Holidays Aren’t Always Fun

“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being ’round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me?” – Beatles, Help!

I’m taking advantage of the time of year to remind us that holidays don’t always leave people happy. In fact with some, it really makes them unhappy.

People who are depressed, struggle with dependency issues, have a mental illness or are going through a life inflection point may have a hard time with the holidays. And, so, it feels like the right time to share some “how to be an awesome person for others” best practices.

1 – If you see that someone is having problems, speak up. It may feel awkward to ask why someone may not be engaging, seems super sad, is detached or is upset about the holidays. Simply asking gives that person the option to share.

2 – If someone says that they feel like the world is better off without them – stop, look and listen. Find out if they have a plan and if they do, call 911 or emergency services and get them help. It’s better to be wrong and call for help than be right and do nothing. EMTs, hospitals and doctors far prefer that someone gets help rather than lose a life because the help wasn’t offered.

3 – Depression isn’t rational. Your brain chemicals aren’t the same and your thinking is different. A depressed person may not have rational and logical answers and responses to ordinary events. If you know someone who is depressed and not getting professional help – make a wellness check call for them. Let a professional visit them and check in so that they can assess the situation.

4 – If you know someone who has nowhere to go for the holidays and you have room, invite them to your holiday gathering.

5 – Holidays are busy times – it’s worth taking the few minutes to check in with yourself as well. Are you just full bore get things done for the holiday mode? If so, take 10 minutes to meditate, contemplate or do something that is #givefirst. Give that homeless person an extra dollar, buy a gift for TOYS FOR TOTS, volunteer an hour at a shelter, donate to a food pantry, buy a coat for someone who doesn’t have one.

6 – If you know someone has a dependency problem and you see that they are struggling, ask how you can help. Maybe you can make time to go to an AA meeting with them, share a cup of coffee with them or take a walk. Holiday times are fraught with events that are planned around food and alcohol which can be exclusive and hard for people with dependency problems.

The real gift at the holidays is being mindful – of yourself and those around you. All the material things in the world won’t matter if the people that we share with aren’t as healthy as possible in both mind and body. Help is hard to ask for – and it’s not always easy to know when to offer help. If someone extends a hand, reach out and take it!

We encourage everyone to become educated on mental health and important issues around it. Here is a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic.








Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community: A Chat with Brad Feld

We held an AMA with Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars, where we discussed Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

This post is the first in a series, which includes a transcript of Brad’s answers to these questions in this AMA

Mental health issues can be considered a huge liability – to investors, customers, partners, co-founders, employees, etc. Should entrepreneurs disclose these issues to build trust and understanding, or is it wiser to keep them private and hope that they do not manifest?

I think it varies a lot, based on the company, the culture, your investors, and the dynamics between you and your investors. When I was running my first company and I had my first depressive episode, I was in my mid-twenties. We didn’t have any investors. The business was owned by myself, my partner Dave, and my dad.

During that period of time, not only was there a huge stigma around mental health issues in general, but people weren’t really talking about depression much, and there was a lot of stigma in my own family around it. I had an enormous amount of shame that I was depressed, so I went to a psychiatrist and then I took medication.

Essentially, there were two people I could talk to besides my psychiatrist. One was Dave and the other was my wife, Amy. As I fast forward 25 years later, I think the stigma and shame associated with depression is lower, but people’s reaction to depression, especially in a work context is very challenged.

If I was your investor and you came to me as a CEO and said, “I am depressed,” my reaction to that wouldn’t be to tell you that you’re unqualified to be CEO. It would be to spend time with you and talk about what is going on, and try to figure out how to get you help in the same way that I would react if you came to me and you had broken your arm or leg, and you couldn’t travel for three months. I wouldn’t say that because you had broken your leg you couldn’t be CEO, but let’s talk about how to configure things around your leadership team and around the company so you can be effective.

I put myself at one end of the spectrum, and then you have people at the other end of the spectrum. I had a conversation with a group of people that included some investors and some very well-known entrepreneurs earlier this year. One of them was adamant that if you’re depressed, you shouldn’t be CEO.

