Overcoming Start-Up Depression

Starting a business is full of ups and downs. But even when your start-up fluctuates its important that you as the founder stay balanced. The thought to write this essay came after reading “Founder Depression” by Sam Altman.

By Yonatan Gordon

There are two main concepts that Sam presents. The first is that running a business is a lot of responsibility. The other is that there are up and downs, and while the ups can lead to bouts of great exuberance, failing can (God forbid) lead to depression. The question that I thought to tackle for this post is how to overcome these bipolar swings of founding a company?

While founders needs to be optimistic, the challenge is to view setbacks as springboards to eventual success. In the words of the Talmud: “A person only properly understands the words of the Torah after stumbling over them.” We first make a mistake or experience failure, and only then do we come to the proper understanding.

Conventional wisdom may say to slow down and take it easy. But when dealing with driven people, the Torah instructs us how to positively direct this drive. Instead of stifling progress, true growth and progress comes from having a proper perspective.

Horizon after Horizon

So instead of slowing down, let’s bring a short but wonderful story about speeding up:

Rebbe Yisrael of Ruzhin once recounted:

When I was a young child, four years old, my holy father Rabbi Shalom of Prabitch took me on a walk through the fields and there we saw the sun setting, a beautiful and grand sight. Watching the sunset, it seemed to me as a young boy that the place on the horizon where the sun was setting was the end of the sky. I told my father, “Look Abba, you can see where the sky ends.” My father answered, “Know my child that beyond the sky that you can see there is another sky, and beyond that another sky, and there are skies without number, one after another. And beyond all the skies there is the great God that created them all.” When my father spoke those words, my stomach began to churn. And that churning continues to this very day.

Serial Entrepreneur

To relate this story to our present discussion, let’s say that every horizon is a new idea that could easily consume this founder’s entire professional career. The idea is so grand and wonderful that he devotes day and night to make this idea, this dream, a reality. And let’s say that he is greatly successful in his efforts. A dream come true right?

It may seem that way at first, but what happens when the next horizon line comes into view? All of a sudden, his present business doesn’t seem so grand anymore. Even though he’s making money etc…, his attention and interest starts to wander to the next project. There are many recent examples of this.

Now you can probably see where this is going. While it seemed like that one idea was the greatest and most exciting, over time there was another, and another…. While Sam spoke about the ups and downs of founding one business, I brought this example to explain how even when a business is going well, when stocks are up and sales are booming, still the “happiness-factor” we’ll call it is contingent on the ability to view this current activity as the realization of a far-off vision. But as soon as the vision changes, so does that sense of contentment with our current activities.

This doesn’t necessarily lead a founder to jump from one business to the next, although sometimes it does. At times this may translate into the desire to constantly update or expand product offerings, to open new lines, to expand globally, and so forth. But to return back to our story, we can source all these desires as a desire to see the next horizon line.

The calming effect, the cure for what we called Start-Up Depression comes when we envision the result of all these horizon lines, “And beyond all the skies there is the great God that created them all.” Once founders keep this thought in mind, then the race and flurry starts to not only make sense, but possible. As long we try to run faster using our strength alone, eventually we will tire and become worn out physically and emotionally. But when running with the right mindset, then there truly is no end, only beginnings.

For more on this Ruzhiner story, please read here.


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