It’s no secret that I struggle with mental illness. Frequent Highs accompanied by steep Lows, my mood is about as volatile as the Bitcoin Stock Market. Couple this with my strong views, opinions and crazy dreams about the world, talk like “we can save” it, we can use games to save the world, one game, one story one person, one YOU at a time!
Alongside my severe and awkward communication style. Sure some people say you communicate just fine, you are doing great. But the energy it takes to translate my thought, my tone of voice, and my facial expressions into their language, constantly hearing. Why are you talking to me like that?! And you need to socially get in line, adapt and gain some social tact or get out of the club, or putting those off who don’t know me personally (which is what business is all about transacting with people you DON’T KNOW personally)— as a result my life has been a lonely one, such that out of necessity I’ve had to learn to value solitude.
I see the world differently, I stand apart from the world. I feel different even though I know that I am no different than the rest of the world, I truly believe: We are all one. I feel like a dreamer most days. Looking at the map of problems in the world, and figuring out what solutions are out there, trying to bring them altogether. My thoughts and viewpoints are extreme, the very thing that allows me to sit with the world and understand it and love it for what it is, is the same thing that causes me to stand apart from the world sometimes even downright loathing it for its cruelty. It’s hard to love the world all of the time, and yet it is part of my practice, and something I work on bit by bit, every single day, even—especially when it comes to loving myself, flaws and all.
As the main founder of Zenratstudios, and as an Entrepreneur I tend to avoid speaking of the downs. Of the challenges, pitfalls, at least not without giving it a positive twist. But today I want to write about the challenges of having mental illness, particularly depression and the loneliness of being a leader, an entrepreneur, a visionary and a creative writer. Creativity and depression seem to go hand in hand and yet that seems to be a requirement for Entrepreneur’s, to see outside the box.
I am a hybrid Dreamer/Architect. My brain functions completely different in that my personality shifts from “Left” and “Right” brain thinking, according to are you a left brain or a right brain tests for fun it always says, “You are both, your brain is divided and shifts from one side to the other”. It’s funny because I always feel divided. I feel differently, I see differently, I identify in ways that people find hard to understand. I feel like pure energy trapped in a body that is always shifting into one mind from the next, the only thing constant is my evolving dreams.
These feelings aren’t unique to me, some of them are even pretty common. So here are some thoughts about why people who have Mental Illness also make great Entrepreneur’s but struggle.
The Thing That Makes Us Different, Sets Us Apart: This Makes Support Hard To Find And Teams with Compatible Personalities Challenging to Build
Visionaries and great leaders are rare. The ability to think outside of the box and be able to separate yourself from the crowd is not something that everyone can do, in fact we’re designed by default to herd, like sheep around a sheepherder. Visionaries are a special breed. They are the brilliant scientists, the engineers, the architects, the great writers, holding entire worlds, landscapes, and maps inside their head, just waiting to be made real, to transport what is dream into reality.
Imagine drawing a building at 4 or 8 years old and saying, one day I am going to build this. People who can’t do it, or believe it’s too hard will tell you to keep dreaming and do something sensible. And you alone will have to be the one to find a way to say, yes, yes I can, and pave a path so that others can see, all the while they tell you it’s not possible. By default Visionaries live in a dream world, a fantasy world, we’re constantly dreaming and our job is to be able to acquire the skills to make those dreams real, or to acquire the assets and finances to hire people who can.
Because of this mentality we have that sets us apart, it may be hard to find support. Imagine for instance being a Techie in a world where 98% of people who surround you are non-techies. No one knows what a blockchain is, or about the new and innovative features. Imagine being a Game Developer in a world where 98% of the people that surround you don’t care or even trust games, downplaying their value. Or Imagine being a Writer in a world where 98% of the people don’t write. Now imagine you find a niche, a group the 2% of people in society who think like you, who are trying and exploring this new technology…and now imagine that the type of people exploring the same thing you are exploring are a demographic different from yours, have a culture and mindset different from yours, making you stand out like a sore thumb among even your own ‘niche’.
Can you picture being an Evangelist Christian Female working in a field that is predominately Male and Atheist leaning?
As an Entrepreneur the ability to find like-minded people, who support your vision, and who would even want to join your team, where personalities mesh is possible, but hard. The challenges of that, building a team, and having support, and being set apart and different even among your own team is lonely. If building a team, and finding support for their ideas are hard imagine how lonely it must feel for these ‘visionaries’ finding close friends and even lovers. How common is it for truly genuine and authentic leaders to build both strong healthy families, and a team?
And yet their entire success rides on their ability to find common-ground and build connections and bridges with people who may or may not understand them. In a world, in a species where we’re taught to trust that which is like-us and to conform with the majority in order to survive, being a visionary can quickly turn into a witch hunt.
It is for this reason, that an important qualities a person has to have in this field are: Passion, Perseverance and Persistence. Steve jobs himself said “You have to have a lot of passion for what you’re doing because it is so hard…that any rational person would give up.”
Another tip is to learn how to view the no’s as constructive criticism. For every challenge, or no, or I can’t, or You can’t, that is brought up, be willing and able to view it as simply a challenge, a puzzle to be solved. For every puzzle and challenge there is a solution, transform those You Can’t’s into Challenges and Puzzles to be solved, and then jump, climb, or fly over them.
We’re aware that: 9 Out of 10, or 3 out of 4 Start Ups Fail, And we Might Be One, Esp. If We Don’t Adapt (And A lot of us Won’t)
We know that there is a huge amount of risk that comes with being a start-up. The biggest risk is failure. We may have quit our jobs, be working on shoestring budgets, trying to bootstrap and reach out to people who only want profit, who need to feed their families. Everything is riding on the success of this business and yet, we know that we’re going to fail at it 9x’s out of 10. So it means that we have try 10+ times, tweaking the formula until we get it right. There are a lot of people who don’t tweak, or adapt, or try. If it fails they just give up.