Another person’s view was that the board should give you a six month leave of absence for you to come back as CEO in six months. This doesn’t make sense to me, and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. The short version is that there’s no easy answer. You as the person who is depressed, or as your partner or co-founder is struggling with depression, figuring that out becomes a better part of your own journey as a founder versus looking for the one answer.

You can listen to the answer here.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 








Finding Harmony: Managing Work & Life as an Entrepreneur

We held an AMA with Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars, where we discussed Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

This post is the second in a series, which includes a transcript of Brad’s answers to audience questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check the schedule here.

Work-life balance is a beast of a thing. Most entrepreneurs I know are heavy on work, less on life. What’s the key for startup entrepreneurs to find more balance? Furthermore, how can we balance the trend that startup founders and their teams are expected to burnout to realize success?

I think the word ‘balance’ is the wrong word. I think the starting point is readjusting how you’re thinking about the issue.

I like to use the word ‘harmony’ instead of ‘balance.’

The reason I like to use the word ‘harmony’ instead of balance is that if you think about improv jazz, it approximates how a startup works. You don’t have a predetermined set of things that you’re going to be playing. You’re working with a group of people, your team, and things are changing constantly.

If you try to get harmony between work and life, that actually feels achievable. It’s not that there has to be a balance, it’s that they have to be intertwined, playing off of each other, and feeding off of each piece. As a result, I now try to use the phrase ‘work-life harmony.’

There will be periods of time as a founder where work totally dominates and there will be periods where life totally dominates. You can’t schedule when those things will happen. You can build your own rhythms as a founder in how you work and in your personal life, but lots of exogenous things that you will have no control over will happen, and they will fuck with whatever those rhythms are. 

The ability to be flexible and adaptive by striving for harmony versus balance is so much more powerful. There is no measurement.

I think with work-life balance, people think it’s objectified. With harmony, you’re not thinking about it that way. You’re just kind of trying to have this generally positive experience even when the shit is hitting the fan and things are really difficult.

You’re allowing it to evolve with you, rather than trying to force it into something.

You can listen to the answer here.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 








From Coping to Empowered: Mental Health and the Community

Last week was the Techstars Boulder Startup Week Brain Crawl, where I was given the role of introducing the Brain Health Conversation with Jerry Colonna and Brad Feld.

This was also a huge moment for me as I unveiled Sigmend’s OPEN Labs to an audience full of the people who have helped me the most on my own journey.

Under different circumstances, it could have been a very nerve racking task, but after having part one of this series viewed by a few hundred thousand people thanks to Brad, Techstars and Mattermark, I had a different feeling as I took the stage.

So what’s changed? What allows me to stand on stage talking about my disorder with pride and excitement instead of nervousness?

Let’s rewind a few days… As prep for my introduction speech, I listened to the dozens of talks Brad and Jerry have given on brain health. Each time, they were impressively vulnerable and real with the audience. They addressed the hard stuff, gave compassionate answers and told authentic stories. I came into the conversation on Wednesday thinking that this talk would be impressive in a similar manner as their past talks, but it wasn’t.

There was something apparently different. The same shift that has happened in my personal experience is occurring in the community. As Brad and Jerry took questions from the crowd I heard something new.

I heard words like ‘compassion’, ‘cultural shifts’, and ‘viral spreading’ in place of words like ‘I’m coping’, ‘negative response’, and ‘ashamed of myself’.

It felt like a far cry from the mournful and serious voices I’ve heard in the past, which leads me to believe that we are beginning to discover that this topic is one of hope and excitement.

That’s why I was so excited. Brain health has traditionally been a pretty sad and somber topic, but there is a shift taking place. I no longer worry, “what if people don’t respond to my hopeful introduction?” or “what if the audience doesn’t believe that people living successfully with brain disorders aren’t a dime a dozen? What if they don’t know that people impacted by brain disorders can actually be close to 20 percent of the room, especially in tech?

