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The Weight of Entrepreneurship: Success, Burn Out, Suicide, & Self-Love

by uma

 

 

By Derek Du Chesne, co-founder and CEO of Better U

The journey from ideation to creation is never without challenges. Hat’s off to anyone that’s chosen this path.  Whenever you dream of success, it all starts with an IDEA– the problem you’re going to solve.  These ideas can make us feel like we’re invincible–like a superhero– and fuel us with euphoria, hype, creativity, and heavy emotions. Creating a startup in an emerging market is as exciting as it is exhausting.

From growing up in a farm town of 5,000 people in Northern Wisconsin, being legally emancipated/moving out at 16, becoming a stunt-man (Transformers 2), and producing films/television, acting alongside Robert DeNiro and Bruce Willis, to running the largest non-psychoactive cannabis supply chain/manufacturing company in the world with 300+ employees and $80MM annual revenue– to waking up every day in a dark hole contemplating suicide– to finding healing and helping others along their journey, it’s been quite the adventure.  

Do you ever find yourself too busy managing or building your business that there’s little time for sleep?

Accounting, payroll, legal, HR, marketing, supply chain, your team, family,  etc., all tend to come first.  There isn’t enough time in the day to put a dent in the workload, much less for self-love. As entrepreneurs, we tend to put our personal needs and mental wellness last. With 16+ hour work days, sleeping at the office, new time zones every week, living in hotels, conferences, expos, meetings on meetings on meetings, each day presents its new challenges, and keeping to a routine seems impossible. When we’re determined to solve big problems, we tend to neglect our own.  Entrepreneurs put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves and often neglect self-care in the early stages of their business.  When you neglect your own needs, it could cost you everything in the long run. Don’t be like me. 

Why does it matter? 

Growing up with no money, I believed once I accomplish X in life, I will be happy.  As soon as I hit X in revenue, as soon as I get married, as soon as I buy my Mom a house, or as soon as I have a successful exit, I WILL BE HAPPY. Do not confuse who you are as a person, your core identity, with your work or your personal relationships.  Everything can change in an instant and just like your business, you need a solid foundation to weather the storms.  When what seemed like everything in my life took a 180 for the worst, I was lost.  Depression and suicide never were a part of my life, till they were. I’ve never considered myself a victim. I always looked at the endless opportunities and the beauty of life.  Fill your own cup first: spiritually, socially, and physically. Sticking to a simple self-care routine will change the way you perform as an entrepreneur and help you show up better for your colleagues and your family. You must take it seriously.  Here are a few tips to help you find and keep balance while running your new venture. 

  •  “Me-Time”

This is the best advice I can give you: make time for yourself.  As impossible as it may sound, it is critical that you do it daily.  What’s the first thing that you tell yourself every morning? Make a list of all the qualities, values, and traits that you possess, and that you aspire to have, and write those down.  Repeat those every single morning. Write down your goals.  Practice gratitude, start by writing down 3 things you’re grateful for. Every single day.  Prime your day to make and get in the best mindset to take on the world.  I cannot preach this enough but try meditation and breathwork. Commit to two weeks of daily practice and it will change your life. Look on Youtube or download one of the dozens of apps for it. Try to allot 30 minutes a day, minimum. Taking this small amount of time allows you to refresh your mind and can help you return to your mission feeling lighter.  This helps keep your foundation strong, so you don’t become reliant on your business or significant others for your sense of identity. 

  • Just Say No

Learning to say NO can be great for your health.  Be firm with your No’s. Save yourself time so you won’t regret it later. Seriously consider before saying ‘yes’ to anything that doesn’t align with your mission, personally and professionally.  Stop drowning yourself in meetings that go nowhere. Stop hearing everyone out. There are always appointments and deadlines, but you only have one body. Treat it right. Just because you said ‘no’ doesn’t mean that you’re turning down opportunities. Things can wait, but sleep and self-love are not those things. Learning to say ‘no’ can be the best thing for you.  Say no to social opportunities and engagements that you’re not excited about but typically agree to because you want to please people. You will not succeed in life without a healthy mind. That email can wait and not all work trips are necessary. 

