extreme entrepreneurship

What’s Mental Illness Got To Do With Success?

Huffington Post writes:

Last week, CNN published a piece about the tech industry’s secret struggle with suicide and mental illness, relaying several stories of silent sufferers whose endings were tragic. And, unfortunately, suffering seems only barely in the minority: One study found that nearly half of all Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and execs had experienced mental health issues at some point in their lives. That many such conditions occur in pairs or multiples means that many of those affected have dealt with more than one illness at once.

The personality extremes associated with entrepreneurship often aren’t all that different from those associated with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder and depression. Great entrepreneurs are bold, charismatic, prone to highs and lows. “Madness,” reports Slate, made great men out of Steve Jobs and Charles Lindbergh. Specifically, that madness was Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, a “superachiever’s disease” that includes a love of lists, rules, work, and control. Those with mental illness very often present as brilliant and dynamic; very often they are brilliant and dynamic. Meanwhile, other qualities evident in great entrepreneurs – a self-starting nature, an attraction to taking risks, and a willingness to live with uncertainty – often means that they don’t ask for help when they most need it.

But there’s also evidence that the pressures of entrepreneurship can be a trigger for mental illness; that mental illness does not fuel entrepreneurial drive but, at least in some cases, is a byproduct of it. Starting a company, especially in the hyper-competitive tech sphere, requires laser-focus. And it’s exceedingly pressure-filled, especially now that tech entrepreneurs are viewed almost like celebrities, their stories told on the big screen, and the money riding on successes and failures is big. This is one reason why authority, success, and wealth – things that should make a person feel accomplished and happy – are often linked with depression.

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