People in that room (and I know outside of it too) believe in the hopeful future of brain disorders. I could hear it in their questions and saw it in their responses. 50 percent of the audience texted in asking to sign up for a spot to attend the OPEN Summit (the kickoff event for OPEN Labs) and another dozen wanted to get involved by dedicating to a loved one or sponsoring the Summit.

My point is this: thanks to the work of people like Jerry, Brad, and our other speakers Amy Reichlin, Faith Cohen, and Impact Founder, people are ready. The next step is to take this community’s latent energy and activate it. We can’t do this without a community, without a movement of people who can make that change happen.

I’ll say it again: there are a lot of confusing things about this disorder, but one thing that is absolutely true is that a supportive community is vital to recovery.

We have a supportive community beginning within the startup ecosystem, but now it’s time to harness that into something bigger. It’s time to join a movement to take this supportive community from talk into action.

So, to everyone who attended the crawl, joined the movement to change the conversation, and applied to the Summit (and helped me calm my nerves!), from the bottom of my heart, thank you. To everyone else, if you are living successfully and can share your experiences with your peers, have a loved one who has been impacted, or want to express your support to your employees, partners, and friends, attend, sponsor, or dedicate to the Summit.                       

We don’t have to wait until events like the Brain Crawl to have hopeful conversations. The OPEN Summit will bring thought leaders, experts and individuals who have been impacted anywhere on the spectrum of bipolar disorder to lay the foundation for OPEN Labs: A think tank and support group for brain disorders by those who know them best. OPEN Labs will ensure that these conversations, support, and real action continue to activate the latent energy of those who want to help.

Watch the Brain Crawl video here.

This was originally published on Medium.








Mental Health and Entrepreneurship

It was a quiet Sunday evening, and I had just got back from a holiday in Portugal. I was in the middle of trying to change a lightbulb (true progress on the DIY front for me), and I felt the need to tell Rich, my co-founder, about a feeling that had been consuming me for three weeks or so.

I had been filled by a pretty deep sadness. It wasn’t about any one thing in particular, but it made my tasks seem less achievable. Goals seemed further away, my connection to those around me seemed dull and dampened. Very unlike me, I was low on energy.

Rich discussed it with me whilst observing my miserable efforts with the lightbulb. We arrived at the conclusion that a faint imposter syndrome had turned into the start of a feeling that seemed much like depression. Without necessarily trying to solve the problem immediately, the simple act of telling Rich how I actually felt, made a substantial difference for me.

From my experience, mental health is a topic that gets ignored in entrepreneurship.

Whether it’s the stigma that still surrounds it, or if it’s how the media glamorizes working ourselves to the ground, it seems undeniable that founders aren’t paying enough attention to their own emotions yet.

It gets scarier when you look at how entrepreneurs define their identities. Typically, as James and I mention here, your identity is inextricably linked to your startup. I.e. Fraser = Repairly, James = Sanctus.

It’s an interesting paradigm. When you’re winning, you’re really winning. It means that you hustle harder: when your sense of worth is derived from your business succeeding, you have a strong imperative to push for growth.

But, you’ll also run into this:

There’s a lot of up and downs on there. The more attached your identity is to your startup’s success, the more your emotions will peak and crash. It’s pretty brutal, in my experience.

This is where techniques to manage your mental health are seriously powerful. They won’t stop your emotions from swinging. But, having your mental health in check will bring emotions to a more stable equilibrium.

In the long term, I believe this will make you a more effective entrepreneur. Your cognition will be less loaded with unhelpful emotions, giving you more optimism, greater clarity of thought, more empathy, more creativity… and the list goes on.

To get started on understanding your mental health, check out the clip below. There’s plenty of discussion on the topic, as well as suggestions for getting started with techniques such as meditation and awareness practice.

 

This was originally published on Repairly’s blog








The Skills You Need to Succeed Start in Your Head

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it reminded me of an email I got from a VC mailing list. Leaders don’t often feel like they can — or should – share their stress and worries, especially with their team. Which is why I was surprised to see this statement in an email sent to founders and CEOs of a leading Silicon Valley VC firm:

Ever since I started the company, I’ve lost the ability to sleep through the night. I wake up with worries and concerns and anxieties, and toss and turn a lot.”

