The Real Cost Of Being An Entrepreneur

I started my first company 15 years ago. According to this fact, technically, I’ve been an entrepreneur for the last 15 years. But I think I always was an entrepreneur, I just didn’t know that.

Anyway, for the last 15 years I’ve been living more or less off the grid, outside the limits of an average, job-bounded person, being led by curiosity, sustained by stubbornness and dreaming to do bold, audacious or even plain ridiculous things. That’s pretty much the definition of an entrepreneur.

It was a fantastic ride. I had my share of successes. For instance, I sold my second company in 2008 and, after that, I enjoyed two sabbatical years to travel around the world. I wrote 9 books and, in 2011, two of them were translated into Korean. I also had my share of failures (won’t mention them here, because there are too many).

Oh, the rush of the adrenaline when things are falling into their designated places! The thrill of seeing your ideas transformed into real products, or services! The joy of creating and managing teams out of ordinary people, and then the happiness of sharing your vision with them. It’s like dreaming with your eyes wide opened.

Yes, being an entrepreneur is an amazing ride.


The Real Cost Of Being An Entrepreneur

Yes, there is a “but”. There is a “but” that perhaps no one will tell you about. I know no one told me about it and I had to discover it the hard way. By crashing right into it, the moment I expected it the least.

This “but” is about the cost of being an entrepreneur. The real cost of being an entrepreneur, that is.

It’s not about the fluctuating revenue, although this may be something important, if you’re used to stability. It’s true, as an entrepreneur you have no guaranteed revenue. Or, to be more precise, you are the only guarantee of your revenue, and, you know, you’re not always right, so to speak. But no, the real cost is not this one.

It’s also not about the time you spend working, time that you’re stealing, most of the time, from other areas of your life, like friends or family. Yes, you’re working two or three times the hours a normal person will work, but the real cost of being an entrepreneur is not there.

And it’s not about peer pressure either. You know, when other people tell you that you have to “comply” and put an end to all that rubbish stuff you’re doing on the internet. And get a job. And some stable income. It’s annoying, yes, but it’s not that.

Nope, the real cost of being an entrepreneur is none of the above. It’s something even more scarier than that.

Something that is so deeply interweaved into the very fabric of entrepreneurship that it’s inseparable from it. Something that cannot be avoided, that will put you down the moment you’re expecting it the least, something so powerful and deceiving that you’ll have no protection against it.

It’s the depression.

Nope, not the lack of motivation. Nope, not the deception when one of your ideas is proved wrong. Not the sadness when a member of your team leaves.

It’s the good, ol’ depression. In the most pathological sense of the word.

I know it’s hard to believe. I know there is a big contrast if you put depression near the image of a “mighty conqueror” and over bursting with self-esteem that many entrepreneurs are exhibiting.

I also know that very few entrepreneurs talk about depression, either. Because they’re ashamed. Or associate it with guilt, or with a “weak” part of themselves that no one has to know about.

But it’s there and it’s real.

And, like I said, it’s part of the package. Believe it or not, it comes from the same source as the thrill. And it’s made of the same material like enthusiasm. You can’t have one without the other.

The Personal Story

When I first met this monster I wasn’t prepared at all. I think it hit me a few years after I started my second company (the one that I successfully sold). At some point, after things started to fall into places, and all the processes were more or less on autopilot, one day, out of the blue, I felt this enormous burden on my shoulders.

There wasn’t any real outside trigger (or if it was, in the beginning, I wasn’t able to isolate it). The main feeling was like nothing is going to work anymore. Like anything I did had no results whatsoever. Like the universe was a big concrete wall around me and I couldn’t do anything about this. It scared the shit out of me, I tell you that.

In a few days I got over it. At that time, I was still drinking alcohol, and, for a while, alcohol can numb depression.

But, a few months later, it appeared again. And, after another few months, again. After many ups and downs, after a rather tedious process of self-analysis, I had no choice but to finally avoid numbing it and face it.

And that was the moment when I started to understand.

The Two Faces Of The Same Coin

The very core of an entrepreneur is an inflated ego. Not in the buddhist sense of the ego, but more like an inflated self-esteem, like believing that one can accomplish anything.

That belief, that you can do anything, is the secret engine of an entrepreneur. That belief will make an entrepreneur create a new business somewhere where no one saw an opportunity before. That belief will help the entrepreneur during rough times, when clients are few or the competition is strong.

