So yesterday, I was trying to reach out to my friend, Olu, and his phone was off…
I have gotten used to the fact that he’s unreachable for a day or two. He does this when he needs to concentrate on some work, when he needs to retreat in order to draw up plans for his businesses or when he’s depressed.
And so when I eventually got through to him, I kept getting a call waiting message.
When he rang back, I started with how I had tried to reach him all day to no avail. He apologised for being incommunicado. He immediately relayed that when I called earlier, he had been on a very long call speaking to one of his mentees.
She had started a new business and was ranting about how business was poor, staff were frustrating her and that she was was depressed and was contemplating committing suicide.
We both started laughing…Yes, we are wicked like that.
We laughed for at least 2 minutes.
Then, we laughed one more time, before we gathered ourselves.
We were laughing because we have experienced these same things several times over, we had lost count.
Olu and I started recounting, our ‘remember the time when’ stories. Stories of frustration, of giving up, of starting over, of tears, of worthlessness, of abandonment, sad stories, some too sad to write about.
We were laughing, not at her, we were laughing at ourselves. Tomorrow, we would probably both be crying again. Highs and lows. Joy and pain.
Olu wondered, if perhaps he should have told her his own stories of woe. We laughed again, because we concluded that his story would cause an immediate reversal of roles where she would now become the comforter or worse, it would send her into a frenzy. We thought it was best she had her moment. We would offer her the induction kit later.
We then discussed why no one ever discussed this baptism of fire that often befell entrepreneurs and business owners. The induction process was faulty to say the least as many of us could have done with a better onboarding process.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely cause….
You see, Olu is probably the only friend that I can speak to when I am depressed about my business. With all due respect to my friends who are employees, independent contractors or running side gigs, it’s not the same. There are things that only a fellow business owner can truly understand. Like how we both agree that this Christmas break was the most productive time for us. As staff were enjoying the time off work, we were working daily having strategy sessions and planning devoid of interruptions. We are die-hards like that, no matter how many shots we have had to the head, we keep rising back up like the terminator on steroids.
It appears business schools and entrepreneurial centers are missing out some key modules for entrepreneurship training…the issue of mental health of the business owner.
Research reveals that entrepreneurs share innate character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings. Those mood states include depression, feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness and suicidal thinking.
Many entrepreneurs are clinically depressed. The US statistics cite that 49% of entrepreneurs have experienced mental health issues, we can only guess what the Nigerian numbers are.
Forget the resilience mask we often put on, the reality is daunting for the entrepreneur.
Running a business anywhere is a big feat, running a business in Nigeria will tinker and tamper with your mental health.
The average small business owner has either battled depression, is depressed or on the brink of depression. If you are a business owner and this is not your story, consider yourself in the minority, consider yourself blessed and highly favoured.
Small businesses and their owners really need help. They need to be nurtured by providing real action in the form of public and private sector led initiatives.
Initiatives such as knowledge sharing sessions, business management training, management coaching, access to funding, tax breaks, counselling and therapy support groups are few ways we can help small businesses and save them from failing.
It is not enough to teach people how to start and run a business, teach them how to grow without hating the business that they started out of passion, but have now become the source of their sorrow and pain.
We are seriously thinking of creating a support group for small business owners and we won’t be teaching business. We would be offering mental health support and encouraging those who teach entrepreneurs to dedicate a few modules to supporting entrepreneurs in being their best selves mentally.
To my fellow business owners, it can be a very lonely journey. Many days, there’s no one to turn to. You look up, you look down and then you look back at yourself. Each day is a battle, if only you can make it through the day is a daily prayer.
Sometimes you feel your hell has been experienced on earth, that you can’t go on, that Heaven, should have a special section dedicated to relieve us when we are gone.
As you work with purpose, remember that you are destined for greatness.
Remember my friend that you are light and even the dimmest light will shine in the darkness. Remember that because of you, many have found their way and without you, many will lose their way.
You my friend, are a star!