  • Sleep like your life depends on it

My Mother is the strongest woman in the world. She’s had a difficult life, battling cancer, MS, fibromyalgia, etc., which led me to explore alternative medicines. Western health care was continuing to fail her, overprescribing very harmful pharmaceuticals to counteract the side effects of the others.  After a Palliative Care Clinic started treating her with high CBD suppositories which helped her find relief/wean off other medications, it inspired me to start Healing Ventures which evolved into EcoGen. After the 2018 Farm Bill passed, it seemed as if every expo in the world turned into the “CBD Show.” Being on the road for 300+ days in 2019 and in over 40 countries, I thought I was living my dream life.  I didn’t have a passport growing up, so this was my opportunity to see the world!  Every pharmaceutical, tobacco, cosmetics, food & beverage, wellness, and pets expo turned into the CBD show.  Each day I was educating a new audience about the benefits of adding CBD to their products.  The more new places that I woke up in, the harder it was to fall asleep.  My doctor thought it was a great idea to give me Xanax for the weekly flights. Then I couldn’t focus, so I started taking Adderall again to stay focused (similar to every kid who acted up in school in the 90’s). Very quickly Xanax lost its effect and I couldn’t stay asleep. Then my doctor said Trazodone will do the trick.  It got to a point where I was taking Adderall and Ambien (or whatever sleeping pill I was prescribed that month), and after months of this, I was becoming overwhelmed and irritated more frequently than ever.  My productivity was down, yet I would take another pill and power through. The hustle-and-grind mentality of entrepreneurship led me to sleep deprivation and depression. The occasional high-stress situations to meet deadlines may be necessary but we can not sustain going 100 miles per hour, all day, all the time, without experiencing serious ramifications to our mental health, relationships, and life. Sleep deprivation impacts the most important things you do as an entrepreneur, especially leading your team and decision-making. Take extra time on the weekends. Rest and recovery are not the same and should be scheduled separately. Journaling before bed helps you unwind the day and clear your head.

  • Movement and SUNSHINE

Movement is life. Getting sunshine, sweating, and eating healthy are the most essential self-care tips for entrepreneurs that are frequently neglected.  We don’t have time or our energy is too low, right? You must sweat 30 minutes a day, or an hour every other day. Get outside, and let the sun recharge your soul.  If there’s any recipe for success and mental wellness, it’s sunshine and movement!  There are plenty of great apps for classes where you can keep things interesting by changing up your workout routine.  Exercise improves self-esteem and cognitive function and can quickly alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Walk barefoot in the grass, go to the beach, watch the sunset– the universe is always trying to remind you how beautiful life is– take it all in! 

  • Socializing

We are social creatures!  Step away from the computer. Put the phone down. Go see your friends and family and try to avoid discussing work. Your friends will keep you in check. Everyone else will notice your signs of burnout before you! Socializing, dancing, and laughing not only help you recharge your soul, but also helps sharpen memory, improve cognitive skills, and just may even help increase your happiness!  Nothing like a good party to help remind us of who we are.  

But I don’t have TIME

Friends and family will tell you that you need to take a break.  Go on vacation. Clear your head. Get some rest. My response was always “That all sounds great, but I don’t have time!” When you become accustomed to putting everything else in life before your own needs, you lose your magic. You can lose your sense of self when you don’t spend quality time with yourself. Learn to love yourself. Become your own best friend. Honor your needs. Be compassionate with yourself. 

My happiness was reliant on external factors

We were on the brink of acquisition when I found out that my partners were planning my severance package in an attempt to avoid paying my share of the equity of the business I helped build to $80MM in annual revenue. A few weeks later, it was brought to my attention that the woman that I thought was the love of my life wasn’t faithful and blamed me for working too much.  After 2.5 years of what I thought was a fairy tale, it all came crumbling down. In a few short weeks, I went from having it all figured out to being suicidal.  My identity was 100% built on my business and my relationship. When those diminished, so did my light. 