But there is this law of the Universe that says that the highs should be balanced with the lows. Physically speaking, you can’t live on adrenaline for ever. If you try that, the adrenal glands will go depleted in a few hours and you’ll most probably die.

So, you’ll have to balance this thrill somehow. The highs must be paired with the lows.

Hence, the depression.

At that moment I understood that this is part of the game. The highest the highs, the lower the lows. The biggest the thrill, the most intense the downhill, the descending path into that darkness of “I’m not good enough”.

Once you understand this inseparable mix of enthusiasm and depression, once you accept the unavoidable law of balance you will get to a new level. The level of “I know this shit is going to hit me, sooner or later, but I’m ok with it”. Even the level of “I am comfortable to talk about it, not to be ashamed of it, or feel guilty about it”.

It’s the same coin with two different faces. On one of them is the emblem of victory, of endless exploration, of exhilaration and joy. On the other, the mirrors: defeat, fearful confinement, apathy and sadness.

How To Cope With “Entrepreneur’s Depression”

I just coined that term “entrepreneur’s depression”. I don’t know if it exists as a separate page in a psychiatry manual , but, to be honest, I don’t really care.

What I do care about is to share how I began to cope with it. I’m not over it yet, and I’m quite pessimistic about “getting over it” ever. I know that, for as long as I’ll try new and bold stuff, it will be there. And it will have to be managed.

Here’s what works for me.

1. Let It Flow

Now I don’t do “therapeutic” alcohol anymore. Not any other types of drugs, for what matters. When I’m hit by depression, I just let it flow through me. Sometimes it flows faster and I’m over it in just a day, sometimes it takes longer and I can be in the “blue barrel of depression” a few days in a row. But I don’t fight it. I just keep a low profile and try to do as much damage control as I can. Namely, I don’t act. I don’t interact either. I just stay in my hole for as long as it takes for the burden to fade away.

2. Stay Fit

Being in a good shape, physically speaking, also helps. I saw a visible improvement in my reactions after I started to run marathons. A marathon in itself is a vey tough test, not to mention the preparation, so coping with small doses of low emotions over shorter intervals kinda helped me. But any other sport will do. The level of endorphins in your body will be higher and that will make depression’s job tougher.

3. Find Someone To Talk About It

I’m not talking about a bartender here, although it may help for a while. I’m talking about a real person, someone who may understand you and support you. I know a few entrepreneurs who are seeing a psychologist regularly. With very good results. So, that works. Also, if you have a life partner who can understand your “profession” and can cope with the roller coaster, well, you’re 50% off the hook. As long as you talk to her / him, of course.

4. Avoid Guilt, Shame And Other Stupid Idiots

Accept that it’s there. Accept that the reason you’re experiencing it is your aperture to life, an aperture going way beyond standard limits and way bigger than the aperture of millions of other people. It’s like you’re one of the lucky guys who can climb to the top of Everest. Well, the very fact that you can undertake the risks of going on top of the world is the one that makes you prone to being caught in Mariana Trench too. And oh boy, it’s deep and cold and dark in Mariana Trench.

And last, but not least: remember that it really pays back.

At the end of the day, if there’s something valuable behind you, your bruises have little, if any, importance at all.

27 thoughts on “The Real Cost Of Being An Entrepreneur”

  1. Hi Dragos, it is really nice to meet you! Thanks facebook and to my genius friends who shared your article. I am a Junior Entrepreneur …. and I totally agree with you – I probably just passed (hope 🙂 ) my first depression as an entrepreneur … yes I starter to run marathons, I accepted that it just happens … Nobody understand your pain – just because you have to be a real authentic entrepreneur – in order to feel in the same way. Sometime I am looking back and just thinking … what if … I still can find a regular job … to be ordinary woman … but once you receive in your blood this gene of entrepreneur – you just cannot leave another life hehehehe the ordinary life becomes boring for your – it just not yours. So thank you for your beautiful article and things crossed for our success hehehehehe Good luck! Mary

  2. Or maybe the depression comes from not having external goals outside your entrepreneurship life and/or not appreciating and not being grateful enough for what you have in general.. just a thought 🙂

    • Yeah, those too may very well be the reason of depression. In some cases, that was the cause. But what I’m trying to talk about is not necessarily that type of depression, caused by a sense of isolation, or ungratefulness, it’s more about the counterpart of the thrilling, more like a natural way of experiencing life. If it’s going that high, then it’s absolutely sure it’s gonna go that low too and one must be prepared for that. Hope it makes sense 🙂

  3. I don’t think you understood the true cause of your depression and how to get over it. While the coping strategies are valid, they are just that, coping strategies. To “get rid” of depression you must understand what it is first.

    You said one key word in your article: “automation”. That’s part of the cause. Most of the time depression, especially for us entrepreneurs, arises from the LACK OF PROGRESS. Yes, that simple. If you feel like you’re not accomplishing anything, then you’re on a sure road to depression. So to get yourself to feel better, just do something that makes you feel that you’ve achieved something, that you achieved some kind of progress. If your current gig doesn’t provide you with that, start a side project. Anything that makes you fell like you progress in life.

    Depression is a feeling that’s designed to let you know that something is not right, that something is off or is not working. And when you are depressed, the best thing to do is to reevaluate your situation. To really look at it in a deep way and to see what’s wrong. It may be that you need to stop what you’re currently doing and to do something completely different. Maybe what you do is not for you. I’m not saying to give up entrepreneurship, I don’t think you can give up on that. But maybe you need to find another gig. Or maybe you need to change something about yourself that isn’t working. When you get depressed, that’s a sign you need to change.

    I personally get depressed from the sheer amount of failure that I’ve experienced up until now. And I know that I have a lot more failure to do before I’ll become successful. But on the other hand, I’ve been depressed since forever… So I know a thing or two about depression.

    PS: Avoid taking pills at all costs! It will only make it worse. Pills only numb you and they only put it off to deal with it later. The best way to deal with it is to FEEL IT! You’re supposed to FEEL all of your feelings, no matter how strong or wrong you think they are. And also keep in mind that there’s no such thing as bad feeling.

    Hope this helps. 🙂

    • Thanks a lot for your input, really appreciate it! 🙂 That’s my strategy too: go through it, not sideways. Alcohol, pills, they’re not gonna help. And the sense of achievement is important, but, in my opinion, is not paramount. I may be ok even without achieving something. That’s what I learned only very late, after my first successful exit. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, especially to yourself. Do your best, provide value, innovate, work, make your customers happy, and enjoy the process, but don’t think that you have to prove anything to anybody. That’s my take, anyway.

  4. Unfortunayely, the same issues very often hit an ordinary employee nowdays – stress and sometimes depression, even if for different reasons.
    Being a company owner at least gives a hope of accomplishments on the material side, which for an employee is very often something out of reach.. No pain, no gain.

  5. OH boy! I could relate to this one. I agree that it somewhat has to do with the ego. If you are going going against the prescribed path and doing what you believe in you have to some sort of ego in order to believe in yourself when people think you are just going to fail.

    I get hit every few days where I ask myself what am I doing? I’m going to be a huge failure and all kinds of negative self talk. I even cried by myself on the floor a few days ago because of this depression.

    The number one thing for me is your number one, let it flow. I felt it. I felt it all and then I let it go. I reminded myself that I am in this for the long run and that bouts depression is part of the struggle. It went away. I think learning to not cope with it effectively is so key.

    Thank you for this article and the reminder to keep going forward even when depression stops by for a visit.

  6. Wow…this pretty much sums it up. I am so glad you took the time to write this down. I once considered myself a self-employed entrepreneur…and man, this is a great list and I agree with EVERYTHING here that you have said. : ) Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It is awesome.

  7. It’s been a relief going through this article, thank you for writing it!

    Entrepreneurship is cool, depression isn’t, but they sometimes (most of the times?)… go together like the horse and carriage. 🙂

    PS: Entrepreneurship ? business management.

  8. As I work from home and have been in business with my husband for 10 years, i understand your thoughts here. I find that getting out and going for a long walk clears my head and helps me re-focus, and it is also a great way to meet people, especially when I take my dogs.
    Thanks for the great post – I’ll be back to read more

  9. Thanks for sharing this Dragos. It helps knowing I’m not alone.

    I recently began to understand and accept my lifestyle choice as an entrepreneur was causing chronic depression. But the worse part is it made me question whether I have what it takes; surely entrepreneurs are suppsed to handle pressure/anxiety, dont have self doubt etc It made me question whether I want this for myself.

    But I always find a way back, no matter the cost or the set back.

    If “entrepreneurs depression” is a real cost, it makes it easier for me to accept and I gladly pay the price.