Most of the founders and executives on that email list run companies that have raised tens to hundreds of millions of venture dollars and employ several hundreds, even thousands, of smart, driven people. But within minutes of that email going out, dozens of responses poured in, all echoing the same sentiment: “Wait, me too.”

Many also expressed their relief to discover they weren’t alone.

As a startup founder, it’s so easy to think that you’re the only one confronting these challenges. But in the US, one in five people suffer from emotional and mental health symptoms every year – and only a small subset of people seek and receive care. For entrepreneurs and people going through drastic career changes, these symptoms and numbers are magnified — but it doesn’t have to be this way.

To quote Ben Horowitz, “The most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.” Once you understand what you’re going through, you too can build the positive mental habits and skills you need to overcome roadblocks when the going gets tough.

Startup Stress, by the Numbers

Stress impacts the team at every level in an early-stage startup — from the CEO to the newest hire. Amongst co-founders using Ginger.io, we found that 71 percent identified ‘stress’ as a key challenge for them. Additionally, 57 percent identified ‘anxiety’ as their leading challenge.

Starting a Company Isn’t Easy

If employees working at established corporations — with all of the resources and support that having a team offers — are stressed out, imagine how stressful it is to go solo as a startup founder or co-founder. Creating something that doesn’t exist today is challenging. Innovation is risky. Each step you take — from building a prototype to hiring people — multiplies the risk.

Within a single week, a founding team may experience any number of these scenarios or more:

  • Failing product features
  • Customer rejections
  • Early team conflicts
  • Worries about making payroll
  • Investors doubting your ability
  • Unsuccessful legal or banking negotiations
  • Spouses or family questioning your persistence

4 Crucial Ways to Keep Your Head in the Game

As the founder of a company that helps people with stress, anxiety and depression, I’m able to tap into the knowledge of our coaches, therapists and psychiatrists. Our team supports employees from leading technology, finance, media companies and law firms — industries where long hours and stressful jobs are the norm.

Based on what I’ve learned, here’s my playbook for getting through challenging times as a startup founder:

When in doubt, ask yourself what drives you.

Creating something that didn’t exist before, like a new product, service or company, is incredibly risk and hard — why even bother? Instead, you could have a corporate job, financial security and a predictable schedule. Launching a startup makes no sense financially, so why are you doing this?

Remind yourself of what drives you when you hit an obstacle or feel lost.

Dealing with challenges is much easier when you believe the problem is an important one to solve. Whenever I’m stressed about our future and success, my wife reminds me of all the people with emotional health issues who would have no alternative if companies like Ginger.io didn’t exist. She says, “Remember that the world is a better place because people like you, creatives, innovators and entrepreneurs, believe in a better future.” 

Don’t take feedback personally, look at the bigger picture.  

Being a leader means getting feedback constantly, all the time, and it’s usually not positive. For example, starting a company means facing a lot of rejection from clients, investors, partners and job candidates.

When you care strongly about your company, it’s hard not to take feedback personally — but if you do that, you’ll miss seeing the bigger picture.

Negative feedback, like rejection, isn’t a reflection of you. Instead, it’s crucial information that you need to have about the state of the market, your industry and your product.

When you receive negative feedback, instead of becoming discouraged, ask more questions and find out the reasons behind their reaction. Perhaps this customer has had negative experiences with similar companies or the investor you’re talking to has insight into the market that you’re missing.

Build resiliency today, so tomorrow is easier.

Being able to take rejection and negative feedback and learn from it will help you become more resilient as a leader.

There are also many other behavior changes that you can make to build resilience and lower the stress and anxiety of starting a company. Ginger.io coaches help our members build positive habits using Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based approach that suggests positive behavior changes can influence your cognitive state.

When I saw how our coaches help members A/B test positive habits, like setting a better sleep schedule, changing to a healthier diet and exercising, I tried this out myself. I tested eating breakfast at different times and waking up earlier (and later) as well as creating “protected time” on my calendar to give me space to think and reflect every day. I discovered that certain things, like meditation, didn’t work for me, but that taking time off to ski was a good equivalent.