My happiness was reliant on external factors

Months went by when I was a shell of a human being. I was barely eating, sleeping, not showering– nothing resembled the driven, happy, and loving person that I once was.  Comprehending that level of loss, betrayal, shame, blame, guilt, and spinning in the “what-if’s” was depleting my soul. It was the darkest months of my life, where I wouldn’t leave the house, watching the sun rise and set while I stared at a bottle of Xanax next to a bottle of tequila. The only thing keeping me together was the thought of how I couldn’t do this to my Mom. It felt like I was drowning and everyone around me was breathing. There was no connection to myself or the outside world.  Nobody could understand me and I couldn’t understand them.   

A friend of mine came over and told me that he was taking me somewhere, that I needed help.  It was a clinic for Ketamine. Initially, I was reluctant to go.  My entire ethos was plant-based medicine and I didn’t need a “horse tranquilizer” to feel better.  Not understanding or being educated on the benefits of ketamine therapy for depression, I didn’t go with him.  The next day, my friend came back while I was staring at the lethal cocktail of Xanax and tequila and I realized what do I have to lose?

Psychedelic Therapy Saved My Life

After seeing Harvard credentials on the wall, I became a bit more at ease with being at the ketamine clinic.  A few minutes into telling the doctor why I was there, he cut me off and asked if I had ever tried mushrooms or psychedelics before. He then told me I would be fine, brought me into another room, took my blood pressure, and plugged in the IV.  There was zero treatment preparation.  They put a sleep mask and headphones on me, and within about a minute, I was on the most incredible journey.  For the first time in months, the repetitive negative thoughts that I was drowning myself in were gone!  It was like an immediate vacation from my brain like I just stepped off the hamster wheel for the first time since losing my sense of identity.  The colors, the music, the detachment from my thoughts, the realization that we are not our thoughts. I actually smiled and laughed at the fact that only a few minutes ago, I was contemplating taking my own life. That seemed silly to me, and it was an instant reminder of how beautiful life is. An immediate shift in perspective.  

This was the single most profound moment in my life.

How many other people’s ambitions led to burnout and then suicidal ideation?  How many other people are struggling with similar things? How many others are neglecting to fill their own cups with self-love and self-care? Why are we thriving culturally on competition rather than collaboration?  After my session, all I wanted to do was talk about it. There was no integration. How is it that I’ve spent years in alternative medicine and didn’t know this was an option to improve my mental wellness? Thankfully, ketamine therapy helped me achieve a neurological reset and reminded me of who I am, wiping away the burnout and depression almost immediately. This led me to partner with Dr. Sam Zand from Johns Hopkins to create Better U.  At our core, we’re focused on preparation and integration to help us reconnect with ourselves and to cement healthier habits. Ketamine therapy, talk therapy, meditation, breathwork, nutrition, and exercise are the key ingredients that help me maintain focus and productivity while being able to bring more light and love into the world.

What Self-Care ACTUALLY is

There are many misconceptions about self-care. A lot of people associate it with larger actions, like taking vacations, going to the spa, and buying unnecessary things. While those can be forms of self-care, it’s really any intentional act/decision that places you and your needs at the forefront. Focus on YOU and what you want, without compromising for others, including your business. Don’t neglect it because you have something to prove or maybe you feel as if you don’t deserve it. Say goodbye to your ego. Do not rely on external factors for your happiness and do not get lost in the traditional mental healthcare system. I didn’t understand the importance of self-care to the point where I completely lost my identity. Don’t be like me. You are loved, so spend more time loving yourself. 

 

Author: Derek Du Chesne

Co-Founder and CEO of Better U Psychedelic Therapy

 

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