A while ago on Quora I read an answer to a question discussing a syndrome called "the Duck Syndrome" which refers to severely stressed college students at prominent universities, they might look cool and coherent to the naked eye (just like a perfectly still duck in a pond) but inside the realms of their own being, they are continuously struggling, trying miserably to catch up with the massive amount of studying required (just like a hecticly pedaling duck, trying to maintain swimming forward).
Put differently, they might be conforming perfectly to relentless standards of academic performance yet their mental health is taking an acute hit, making it astoundingly difficult to experience mindfulness, which, I believe, is truly important.
I’ve a visceral personal experience with declining mental health, it is never helpful. Even when it is compromised for the noble aim of helping my own business experience accelerated growth, it, sarcastically, leads to the exact opposite: a paralyzing burn out that coerces me into resting so I can regain the strength to resume carrying out my responsibilities.
And for these stifling burn outs I am forever thankful because they are a stern reminder of my human abilities, they act as a consequence to my sometimes mad working sprees that are fueled by a heated desire to achieve more with blatant disregard to my stress thresholds and my intrinsic need for self-care.
So, as counterproductive as it usually sounds, less is more even in the unforgiving world of entrepreneurship that is intimately associated with human Gods who magically grow Unicorns, achieve unprecedented greatness and still look surprisingly coherent to the naked eye, whereas the truth is, greatness is achieved by steady perseverance and remarkable patience and that is the hardest part. If success is a linear process of speed from point A to point B, the drop off rate of those who decide to cease trying would have been dramatically less.
If what you’ve read so far struck a chord because maybe protecting your mental health is challenging for you as well, the next couple of paragraphs might provide some insights on how you can keep things going at work and your personal life without compromising your mental health to the point of hard return.
#1 Boring beats sexy
Steady is boring, fast is sexy. But I’ve come to learn that boring actions are a more gentle and tinder friend to the soul. Commonly, we pursue our ambitions with deadly speed because of the implied belief that ‘’ getting there ‘’ will make us whole and not necessarily because that is what’s truly better for us; it is an involuntary fixation, the belief that our life journey’s destination is a specific, clear point that can bring about eternal happiness once reached.
And we commonly term certain habits or actions ‘’ boring ‘’ because they are deficient in their sex appeal; their ability to promise instaneous gratification. But, surprisingly, boring brings about remarkable meaningfulness that our souls are usually deficient in. And while that might sound remotely relevant to leading a business, it actually isn’t. Founding a business is a thorough journey that is best lived day by day. The attractive ambition is to gloriously succeed and disrupt the market and that might and might not happen. So, whatever happens, enjoying and humbly learning from a journey marked by trial, error and growth is the authentic value that one should look for.
Because the truth is, when we are ruthlessly fixated on reaching an ideal state of success to the point of helpless daydreaming while the prospect of failure even in the simplest endeavors scars the shit out of us, that might be indicating low levels of tranquility and peace that you need to address. And maybe even a turbulent sense of self-worth that you’re understandably attempting to compensate.
#2: Acceptance is usually the difficult yet better choice
I believe that today’s world advocates pretence. Selling perfection as a viable remedy to our troubling relationship with our imperfect nature works like magic. Marketing messaging is unequivocally effective when it promotes a product that promises a lingering state of perfection where something lasts forever, whether it is pleasure or a different emotion.
I would by all means adopt the pursuit of perfection if it had no visceral consequences to mental health. Regardless of how diligently you try, you will inevitably screw up in something, in a simple email that you should have phrased differently or a feature that you should have designed differently. You will gloriously screw things up, and I’ve learnt the hard way that this is ‘’ perfectly ‘’ fine.
The much admired Dave Chappelle once shared in one of his Netflix comedy specials, ‘’ Remember, no matter how perfect somebody’s life looks from the outside, it usually is entirely different from the inside. ‘’ I say Amen to that. And I am not by any means saying that you shouldn’t relentlessly strive to the highest of standards in everything you do, however, I am advocating the acceptance of your abilities as a human which implies accepting that sometimes things will take longer than you’d like them to take, or that something has to be sacrificed for something else to happen, so, along your journey to achieve, you come to terms with how acceptance is sometimes the way to go because you’d otherwise learn nothing of meaning if everything in life paced according to your own terms.
#3 Take responsibility for how you feel so you can change how you act
It happens a lot to me -- starting the day with good vibes then joining this one meeting or having this call that screws up how I feel and makes me nervous. In these tense discussions, I sometimes fail to detect why I feel the way I feel so I react impulsively with anger, agitation or defensiveness that always hurts business priorities and ends the meeting with all parties feeling frustrated and upset.
Does that ring a bell in any way? We all share a tendency to cope with hurtful emotions like anger, defectiveness or mistrust with behaviors that might be quite counterproductive to business discussions. I personally admit a troubling tendency to get angry easily when I am feeling heavily insecure or stuck inside my head. Someone might ask a normal question, asking why I haven’t delivered a specific task so far and I can answer in conspicuous agitation.
The only way to change unhealthy coping is to grow conscious of why you feel this way, because, often, it has nothing to do with the other person and more to do with your state of mind. When anger is clouding your mind, breathe slowly, excuse yourself for a minute or two to go to the toilet, and seize this short break to run a dialogue, asking yourself, what’s wrong today? Are you still angry about the way your friend treated you the other day? Do you feel afraid and insecure about your ability to grow this business with your partner? What’s truly wrong?
I got a bit emotional writing these sentences, it’s not easy to claim responsibility for how you act while you can easily deny and ramble about how the other person was rude and ticked you off. Yet, to your dismay and mine, acting like this robs you off your inner peace and quiet. When you appoint your ego to act on your behalf, you come across as cold and void of humbleness.
So, to summarize, try your best to take responsibility for how you feel so you can change how you act, and when you fail to do so, and you will fail sometimes, be merciful with yourself and take corrective actions if needed.
#4 If you need therapy, go to therapy
A bit of help is sometimes needed to apply the above tips; you might be stuck in your life due to a merciless trauma you’ve gone through, trapping you in a vicious circle of unhealthy behaviors. I know how this feels.
There’s no way you can truly lead a fulfilling life without coming to terms with your past and focusing on what you can control only. Good therapists can lend a hand, teaching you soul cleansing ways to remedy your never ending pain and move on with your life.
I truly believe that success in business or any other endeavor is heavily reliant on your mental health and your ability to deal with the everyday shit that gets thrown down your way. So, if you feel forever stuck in a self sabotaging inner dialogues and a consuming sense of disconnection, maybe it’s time to give it a try and go talk to someone who has enough empathy and wisdom to help you out.
The kind point I am wholeheartedly trying to get across here is that taking care of yourself is always wise and helpful in managing different areas of your life with enough clarity to succeed. I truly believe that success is heavily reliant on how you react to hardships and what beliefs you harbor in that mysterious head of yours. Everything else is easy to obtain -- we are teachable by nature and we do live in a state of information clutter and noise, which implies that obtaining information in any field will never be the obstacle. Yet, living with fragile mental health and a sense of meaningless can be the biggest obstacle to surmount.