Building resilience starts with basics, like eating well and getting enough sleep, but it’s important to test different strategies to find out what works for you. 

Surround yourself with family, friends and colleagues who care.

There’s a reason people say that, “It’s lonely at the top.” Many leaders I’ve met over the years take a lot of responsibility and don’t reach out when they need help. But it doesn’t have to be lonely to be a leader.

It’s crucial to reach out to a diverse group of people and create a strong support network.

Having a community you trust is especially important because as an early-stage entrepreneur, much of your self-worth is tied to the success of your company. Expectations from within, early employees, VCs and that Techcrunch article will add up.

By building a strong family and friend network, you can separate your identity from your startup, overcome the fishbowl effect, and it may even help you make better decisions.

Industry leaders such as Techstars co-founders, Brad Feld and David Cohen, offer services, such as Ginger.io, as a resource to portfolio companies in programs across the US to help maintain emotional health while rapidly building their company.

Founders and early leaders set the tone for the emotional and wellbeing of the company. When you offer tools that can provide support for your team, you normalize wellbeing and set the right culture for your team.

By removing the stigma around talking about personal challenges and stress, we can begin to increase access to support, and help people realize that no one is alone in their journey.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here








How a Bipolar Diagnosis Helped Explain Me

According to the World Health Organization, “… nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime” and I’ve seen that number reported as high as 58 percent.

And this one from the National Institute of Mental Health, “Our best estimate of the number of adults with any diagnosable mental disorder within the past year is nearly 1 in 5, or roughly 43 million Americans.” The Kim Foundation puts that number a little higher at 26.2 percent or 57 million Americans.

I remember when I first encountered those statistics, two questions immediately jumped into my mind: why are those numbers so ridiculously high, and why doesn’t anybody know about them?

The Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder about a year ago. It completely caught me off guard. When I received the diagnosis, two slogans from my childhood jumped into my head.

The first, from GI Joe, is, “Because knowing is half the battle,” and the second, from afternoon specials, “The more you know…” rode a star across the screen. I’m pretty sure they arrived to a) prove how awesome advertising always sticks with us, and b) emphatically show how little I/we know about mental illness…

In my life to that point, I don’t remember thinking about, let alone having a second thought about mental illness. I was fairly successful. I was pretty good with people. I had friends. That didn’t seem like a person with a mental illness.

I was in the midst of Galvanize’s full stack development bootcamp, which is incredibly stressful, especially for someone coming from a writing background, with words, not code and variables.

Mental illness can be exacerbated by stress. That would be the understatement of the year in my case. I’d go from being on top of the world with enough energy to finally solve the Aanderaa–Karp–Rosenberg conjecture to laying in my bed for hours, going from terror to tears, because I couldn’t even get a console.log right.

I was having a really, really down day, which I used to define as “being in a mood”, when class let out for a break and I made a mad dash for the door. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this or for me to rub off on them. This was my misery and mine alone. So there I go, basically running out of the side door, leading the pack by a lot. I turned the corner down the alley and am in the final straightaway to freedom when a dear friend’s voice called out to me, “Patrick, stop!”

So I stopped because you can’t run from your friends. Well you can, but that’s just stupid! My friend, who has been through years of struggles both personal and psychological before being diagnosed with Type 1 bipolar, talked me through that moment and insisted that I see one of the most dynamic, firecracker of a psychiatrist named Dr. Jane Boyer.

Life After Acceptance

Through our sessions, so many things about my life seemed to make more sense. How I’d have fits of energy, sometimes for months, where I’d do things like: write a novel, decide I should start doing standup comedy and walk on stage the same night, remodel a cabin in the woods with no woodworking skills, let alone construction experience, or write, produce, and direct a play.

Those were, of course, balanced by months of avoiding anything other than work or being so terrified of human contact that I wouldn’t attend best friends’ birthday parties or make it home for the holidays.

