I love being an entrepreneur. It is something have I aspired to be since I was a child and I enjoy doing it every single day.
One of my favourite phases of entrepreneurship is the initial planning phase, when I am thinking about my business’s concept and its differentiating factor(s). The next phase is execution, where I develop my business.
Years ago, I started developing one of my ventures and, as excited as I was about the idea, the development phase took a huge mental toll on me.
I worked more than 18 hours a day and stopped having a social life.
My days consisted of waking up, having breakfast at my work desk and working until the late hours of the night.
The only “fun” thing I did was working out with my trainer for 45 minutes a day, five times a week. I was so immersed in my work that I didn’t notice how unhealthy my life was becoming.
This went on for months. I missed out on major social events and I wasn’t happy.
All I could think about was work.
My friends and colleagues thought I was happy because I was developing an exciting venture.
They believed that I was having as much fun as my cool venture seemed to reflect to our customers.
The strange thing is that I was leading a life that wasn’t authentic to who I was.
I am a people person and love meeting new people. I never missed out on social events and loved to travel, explore new things and live my life to the fullest.
In a span of months, I had transformed into somebody I no longer recognised.
Throughout this time, I didn’t think about talking to someone about the stress I was dealing with, the fear of uncertainty that I felt, or how tired I was.
I didn’t think about it because it wasn’t something that my entrepreneur friends did.
We would seek out each other’s advice when a challenge arose but that was where it ended.
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We didn’t talk about our feelings or how our entrepreneurship journey was negatively affecting our social lives.
After I suffered from extreme burnout, a family member suggested that I speak to someone, a mentor or an expert who specialises in the challenges that entrepreneurs go through and who can offer guidance.
That is when I knew I wasn’t alone, more so after discovering that 72 per cent of entrepreneurs are affected by mental health issues directly or indirectly, compared with only 48 per cent of non-entrepreneurs, according to a 2020 study by the US-based National Institute of Mental Health.
I met the expert who was also an entrepreneur. I discussed my progress, the challenges I had experienced and he offered guidance on how to better manage my business and personal life.
Since then, I have been able to turn my life around. I found my way back to my old self, where I dedicated equal time and attention to my business and personal life.
We need more mental health experts who specialise in the stress and challenges that entrepreneurs face.
We need hotlines for entrepreneurs and to have that mental health help available through different cohorts and entrepreneurship centres — and for it to be given as much emphasis as business development advisory services.
We can’t expect a business to run smoothly if its founder is going through stressful times. I know this from my own experience.
Seeking help when needed is a sign of strength, not weakness. I am no longer worried about facing stress or challenges, because I know that talking to the right person can ease rough times and help us to see things more clearly.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi