Sh*t, p*ss, f*ck, c*nt, c*cks*cker, m*th*rf*cker, and t*ts… George Carlin made these words famous in 1972 during his epic tirade, “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television.” Unknown to him at the time, a father and his 15-year-old son would (allegedly) hear this routine play on the radio one afternoon and complain to the Federal Communications Commission that it was inappropriate. This eventually led to a ruling that said “indecent” language can’t be used on radio or television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Words can have a profound impact — not only on the radio and TV but also on our public profiles and resumes.
Carlin’s list inspired me to create and discuss a list of seven words equally frowned upon to use on a LinkedIn profile: stressed, lost, failed, sucked, depressed, devastated, and quit. You’ll never see these anywhere on anyone’s Linkedin profile — not even mine. I understand the idea of putting your best foot forward, but it feels like such an inaccurate representation of oneself. It feels disingenuous not to list my failures next to my successes.
What does the real story look like? My first startup: I became immensely stressed during my senior year of college when all my classmates were looking for jobs while I was pursuing a startup with no idea what I was doing and no guidance whatsoever. I became depressed after I had been locked up in a psych ward and told I was crazy, just weeks after raising the seed money for the startup. I was devastated when our experiments wouldn’t work. I sucked at pivoting and confidently adapting to adversity. I lost half of my investor’s money when we couldn’t scale up our technology. I quit after we knew it was pointless to raise additional funding for a technology that wouldn’t make it to market. I failed to transform our global energy consumption the way I had envisioned.
What about startup #2? It would appear this one was a major home run. After being in business for only 18 months, we acquired one of the fastest growing manufacturers in the commercial LED space. The reality? I felt so stressed during the acquisition that I was losing weight and friends were worried about me. I sucked at maintaining control of my company and let people I trusted take advantage of me. Just days after the deal closed, I was informed I had lost my job. I was so devastated that I ended up in the hospital twice with cardiac issues in the following weeks. I failed (again) to transform our global energy consumption the way I had envisioned. I quit trusting people. I became depressed that I hadn’t done something to prevent this mess.
And startup #3? My current venture is in the education technology space. I don’t have a full list of dirty words yet … I am certainly stressed. I’ve lost my patience. I’ve failed to generate revenue. I feel like I suck at structuring an altruistic venture that has a clear business model. At times, I’ve felt really depressed. I often feel like I’m on the brink of devastation. But I have not quit.
How many people would ever put that type of information on their resumes? I’m not claiming that I’d be willing to. It’s buried in a blog nobody reads, several paragraphs after using the word c*nt. From my perspective, all of my startups have failed because they didn’t achieve the vision I set forth in the beginning. But they certainly were successful in many rights.
People say if you don’t fail, you’re not trying hard enough. Yet nobody can talk about their failures because it is incriminating to show weakness in a world where we seek perfection, at least from a public perspective. I’ve heard a lack of failure is one of the great criticisms of the Millennial Generation. People say Millennials all got trophies and never experienced failure. Yet, at the same time, this generation is not encouraged to discuss failures. So how does anyone know how frequently failure is occurring?
All bullshit aside, the golden metric for success for an entrepreneur is: “Did I give my investors a return on their investment?” My first startup was a no. But we also completed our initial development way under budget and returned that money to our investors. The second startup is still operating but hasn’t reached a liquidity event, so success is still to be determined. As for my current one, I haven’t taken on any investors, so how can I measure success?
To raise money to pursue a startup when you’re 22, and then execute on your plan is great. To get back on the horse and launch another one is awesome. To perform an acquisition before I’m 25 is sick. Has there been failure? Yeah. I’ve lost all my money, been kicked out of a company I started, been hospitalized against my will for “manic episodes,” slept inside a tent in shitty roach-infested apartments, and more … And there’s really no setting that makes sharing these details with people acceptable (aside from performing standup comedy: flimjannery.com). I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to suffer. I have no issue with it, but it’s rough doing so in secret.
And that’s the understated problem entrepreneurs face — wherever we go, we are forced to “sell,” to show the world a positive spin. We can’t discuss our personal issues with friends, because they “don’t get it.” We can’t talk to our family, because we don’t want to worry them. We may discuss things with our significant others … but we’re equally likely to hide things purposely from them for the same reasons we do from family. Around other entrepreneurs — the ones who would “get it” — we do our best to look impressive, because these people could all be potential partners, referrals, customers, investors, etc. So where do we turn to?
See, society doesn’t encourage entrepreneurs, especially in the Millennial Generation, to talk about the challenges we face. In 2013, Inc. Magazine published an article titled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” that discusses this, and researcher Dr. Michael Freedman and his team published a study titled “Are Entrepreneurs Touched with Fire?” The researchers found that entrepreneurs, when compared to non-entrepreneurs, are:
– Twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression,
– Six times more likely to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD,
– Three times more likely to report substance abuse, and
– Eleven times more likely to have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Keep in mind the causality isn’t determined here, so we don’t know whether people exhibiting these traits are more likely to become entrepreneurs or if being an entrepreneur causes these traits. Regardless of the cause or effect, it’s hard not to agree something is going on here.
I found myself with a problem: where can I discuss these issues with people without judgment or consequence? I found no solutions – so I created one. The solution is called Entrepreneurs Anonymous, a peer support group for entrepreneurs to discuss their challenges anonymously. My research shows there are 27 million entrepreneurs in the U.S. alone. The stats from Dr. Freedman thus suggest there are millions of people who need help. At Entrepreneurs Anonymous, that help is immediate and free. Who knows? This experiment may turn into my most successful venture yet.
Founder, Entrepreneurs Anonymous