Being diagnosed gave me such a better understanding of who I really am. And not in the context I had previously, that there were two Patricks. One, the public facing Patrick, who is a happy-go-lucky, confident, carefree extrovert and the other, a T-shirt and hoodie wearing, somber, sullen, yet funny introvert. But that these two people were me, just with different things going on in my brain.

No More Stigma

So why am I sharing this winding tale with you? Because without a friend’s insight, I would never have gotten treatment. I would never have even thought that a chemical imbalance in my brain could cause such profound changes on my mood and by consequence, my life. A chemical imbalance, that with the proper medication, could be controlled, keeping me from the unpredictable, cycling highs and lows that type 2 bipolar disorder brings.

We, as a society, are woefully uneducated about mental illness. We are unprepared to have a conversation about mental illness, and technically, we don’t even know how. Some of this ignorance comes from the stigma surrounding mental illness, absolutely, but we, as a society, have to take some of the blame for not reading an article, visiting a site or watching a TED Talk about mental illness.

I was lucky, blessed and fortunate to have amazing people in my life that helped me more than I can tell you. Absent those people, I truly don’t know where I’d be.

Now for my final points:

  • I really, really implore you to take and share this survey. It will quantify the current state of mental illness and what we know about it because we can’t understand, manage or treat what we don’t measure.
  • Take one of the mental illness assessments that’s out there. There’s a bunch out there or this one is supposed to be good.
  • Talk to therapist or a person you truly trust about what’s really going on in your head. You know, the really hard stuff. The stuff that keeps you up at night.
  • If you’re ever where I was on my lowest of low days, reach out immediately to a trained professional. You can send a text to the Crisis Text Line, chat online with iPrevail or call 7 Cups of Tea.

One of the keys to changing the conversation around mental illness is about replacing stigma with hope. A characteristic quality of stigma is a fear of the unknown. We’ll continue to share people and organizations that inspire hope for us. To see this change in your life and company, please reach out to Sigmend.com who are in the process of selecting companies to join their mental health accreditation pilot program. Change can happen, please help find out how.

Thanks so much for reading this and please take the survey. It’ll only take 10 minutes or so and you’ll be truly helping all of us better understand mental illness.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here

This was originally published here.








The Vital Role of Community in Mental Health Support

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be writing a post discussing my Bipolar disorder for my friends, coworkers, and entire community to see, I wouldn’t have believed you. Thanks to the hard work of my local community in Boulder and Denver, I am not only comfortable writing this post, I am proud.

I am grateful to my community for not labeling me as the ‘crazy guy.’ On the contrary, you’ve embraced me.

You welcomed me back to recovery with open arms and open conversations during Denver Startup Week, you encouraged me while I spoke about my disorder during lightning talks at Galvanize, and not only did you support me through my ups and downs during the Techstars 2016 program, you brought together an entire class to join me.

Now, I am proud to be that little voice saying, ‘hey, you really are not alone’ to entrepreneurs, who are two times as likely to be impacted by a brain (mental) illness. This creative, inspiring, and often ‘crazy’ community has been given a set of gifts that are sometimes accompanied by illness. But as a suicide survivor with a Bipolar disorder, I know that we don’t have to fear these illnesses. We can learn to manage them and thrive (and sometimes even outperform our neurotypical peers 🙂 )

Although thriving is possible, it isn’t the norm. Despite the over 80 percent effective treatments for brain illness, our community has lost lives over the past year because people were afraid to ask for help.

The problem is less about the disorder and more about the way we handle it. I believe we can change this and make thriving the norm.

We have something special here in Boulder, something that gives us a leg up. We have leaders speaking up about their own struggles, we support each other in difficult times, and we #GiveFirst.

Of course you already know that, because you are the community who helped teach me that in the first place. Well, I’m counting on you to do it again, and to help set an example for other communities. This time not just for me, but for all of us who live with a brain disorder.

I’ve been given a chance that not many with a Bipolar disorder have. With access to the very best of treatment and training for my brain disorder, I have something equivalent to an unofficial PhD in recovery, and now I get to work with leaders and experts in the field every day.

The one thing I know to be absolutely true is that a supportive community is vital to recovery.