But knowing that, knowing that your ability to plan and strategize and to be able seek and find help whether it is paid or community resources, and the long road ahead can be even more daunting. Everything is riding on your success.
To survive we have to rethink how we view failures, to see failures as a positive, bringing you one step closer to the solution, because now you know what WON’T work. We have to constantly be adapting, flexible, open to new things. This is a learned trait. We’re not taught to compromise, to adapt, to be flexible. We live in a world where new technologies crop up every day where we have to be innovative. For a long time we’ve been taught to value traditions, to stick with the old and distrust anything new.
Moreover we have to have the ability to keep moving forward, to keep trying, again and again, to gain increasingly more skill. Aside from that the biggest skill is to not think of it as daunting, think of it as fun. When you play a video game and the whole world is on your shoulders game designers have found a way to make it fun, in that same way you can design and develop your own life, gamify it in such a way where failing, is part of growth and growth is transformative, painful and yes just like in games can be made fun.
It’s Cutthroat World Out There
We’re surrounded day and night by people who are in this to make money, who need money, no one will help you for free. The same people who you hang around with may view you as a competitor, rather than someone to cooperate with, maybe you even view them as a competitor. They don’t have time to hear you or to read your 15 page business plan and give it feedback. Would you yourself have the same time if it were in reverse? The people by majority that you reach out to, don’t care about your dreams, they just care about their own thing, it is all about money, and making a living and how can interacting with you -help them-.
It’s for this reason to make it you have to detach and develop thick skin. You cannot take anything personally, and have to remember that everyone wants something from you, they want incentive. You have to create incentive, you have to create value. To give people a reason to work with you. What do you have that makes you so special? You have to prove yourself, earn people’s attention, figure out what it is that they want and then give that to them. Time is precious, tons of people are vying for their attention. And you’ve gotta figure out how to get it.
Thick skin is a huge must, not taking things personally, and really being able to make it fun, turn it into a game. When a game is fun and enjoyable, pleasurable, and when you don’t take anything personal you never have to attack people, get on the defensive and so forth. It’s all fun and being a good and friendly sport is part of it.
It’s hard, but the biggest thing I’ve learned in all this is that developing thick skin, while keeping a soft, open and friendly heart, and treating it as engaging and fun, an adventure is the best medicine to take the edge off of the stress.
In time your efforts may allow you to find people who share the vision, but there’s a lot of walking alone and paving the path that needs to be done before many people even agree to step onto the rollercoaster with you.
The World Isn’t Always Ready For The Gift
Sometimes we’re just ahead of our time. Sometimes 10-15 years ahead, sometimes 100 years ahead, sometimes we’re a whole evolutionary gap, or species, or even a world ahead of the rest of the world. Imagine what it was like to be Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe or Emily Dickinson, to have so much to give to the world, and to have the world not be ready for it. Imagine being Leonardo Da Vinci flowing with ideas, but not having the technology to create them.
Mad genius. Sometimes that’s the case, but keep trying anyway.
The Financial & Social Challenges, Loneliness & Stress Exacerbate Mental Illness
It is all the more reason to be able to have support. Sometimes though, especially for those with mental illness, all you have is your resolve, and your commitment to keep moving forward even on days where you can’t take another step.
To bring this closer to home, it’s days like today, I just lay in bed and read. Nothing makes me smile, or laugh, not even the things that usually do. It’s as though each low I build a tolerance for the new tricks I use to circumvent my brain to be happy before. All I can do then is let myself cry. Sometimes I even slip up and verbally attack the only people in my corner, and withdraw which creates a cycle by which I make a point to try hard to withdraw and keep people away, to protect them from me and my lows when I need someone the most.
So where do we go to when we have no one to go to, when our tongues are sharp and our hearts are soft and bleeding? This day in particular, I just let myself be sad, I surrender into it. I acknowledge that I hurt, that this is going to be an uphill climb, that there are going to be bad days or weeks, and I do my best anyway, knowing that my best wasn’t the same as my best yesterday, but it is my best today.
Times like these, I think about people in countries like Syria, strong, beautiful people risking their lives on dwindling fees, rescuing girls in a world that doesn’t care about them, and I think to myself. If they can get up every day and find the will to move forward, then so can I. I can’t look at the world this beautiful world, and watch it destroy itself and hurt others without stepping in and doing my part. No matter how challenging it is. No matter how hard the climb is.
If there is a skill I need to learn, then I learn it, if I need to raise funds, then I will. And if I have to learn how to survive in solitude, alone, without emotional support, then that’s the agreement I made when I pursued the road less traveled. I’m not going to give up. And neither should anyone who else who has a dream, who truly has insight and something of value that they can learn to hone and harness and give back to others.
I remind myself why I’m doing this. If I have the energy I read about things in my field, that inspire me. I read about brave activists, I watch Ted Talks, I listen to It gets better stories, I keep an eye out for hope, and I keep. Moving. Forward. Even if I have to drag myself, even if I have to type one key at a time, one day at a time. Because sometimes, when you have a dream that so much bigger than you, when it is more than you, that’s all you can do.
So here’s to all those entrepreneur’s out there, struggling with mental illness. This post is for you. I understand your journey, I feel it. I stand in solidarity and my message is to keep moving forward, keep trying. Figure out your gift to the world, and you find a way to give it. We need you, we need more people like you in this world, people who have the strength to stand against adversity who climb the highest mountain and give us messages of hope, even when it feels like it’s the end of the world. You’ve got a gift for the world, whether they’re ready or not. This is a call to all heroes to stand up, to keep moving forward. It’s a call to me, it’s a call to you. One person, one story at a time.