreneurs to remember that they are not their job, and that if the company fails it does not mean that they fail as humans.
Living a balance that includes emotional, physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, financial and environmental as well as vocational well-being builds the opportunity for more meaning and pleasure throughout the journey, not to mention a more balanced life long-term.
Enjoy the Journey
Entrepreneurship is fraught with challenges, but navigating the experience in ways that bring growth and insights often cultivate the sweetest of accomplishments.
All of the people around entrepreneurs — from accelerators and mentors, to investors and partners — are eager for them to succeed. One of the best ways founders can live the full entrepreneurial experience of building something out of nothing together is leaning on the people and resources around them. They’ve got high risk covered, now it’s time to ensure the high reward is, too. Be well.