The high cost of entrepreneurship

It was the week before Christmas and I was on vacation two states away. My customer called me from outside his company holiday party. I could tell he was pacing apprehensively.

Even in the bright lights of the season, he was enduring a dark night of the soul, the latest in a lengthening string.

He described a haunting reality. His busy season hadn’t produced enough nuts for the winter. Bills were mounting while billings fell. Checks were set to bounce. Lives were about to change. His company teetered on the edge of collapse.

He called as much for support as for money. His left brain knew I had no more money to lend. His right brain still held out hope – hope that something could be created from nothing. He is, after all, an entrepreneur.

Doubt deepened within him. Yet, inside the party, he had to maintain a sense of normalcy and control, as if the year could not have gone better and the future never looked brighter.

For entrepreneurs, perception is often reality. They specialize in impression management. It’s not that they’re fake. They can be as authentic as apple pie. They just have faith.

They believe they can move mountains. And often they do, dirt contractors and landscapers, in particular.

But the pressure of entrepreneurship can take a toll. On one hand, a self-employed entrepreneur diversifies her risk by serving a plethora of customers, not just one employer.

On the other hand, an entrepreneur’s risk is concentrated in himself. He is a “key man.” Only the key can unlock success’ door. Therein lies the burden and the root of emotional disorder.

In an award-winning 2013 Inc. Magazine article entitled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship,” Jessica Bruder quotes Dr. Michael Freeman, a psychiatrist who has studied the mental health effects of entrepreneurship.

Freeman notes that “people who are on the energetic, motivated and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states” (e.g., depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation and suicidal thinking).

In other words, the chemistry that takes you to the top can also bring you down.

Psychologist John Gartner takes the biology a step further. He claims that because the United States was founded and populated by daring, “self-selecting” people (i.e., immigrants and their children), many of us have “hypomanic” traits in our DNA. We are driven and inventive but also depressive and instable.

Combine genetics with the financial and management strains that come at the top of the organizational chart and you get a roller coaster worthy of Fiesta Texas.

But Bruder describes the increasing willingness of entrepreneurs to open up. Obviously, no leader is going to spill the red ink on the annual report, but showing some emotions at work can make a leader seem more human and trustworthy. It can also provide much needed ventilation.

Other recommendations for business folks in the crucible include staying close with friends and family, taking care of oneself (sleep, diet, exercise) and building an identity outside of one’s work.

As a small business banker, it’s a high honor to venture vicariously through my entrepreneurial customers. Though their risks are high, I often pray their rewards are higher, and not just in monetary terms.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

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1 Response to “The high cost of entrepreneurship”


  1. 1 jessestroup May 24, 2015 at 19:22

    Kevin,  this one almost made me cry.  What a gift. Keep up your ministry to the whole man, inner and outer.Many thanks,Jesse  Jesse R. Stroup Director of Spiritual Care Lifeline Chaplaincy 1926 Chattanooga Pl. #A Dallas, TX 75235 jessestrouplive@yahoo.com


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