The following is a guest post by Bill Douglas about divorce and the entrepreneur.
I got divorced when I was 24 years old while running my first company. I was fortunate that I didn’t have any kids so it was more like a nasty breakup after a long relationship, but the added complexity of marriage, family linkages, and all the emotional stuff surrounding it was one of the big (but not the only) input into the multi-year depressive episode I had.
I continued to run my company until we sold it when I was 27. But the struggle, stigma, and pain of the divorce lingered in the background for a long time. Fortunately, I ended up in a relationship with my now-wife Amy (I used to refer to her as my “current wife” – now she’s definitely the “last wife I’ll ever have.”) This relationship helped me get through this period of my life while running my company while dealing with all of my own shit at the same time.
If you are a divorced entrepreneur, Bill runs a closed Facebook group for divorced entrepreneurs (I recently joined it.) And, keep reading – his post is powerful.
I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life and I’ve been divorced for seven years now. Going through divorce was excruciatingly painful. Not just because of the divorce itself and splitting up a family, but because of the added loneliness common for most entrepreneurs.
In the past few years I’ve become acutely aware of the plight of the divorced entrepreneur. This seldom-discussed topic almost seems taboo in business circles. So many become isolated in this precarious, solitary, often disastrous, post divorce quandary, which I believe deserves more attention within the entrepreneurial community.
This is a real and significant problem. Since I began writing about this topic, so many entrepreneurs have contacted me. I’ve become immersed in the issue and am passionate about helping others in this stage.
The positive qualities that spark the entrepreneurial fire can become a liability when self-reliance inhibits the ability to self assess and acknowledge the need for assistance. That positive and driven nature can isolate, leaving one shouldering the weight of the world.
Entrepreneurs understand the stresses, the loneliness, the life of being the founder, the visionary, the reason you have a company. Add to that the pressures of a divorce process and it’s a recipe for depression. The entrepreneur becomes no longer alone simply in the business, but post divorce he/she is alone at home and in life, too.
I’ve seen entrepreneurs walk away from successful companies because they were so worried they were going to lose their relationship with their kids. They sought balance, but abandoned their assets and income. Yes, our kids are always more important than our work, No question there. But this is not an either-or scenario. We can be divorced parents and also be successful entrepreneurs.
I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs struggle with whether to tell shareholders and key personnel what they were going through at home, for fear of losing the confidence of those that believed in them. I know I struggled with this, and when I finally told my team they were upset I hadn’t shared earlier. Every one of them was incredibly supportive; it was my own fear that kept me quiet.
I personally know several entrepreneurs that struggle with anxiety, and even worse, depression after divorce. Their world is turned upside down. Their entrepreneurial “freedom” becomes their mental prison of loneliness and failure. For months after my divorce, I would take my sons to school and return home to get back into bed. I escaped the real world, and all the negativity that came with my emotionally imprisoned reality, by sleeping.
Without any doubt, keeping those negative feelings inside only harms us. Refer to How Keeping It Bottled Up Can Kill The Divorced Entrepreneur. “Particularly because I kept my emotions bottled up inside, as a divorced entrepreneur I became demoralized to the point that I and my company suffered.”
Eventually the day came when I’d had enough. I decided to begin rebuilding after divorce. I’d made the trek through the mud of divorce and now wanted to craft a new life, revive my business, and design my next chapter. Even when I made this critical and conscious decision, I had to do the work and be relentless through the process.
And, yes, there is a process. Winging here it is dangerous, not to mention painfully slow. As entrepreneurs we’re bold and often fearless. Age and experience have taught me to ask more questions and assume I don’t know, even when I think I do. In this case, I asked for help and sought experience shares. I had a counselor. I devoured books. I journaled. I did the self-work.
Going from simply existing in life and in business, struggling with depression, lacking the vision, energy and fire I once had, to mastering the family/life/business balancing act and onward to living ferociously again was a massive shift. This is no simple feat. It was exhausting on every level, but rewarding in ways I’d never imagined.
If you are an entrepreneur and you are rebuilding after divorce, I recommend beginning with these:
Note that none of these actions correlate directly to your business. The recommendation is to work less and rebuild you. Until I broke my patterns, all the angst was trapped inside me. That’s where the stress ate me alive. I wouldn’t wish that emotional dungeon on anyone.
Regarding stretching my circles, I related well with others in the same spot as me post divorce. I was fortunate to be in EO Colorado and there I found several other entrepreneurs exactly where I was in life. We collaborated, we shared stories, advice, books, tears, laughter, and yes, even drinks.
For this reason, I moderate a free but closed Facebook group for divorced entrepreneurs and invite all that fit this description to join here. Everything and everyone is there for the support of entrepreneurs rebuilding after divorce.
After I completed what I call the recovery shift, I worked much less and made much more. I became healthy and truly happy again. I am closer now to my sons than I’ve ever been. I don’t say these to boast. Instead, I share these to give you hope. If I can do this then anyone can – particularly an entrepreneur!
Amy and I talk a lot about big issues, such as depression and divorce, in Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur. I’ve been speaking from experience on each of these topics, as I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my entire adult life (the official DSM-IV code I have for my diagnosis from 1991 is 300.3 – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and, in 1990, I was divorced from my first wife.
I’ve always been open about these two issues (and experiences) since they’ve had a profound impact on me. I’ve learned how to manage my OCD and, even when I’m depressed, I’m very functional (if you didn’t know I was having a depressive episode, you’d think I was just flat or having an off day.) And many of the things that Amy and I do right in our relationship are lessons that we learned when reflecting on why my first marriage, and marriages of friends of ours – many of which are entrepreneurial couples – have failed.
As I’ve been doing interviews and talking about Startup Life, I’ve been asked several times whether or not entrepreneurs are more prone to depression and divorce. While I have zero empirical data, I believe from my qualitative experience that they are no less prone to this than the rest of the population. But I don’t really have empirical data to support this assertion either.
So – I’m looking for real data. Do any of you out there know of real quantitative studies – preferably academic / social science oriented, that investigate the question of whether or not entrepreneurs are more prone to depression? Or, a separate study that investigates the question of whether or not entrepreneurs are more prone to divorce?
If you know of one, email me or leave it in the comments.