Well-Being//

Entrepreneurs are Burning Out, and It’s a Bigger Problem Than You Think

Reaching dangerous levels of start-up stress is not the price we have to pay for success.

NoSystem Images/ Getty Images
NoSystem Images/ Getty Images

“The start-up world has a dark side,” reporters Shalini Ramachandran and Rolfe Winkler assert in a new piece in The Austrailian. “Under the veneer of fancy parties and multibillion-dollar valuations, many founders and early-start-up executives are striving to build pioneering businesses while wrestling with issues like anxiety, drug addiction, insomnia, depression, and binge eating.” And society actually celebrates these habits: “Entrepreneurs are bombarded by what some call ‘hustle porn,’” they add — “the notion that working non-stop is a badge of honor.”

There’s mounting science on the human toll of start-up stress. Studies have shown that entrepreneurs and founders are more likely to have chronic mental health conditions, and we’ve seen countless examples of the exhaustive price some of the most successful founders have paid for success. In a Wired exposé of Tesla founder Elon Musk published last year, reporters revealed the long hours and toxic inner workings of Musk’s combative leadership style — a clear picture of what running on empty really looks like. (When called out over concerns, he responded that his dangerous work ethic is “not an option.”)

The piece in The Australian delves into several additional examples of founders who have chased success at the price of emotional and mental exhaustion, physical illness, and worse. “I cared so deeply about making a difference that I was willing to push myself past my limit,” the founder of a food service start-up said of her adult-onset ADHD, which she was diagnosed with a few years into her business. “I remember crying alone in my bed,” recalled an entrepreneur who left a job at Google to start a cannabis company. Even the former CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, opened up about the mental health challenges he faced early on. “I was constantly obsessing” he told Ramachandran and Winkler. “You wake up at 3 a.m. in the morning and say, ‘What am I going to do about this?’”

“If you talk with anyone, they say they are killing it,” one Silicon Valley executive coach tells the outlet, when “inside they are dying.”

By continuing to celebrate the damaging ethos of hustle culture, we only increase the risk of destroying our mental well-being, our physical health, our relationships — and yes, our chances of success. Encouragingly, there’s a backlash brewing against this toxic mindset, which science tells us is neither sustainable, nor fulfilling. At the end of the day, no level of success is worth the cost of burnout. We need to listen to the research about what makes humans productive and successful and start changing the way we work and live. This starts with learning to relentlessly prioritize, taking the time to unplug and recharge, and setting clear boundaries in our lives and our workplaces.

Follow us here and subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving. 

Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    The Chicago Wellness Challenge

    by Pete Wilkins
    Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash
    Community//

    We Need to Destigmatize Mental Health for Entrepreneurs

    by Joanna Buczkowska-McCumber
    Community//

    The Epidemic in Entrepreneurship: Shedding Light on Founder Mental Health

    by Stephen Sokoler

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.