An article in the weekend newspapers finally seemed to scientifically confirm something that I have suspected for some time: being ambitious, competitive and high-achieving can be very bad for your mental health.
The reasons for this are clearly and logically explained in the excellent article by Oliver James.
In a nutshell, if you judge your self-worth in terms of money and material wealth, and if you lose these things or don’t meet your targets for gaining them, this can create a sense of failure, leading to a downward spiral of disappointment, depression etc. Once you have been successful, the loss of your money and status symbols is far more painful than failure to acquire these things in the first place, so success breeds dependency on more success.
As a business owner, I am acutely aware of how fine the line is between success and failure. A 10% reduction in sales can easily turn a profit into a loss in a low-margin business.
This has confirmed for me that the ability to detach yourself from the day-to-day operation of your business is crucial, for two reasons:
1. to be able to think and act strategically (which I have always known)
2. to allow a buffer to exist between the problems of the business and your personal life (without burying your head in the sand)
To avoid judging yourself only in terms of business and material success, maintaining interests outside work are crucial. For me personally, maintaining health and fitness is key because of physiological and well as psychological benefits (e.g. release of endorphins). Also, reading, music, quality films and TV, cooking and of course spending time with the family are essential.
But, my biggest tip for how to avoid business/work-induced depression is, when things get really bad, ask yourself: “What is the worst that could happen?” Then ask yourself the follow-up question: “Why is that so bad?” And keep asking that until you get to the real heart of the issue. I think you will find that the really important things (your relationships and health) are unlikely to be damaged significantly, no matter how bad things get in the material world.
Please post a comment to let me know how you maintain your sanity when your business is going through tough times.