  10. Simt ca mi-ai futut tot viitorul cu postarea asta. Fraza aia cu “inflated-ego” si “believing that you can accomplish anything” parca mi-au secerat tot ce am facut pana azi. De mic am fost axat pe succes si cum sa il obtin, nimic nu era greu de obtinut pentru mine pentru ca credeam ca tarie ca orice e posibil si imi faceam un plan ca sa obtin ce imi doream. Acum, ca am aflat ca nu sunt singurul cu un “inflated-ego” si ca defapt nu e ceva anormal simt ca nu mai pot sa fac nimic, mi-am pierdut toata motivatia, nu era rolul posturilor astora de cacat sa te motiveze? Tocmai mi-ai taiat tot avantul. Sper sa fie doar o stare trecatoare si maine dimineata sa ma trezesc si sa uit de cacatul asta de post. Cred ca faptul ca multi reusesc in adevaratul sens se datoreaza “prostiei” de a crede ca chiar poti realiza ce multi cred ca este imposibil. O sa citesc din nou postarea pentru ca nu am terminat-o si sper sa devina mai incurajatoare spre final.

    P.S. Un lucru pe care nu il inteleg la speakerii astia motivationali e faptul ca o data ce au obtinut succesul, de ce vor sa mai scoata bani, sa mulga oamenii cu cacaturi de genul asta (link-baiting techniques, carti, reclame pe site). Adica din moment ce ai reusit in viata, sa zicem ca esti financially independent si chiar vrei sa ajuti alti oameni (nu doar sa folosesti asta ca pe un pretext pentru a scoate cativa bani) atunci de ce dracu’ ai mai scrie carti si ai cere bani pe ele? Fa-le e-book si pune-le la dispozitie 4 free, decat daca esti doar un scam, un self-proclaimed “success” si minti lumea pentru a scoate niste bani. Cam asa sunt majoritatea WSO-urilor de pe WF. Adica niste ratati care au incercat sa faca ceva cu viata lor, nu au reusit si acum incearca sa mulga nisa de money-making mintind si furand bani de la bietii oameni.

    P.P.S. Imi cer scuze pentru incoerenta, e din cauza oboselii si sentimentului de miserupism. Chiar sunt curios ce raspuns ai la comentariul meu.

      • Why doar in engleza? E o chestie de elitism sau ce? M-am abonat si eu la newsletter-ul tau dupa citirea unui articol scris de tine ( care chiar mi-a placut). Ca apoi sa primesc doar articole in engleza. Imi explica si mie cineva care-i faza? Puteti si in engleza, o sa bag in google translate.

  11. You are so right about it! Creating an enterprise first stems out of an inordinate desire of accomplishment that entrepreneurs feel – I think this sets them apart from the rest of the people. This is what drove me towards it too. As soon as business dries off or the accomplishments are still fewer than one’s dreams, the black dog lurks in. Still from my personal experience, having a goal and achieving it is the only thing that would take depression away – from this point of view entrepreneurship is the best anti-depressive pill!

  12. Agree with all. Thanks for sharing. I would add family and a balance life: family, business, personal development. That worked for me in the last 16 years. What did not worked is weight control… Immediately after I start my journey as entrepreneur, I gain 25 kg and even now I have difficulties to get rid of all the excess kg, despite I completed in last years 2 half ironman and I was trying to finish the full ironman.

    • In my experience, losing weight is not working short term. Before starting to run I was weighing 20 kilos more. The first year I ran struggling with this weight problem. Then, at the beginning of the second year, I lost 15 kilos in 3 weeks. And never got them back.

      I think it’s a threshold you hit, and I’m suspecting it’s also about emotional luggage that you carry on. I used to think that I’m the “strong pillar” for my closest ones. The moment I understood I can do only what I can do, and not more than that, things change and I lost the extra luggage.

  13. Midway through your article, when you started to mention depression, two things popped into my mind about how to get over it. One was letting it flow, detaching yourself from it, as a simple observer of your thoughts in that state of mind.
    Probably you’ve already tried it, but meditation helps with detachment. Probably those moments of depression are the moments you have to return to Being (yes, inspired by Eckhart Tolle – Power of Now)

    And the other thing I though of was a set of strong habits you can rely on, when “the shit hits the fan”. And exercising is one of those strong habits.

    But you went on and mentioned Flow and Exercise, so it’s all good.

    Thank you for your perspective, Dragos.


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