So most of us keep these struggles private, some of us are lucky to count fellow founders as close friends who we can confide in. Who we can talk to candidly in a circle of founder trust. If you’re a founder and don’t have this, make these friendships. They can save your life.
If you could have an honest conversation with every founder, you’d probably find that they either are or were very depressed at some point. Maybe there is some predisposition for emotionally unstable people to want to be founders, but most likely the high rate of depression is because this is fucking hard, it’s stressful and there are huge risks.
“Hypomania can give entrepreneurs significant advantages. It includes elevated mood, expansive creativity, and an increased ability to tolerate risk. Soft bipolar entrepreneurs can be visionary, highly self confident, persuasive, energized, and boundlessly enthusiastic about the companies they are building.” Think of hypomania as a kind of “success gene.”
For those who are mostly hypomanic, they need support in checking the “irrational exuberance” that can put their companies at risk. They need to engage in calming activities like walking, meditating, and ensuring that they abate the insomnia that naturally comes with an active mind. They also need cofounders, employees, and advisors who are willing to challenge the feasibility of implementing some of their wild ideas. Those who experience mild depression must train themselves to follow exercise regimens, spend time with loved ones, and learn how to manage feelings of self doubt and negative thinking. And for those who suffer from bouts of chronic depression, the right medications and evidence-based therapies can be life changing.
A survey by the Founders Institute found that less ego and more experience correlate with success in entrepreneurship. Of course people will immediately assume that being older is a predictor of both of these qualities, but that incorrectly assumes causation (age ≠ experience). One can obtain an incredible amount of experience quickly by simply putting themselves out there, trying new things, and being open to experiences – learning from failures.
On another note, the term “less ego” oversimplifies the concept of ego. As Nietzsche and Heidegger first noted, what people meant by “ego” before the time of Nietzsche and Heidegger was actually “will.” (Ayn Rand still makes this mistake, in my opinion.) The ego is the self-identifying element of our consciousness, that through which we relate to the world. People with a “big ego” cannot think the existence of other egos (other people with thoughts and feelings) outside of their own. They can only see others as a reflection of their own ego. This essentially reduces the other to the same as or less than the self, which is ethically violent and, some philosophers would argue, the source of all hatred and war.
The will, on the other hand, drives people to assert themselves in the world. A strong will, I would say, correlates more with success than a big ego. True, a big ego and a strong will tend to go hand-in-hand, but they’re definitely not mutually dependent. Take Bill Campbell for example. Incredibly successful, yet you won’t find an ounce of pretension on him.
Conclusion: beware of the confusion between ego and will. Strive to have a strong will, while humbly manage your ego.