In celebration of Mental Health Month, we are celebrating that community, and how the conversation is changing from one of tragedy to one of hope and success. Join us on Wednesday, May 17th for an event during Boulder Startup Week to talk about the brighter side of brain health.

We can build a place where we live openly and thrive with hope for our future, but we can’t do it without you. So come learn new things, show your support, and crawl with us (RSVP here)!

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

A big thank you to Dave Mayer for paving the way with the Mental Health in the Startup Realm Panel during Boulder Startup Week 2016 alongside Kevin Owocki, Tom Higley, Sarah Jane Coffey, and Brad Feld. An even bigger thank you to the 350+ people who RSVP’d to learn about brain health.

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here

This was originally published here.








Mental Health and Wellness in the Startup Realm

During my relatively short six-year journey through the startup landscape- I’ve been through ugly founder breakups, I’ve lost plenty of money, way too much time, and I ended up in the hospital from exhaustion from too many 100 hour weeks.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of building new companies. I know of suicides, families being torn apart and of course, severe depression.

While it can be exhilarating to be an entrepreneur or to work as a member of a startup, it’s most certainly a roller-coaster of emotions- and it often goes on for YEARS.

Successes are often followed by disappointments and just being able to process the complexities of legal agreements, founder disputes, hiring and firing employees, scaling or downsizing, taking on funding, failing, iterating…you get the point.

It can and does boggle the mind.

The most helpful thing for me personally was to be able to compare notes on a regular basis with my fellow entrepreneurs who were going through similar challenges. Even with a monthly ‘therapy’ session with my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, my stress levels remained incredibly high and exercise and meditation were barely addressing my issues.  Alcohol helped- only for a few hours- and of course, the next day – I was never at my best, unable to focus or be productive.

The good news is I’m not alone – nor do I feel that way. (I certainly also recognize these issues are not unique to startups and they’ve been around for millennia).

One of my missions in the coming weeks, months and years is to provide my fellow startup enthusiasts and entrepreneurs with tools to become more educated, less stressed, more productive and more focused when it comes to their wellness- despite the constant barrage of change and tribulation.

My first public effort of this sort was to help moderate a discussion during the 2016 Boulder Startup Week with some of the most prolific and respected names in startups including Brad FeldJerry Colonna and Tom Higley.  A key portion of this event was a long Q&A session with the audience to ensure folks can get answers they need. Each panelist had important personal stories to share, and tools and modalities to recommend.

None of us pretend to have all the answers- but each of us has enough experience to know that it’s a fools errand to not listen to those who have been through it before. If we can help even one person who needs it- it will be worthwhile.

I believe the first step in this process is to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues in the entrepreneurial/startup realm. This will only happen when we openly and regularly discuss the issues, demonstrate that it’s ‘human’ to have these challenges and to share our stories of how we’ve overcome them.

I will personally continue to explore healthy alternatives and approaches to my own stress including different mindfulness techniques, exercise that requires being fully present, and yes, therapy.

I also look forward to finding more colleagues and partners that are passionate about this subject.

To that end- I look forward to building further interactive and truly immersive programs in Colorado focused on entrepreneur wellbeing. I know we can help our colleagues lead healthier, more productive and happier lives. The impact of that can’t be understated.

I hope you’ll join me.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here








How To Avoid Burnout

The startup life is an intense and intensely personal experience.

Poet David Whyte said, “Work is where we can make ourselves; work is where we can break ourselves.” We’ve seen so much of the making and breaking in this world of fast paced startups, big exits and failures. Perhaps the greatest detriment has been the rise in burnout and depression in the startup community.

What follows is our absolute best advice on how to navigate the startup world without losing yourself in the fire.

It starts with radical self inquiry.

What is Work?

More importantly, what is your relationship to work? As humans, we work for purpose and meaning, to create value in the world and for money. Yet very few of us take the time to explore what work truly means to us and where we first learned our beliefs about work.

What is work to you? Is it your job or your joy? What did you parents teach you about work? How did they relate to work? What is your relationship to work right now? What is success to you? What is failure?

We bring a lot to work, and we check a lot of ourselves at the door of our respective workplaces before we enter. When you understand the story under the story of your relationship to work, or discover what is truly driving you, a new understanding of why you do what you do may surface. Apperception is the gateway to stronger decision making.

When it comes to finding meaningful work, know what connects you to your purpose and commit to align with it often.

What parts of you show up at work? How can you bring your wholeness into work?

Embrace Vulnerability

How’s your heart? How do you feel? What are you not saying that needs to be said?

Startups are stressful. They can be incredibly lonely, frustrating, disappointing, overwhelming — and a whole host of other emotions. If these emotions are not released or are stuffed down and tucked away for later, they can compound in their intensity just under the surface of you. Allowing yourself to get comfortable with vulnerability can diffuse stress and cortisol build-up caused by the extremes of the startup life.

Start by voicing your feelings, even if it’s just to yourself or your journal. Take refuge in the private pages of your always-there-for-you journal and let your pen do the writing. The stream of consciousness style of writing helps to release thoughts, emotions and other mental tangles that may be weighing heavily on you.

Working with a coach can create space for you to open up and receive support to shift from draining habits and patterns to more life-giving ways of being. Connecting to a community of peers allows you to find a sense of safety and belonging.

Be honest, bold and real with yourself.

Know Your Flow

When hard work equates to constant stress, you won’t produce good results. From a neurological perspective, working with a brain constantly in survival mode — from a place of fight or flight — is the fastest way to deplete your resources as a human being, and can tank your ability to be an effective leader.

There is a powerful engagement in the oscillation between the states of optimal performance and recovery that is your prime resource of creativity. To work hard and work better, you need to be alive — you need to learn what it takes for you to be in your creative flow.

How do you work best? How do you show up on your best days? What do you do to show up on your best days (eat well, sleep well, exercise, play, etc.)? What can you do to support yourself so that you can show up like that more often?

Look Fear in the Face

What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of?

As humans we fear many things that compromise our sense of safety, love and belonging. We also fear uncertainty — and startups are a sea of uncertainty. When it comes to fear and failure in our startup saturated lives, it’s good to know what fears are at play for you.

Your fear has much to teach you. Be brave enough to ask yourself in moments what you might be afraid of. Trace your responses and inquire deeper. Voicing your fears is to know what underlying stuff you’re working with and what may be unconsciously driving you.

Until you get to the root of that fear, it can consume you and keep you from a fulfilling life. What is the fear you’re running away from? What will it take to admit and surrender to it?

How might you do something differently if you weren’t afraid? What would you dare to ask for?

Know Yourself

Being a leader requires a cultivated depth of self-knowledge and awareness. Take some time to reflect on the following:

What do you really believe? What is your vision for your life? What values do you hold? What kind of company do you want to build? What kind of adult do you want to be? How do you want to be remembered? How do you want to feel in your days?

Rooting and Rituals

Once you begin the unfolding of who you are and want to be in the world, you can build that into your daily patterns and create that life for yourself day by day.

Personal rituals can help you connect to who you are and your purpose, and provide a center to orient your day around. Develop a habit of grounding to remember those important things — who you are, what you believe, what your vision is and what your intentions are for the day. These are your Polaris, your living why. Giving yourself this time for you can affect all the choices you make in your day.

What are rituals and things you can do to nourish your deepest sense of self daily? How can you slow down and find the pause in your day?

Relax

Learning to relax and lighten up is the key to your sustainability, resiliency, agility as a leader in your life, work and relationships. And, relaxation is the key to creativity.

How do you play? How do you unplug and recharge? What fuels your spirit? How can you create unburdened moments into your days?

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression.” — Stuart Brown

Create spaces in your days that are unburdened and you are connected to your most intimate being and to your community.

What is the change you want to see and bring to the world? Startups begin with an amazing idea that sparked a successful company doing great, new things.

In the rapid growth of startup life, it’s important to reconnect to those moments that bring you alive and to cultivate more moments like that. That’s where your next great idea is going to come from.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here.