The Links between Entrepreneurship and Bipolar Disorder

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Relation between Entrepreneurship and Bipolar Disorder

What do the highly successful entrepreneurs Ted Turner (founder of CNN), Pierre Peladeau (Quebecor, Canadian media company), and Robert Campeau (Canadian real estate giant) have in common? Yes, you guessed it right. They all have bipolar disorder. And there are many more such less famous people out there in the business world.

Photo of Ted Turner, founder of CNN, who suffers from bipolar disorder
Ted Turner, founder of CNN, who suffers from bipolar disorder (Pic Credit: By Kingkongphoto & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA – Ted Turner, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74768397)

The highs of bipolar disorder can make you energetic, inspired, creative, resourceful, and inventive. And, who wouldn’t want to be all those things, especially if you are an entrepreneur. Those are exactly the notes you want to be hitting when you go about dealing with the demands and pressures of being an entrepreneur. That is why it turns out that being bipolar is an advantage for entrepreneurship. And, to boot, a recent study discovered a link between entrepreneurial tendencies and traits associated with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by mood swings. It is basically a mood disorder. You can swing between a low mood (depression) and a high mood (mania or hypomania). During the low-mood phase, you can feel sad or hopeless and experience loss of interest in activities which were once pleasurable. With the onset of high mood, you may feel euphoric, highly energetic or unusually irritable.  The mood swing can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months.

Come to think of it, the situation is not very different for an entrepreneur. Things and situations in starting and running a new business are fluid and dynamic, with dramatic ups and downs. These ups and downs can happen for years. The highs come from successful launches, exceeding revenue goals, great press, and the lows can come from dealing with the uncertainties, slow progress, and micro-failures. Hence, being an entrepreneur is like having bipolar disorder, whether or not you have that diagnosis.

For example, the entrepreneur Lissa Harris notes in her article in Entrepreneur (Harris, 2018), “In seven years of running a startup, I experienced just about every emotion entrepreneurship has to offer: the adrenaline of launch; the calm energy of focused flow; the brittle, jittery high of riding a 2 a.m. work jag; the terror of feeling the mask slip, of telling an upbeat story to customers as panic churns in your guts; the grief of failure — and the relief of failure, too; the ghostly lost-limb feeling that asks, Who am I if I’m not running this business?”

Bipolar Traits That Fuel Entrepreneurship

Many psychologists, management experts, and business school professors feel that mental disorders are not only common among entrepreneurs but may actually fuel the entrepreneurial drive. These mental disorders are accompanied by positive traits that enable entrepreneurs to excel. For instance, people with bipolar disorder tend to have very high levels of ambition and a willingness to persevere toward goals, which can be very helpful if you are also an entrepreneur. So, no wonder the general feeling doing the rounds is, “You have to be a little bit crazy to be an entrepreneur.”

Research shows that there are four personality traits that people with bipolar share strongly with entrepreneurs (Adonis, 2018):

  1. Hubristic pride: This is “an inflated sense of one’s importance and ability to achieve” which directs them towards an entrepreneurial path. The more confident you are about your abilities, as during the highs of bipolar, the more likely you’ll be to pursue and stick with innovative ideas.
  2. Extroversion: This is the capacity to be outgoing and compelling, which is a core feature of those with a bipolar disorder. This trait “helps entrepreneurs develop social networks… [This] may facilitate raising capital; identifying talent, trends, and opportunities by learning from others; and persuading investors, customers, suppliers, and staff to engage with the company.”
  3. Proactivity: In the startup world, you cannot afford to be laid back. You cannot wait for opportunities to present themselves to you. You have to be on the lookout and seize at half-opportunities. So, it helps if you are proactive.
  4. Improvisation: The entrepreneurial context is often characterized by uncertain conditions, scarce resources, and time pressure, all of which require a certain amount of flexibility, inventiveness, and improvisation to navigate.

The Downside

But there is a downside to the heady mix of bipolar disorder and entrepreneurship. As the successful and bipolar Brang Reynolds cautions, “The lows can feel so daunting as to keep you stuck in bed, unable to move and unable to eat. The highs can feel so exhilarating that you want to shut down whatever you’re doing and go start a totally new business in a field you know nothing about with money you don’t have.” (Reynolds, 2018)

It can be exhilarating to achieve success with your startup riding merrily on the highs of your bipolar. At the same time, you have to keep a watch out that your lows do not make you abandon your project altogether and your highs do not make you so reckless that you take highly injudicious business decisions. As Reynolds confesses, “I credit my highs with my most prideful accomplishments, but they’ve been plenty destructive as well. I’ve over-spent, I’ve burned opportunities, I’ve made commitments I could never expect to deliver on, and I’ve hurt people who cared for me. It can be tempting to paint your highs in rosy light, but being radically reflective about actual outcomes is paramount.” (Reynolds, 2018)

To ensure that the bipolar disorder does not derail you, it is a good idea to check with a psychiatrist the next time those mood swings strike you to see if you need to be put on medication. These days good medications are available that can keep your depressed moods in check and stabilize your moods.

An Appeal: How You Can Help

According to National Institute of Mental Health, 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older suffers from bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, although mental illness is very common, people are afraid to talk about it openly and honestly and rarely seek treatment due to social stigma. Once you have become a successful entrepreneur and your bipolar is in control, you are in a great position to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Share with others your struggles with bipolar and how you cope with it so that others can draw inspiration from it. You can help a great deal by standing up for mental illness by sharing your story and being supportive of others who are suffering from mental illness.

References

Adonis, J., 2018. Why being bipolar can be an entrepreneurial strength. [Online]
Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/business/small-business/why-being-bipolar-can-be-an-entrepreneurial-strength-20180706-p4zpun.html
[Accessed 30 Dec 2019].

Harris, L., 2018. Mental Illness May Plague Entrepreneurs More Than Other People. Here’s Why (and How to Get Help).. [Online]
Available at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/314755
[Accessed 30 Dec 2019].

Reynolds, B., 2018. Riding the Waves of Bipolar to Success. [Online]
Available at: https://hackernoon.com/riding-the-waves-of-bipolar-to-success-67754743d494
[Accessed 30 Dec 2019].

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The Links between Entrepreneurship and Bipolar Disorder
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The Links between Entrepreneurship and Bipolar Disorder
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Many experts feel that mental disorders are not only common among entrepreneurs but may actually fuel the entrepreneurial drive.
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