The addiction of entrepreneurship
In this era of speaking about mental health checks and wellness positivity, what impact does entrepreneurship have on mental health? It's a well-known adage that ‘it's lonely at the top’ but launching a start-up and running a business is highly addictive. Sleepless nights, bad habits, and culture shocks all become par for the course and out the other side is a really lonely place.
Cult on how businesses should set better boundaries to improve mental health in the office.
The dictionary definition of addiction is ‘the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.’ Running a business is just like crack; you stay for the highs but need a radical coping mechanism to deal with the lows.
Seven years ago I started my first business. I had a business partner, two investors and no experience. I was eager and driven and brazen. I was comfortable with risk, I thrived with the constant stimulation and I embraced the unknown. Little did I know I’d lose myself along the way.
We spent the first year of running the business working every weekend. We stood up friends for dinner, our relationships suffered, and we stopped investing in ourselves, each time leaning on the excuse of the business. We made every mistake in the book. You soon learn to divorce the personal from the professional, you work on your business plans, your funding sources, your unique market positioning. And what do you forget? Yourself. Always yourself.
Cult is now six years old, but mental wellbeing didn’t headline our board meetings until about three years ago. In those crucial years the business was taking everything from us - all of our energy - leaving us like husks of our former selves, passively attending to friendships and well-meaning family relationships. I often joked the business was my first baby, with my son being my second.
What was I thinking?
It's no joke; entrepreneurship is addictive. It’s akin, I believe, to a substance abuse problem - rip-roaring highs and gut-wrenching lows.
Embracing the unknown
According to a recent poll by mental health charity Mind, the most stressful thoughts in people’s minds relate to work. One in three people (34%) say their work life was either very or quite stressful, more so than debt or financial problems (30%) or health (17%). For this reason, it makes ethical sense that employers should shoulder some of the responsibility of taking care of their people and reducing their stress levels.
If you’re struggling with mental health, it doesn't often have an obvious tell. Yet when you’re not coping negative mental health shows in your work, your relationships with colleagues, it impacts your creativity and leaves you indecisive and fragile… not the attributes you need to sustain a dynamic business. It's very hard to deliver your best when you’re feeling your worst.
You can’t know people’s internal battles, unless you stop and ask - there must be an authentic safe space for them to communicate, release and reset. When you’re at the top, the only person who can do that for you, is you.
So I broke my addiction. I set boundaries for my life, I focused on my strengths, I celebrated the power of ‘no’ and slowly learned who I was again.
I had to go out on a limb to invest in my mental health wellness. The entrepreneurial mindset is about an inherent need to improve your skill set and to try and try again. Focusing on your personal mental health can feel counterintuitive to growth, internal change is often glacially slow and takes a while to manifest on the outside, but it’s an essential part of maturing as an entrepreneur. It takes bravery to expose yourself and speak your truth - but it is fundamental to being a great creative, an inspiring leader, a loving partner and a patient mum.
As with any real change, you have to lead by example.
So talking about mental health made the board meeting agenda. My business partner and I started to speak about it with each other, our management team and our agency folk. We educated ourselves as a collective. We introduced wellness policies, soft and hard mental health initiatives and really focused on changing our business to promote and support positive mental health for our team. As an employer, we needed to invest in the ‘unknown’ part of the people we’d hired, in order to get the best out of them, long-term. We looked internally, at our behaviours, our practices and what we needed - as people - to function as our best selves.
We haven’t yet nailed it, but we are working on our patterns of behaviour towards the addiction of business leadership. We attend weekly EA meetings, with a party of two (us founders) and we use that time to align and plan and break free of the highs and the lows. It's a bit bloody empowering. Our team is happier, our productivity is up and we deliver better creative work, as a collective. We are all more mentally health aware - especially when we look out for one another.
Content by The Drum Network member:
Cult's ideas and insight take some of the world’s biggest beauty, fashion, luxury and wellness brands beyond their comfort zone to drive tangible business value. Founded in London in 2012 by Bridey Lipscombe and Cat Turner, we launched a New York studio in 2018, a global production house in 2019, and now have over 40 staff and an annual turnover of $8m.
Our innovative campaigns deliver authority, personality and relevance for our clients, be they legacy brands or start-ups. New business wins in 2019 included ELEMIS, Burberry, ghd, Rodan + Fields, Kopari and Pepsi-Lipton International’s latest plant powered energy drink YULA. Existing clients Sally Hansen, dunhill and Coty also extended our creative remit. Cult have worked with icons including Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Vivienne Westwood and Lady Gaga, while also recently being the first agency to develop a social drop-model for Marc Jacobs, which generated a sales uplift of over 250%.
The business’ R&D arm launched Mindscape, a mental health voice app for Amazon Alexa and Google Home, in conjunction with charity Mind. The app received critical acclaim and Mindscape 2.0 will be launched later in the year. Cult have recently appointed a new Head of Strategy, Charlotte Bunyan, their first Communications Director, Hugo Eyre-Varnier and signed award-winning futurist author Lucie Greene to collaborate on Cult Futures, their new insight and incubation program.
Clients include :
M.A.C Cosmetics, ELEMIS, Nike, Burberry, Sally Hansen, GHD, Kopari, Rodan + Fields, Amazon Fashion, Pepsico, Umbro, St. Tropez, Revlon Professional, FarFetch, Sarah Jessica Parker Fragrances, Agent Provocateur, Royal Salute, Kurt Geiger, Tod's
Awards include :
2018: Shortlisted Campaign's Independent Agency of the Year, The Drum Independent Agency of the Year Top 100 2017: The Drum Network Social Media Agency of the Year 2016: Brand Republic Agency of the Year 2015: BIMA Hot 100 (Agency Co-Founder Listed), Digital Mavericks, Top 10 (Both Agency Co-Founders listed) Clio Image Awards, Experiential (winner)