Managing Mental Health: Fusion Gates' Key Ingredient for Success
Posted on August 09 2018
Every Monday, my team and I plan out our work week with a list of to-dos. As a small business, it is imperative we keep a flexible schedule with the exception of one absolute…my therapy session every Tuesday afternoon. The team knows as well as I do that without these sessions, our company, Fusion Gates would not exist and there is a good possibility nor would I.
In front of one of Fusion Gates' most popular dog and baby gate designs; Willow Branches
In the ten years since inventing my product, The Fusion Gate®, I have survived the gauntlet of starting a small business; complete with failed prototypes, financial burdens and operational setbacks. Yet, my biggest challenge has been surviving this gauntlet with a pocket full of mental disorders. I, like so many entrepreneurs, struggle with thinking in mental extremes. For me, obsessiveness, anxiety and cyclothymic tendencies have been a part of my DNA since I can remember. It is in these weekly therapy sessions that I learn to define, appreciate and actually use my mental challenges to fuel the company’s innovation and success into the future.
It was there at the beginning
"Like so many inventors and entrepreneurs, it was my personal need to feel better that brought about my first invention."
There is no doubt in my mind that my emotional struggles caused me to envision something extraordinary in the ordinary. Like so many inventors and entrepreneurs, it was my personal need to feel better that brought about my first invention.
Having 4 babies in the span of 5 years would make any mother go off the deep end. But for someone already overly emotional, it damn near killed me. At times I felt like I was imprisoned in my own home. My feelings of helplessness and hopelessness were constantly validated each time I would walk through the cold steel metal bars of the baby gates in our home.
Another "jail-cell" looking gate...my nemesis during the baby years.
My only outlet at the time was renovating my home. I recognized that my surroundings could encourage or discourage my mood. So, when we brought our first puppy home to break the camel’s back, I was hell-bent on finding a safety solution that did not add to my mental strain. I dared to want a gate that was pretty and encouraged harmonious thoughts and ease of living. Apparently, I was “crazy” to think one existed. It didn’t. So I sketched out the first Fusion Gate; a beautiful baby/dog gate featuring interchangeable art screens that actually made you smile.
The Fusion Gate liberates modern parents & pet parents by giving them a stylish alternative; keeping their loved ones safe and their spaces looking sensational. Left: Gray Diamonds Fusion Gate; Center: Greek Key Fusion Gate; Right: Green Garden Fusion Gate.
So on I went into the world of business and along for the ride…my mental baggage.
You’ve got to be NUTS to start your own business!
My idea quickly became an obsession and slowly started to take over my life. Every waking moment was spent researching and developing my idea…a mad machine with no off switch. Life was in a constant state of extremes. For every win I had (getting a patent, building my first prototype) there were multiple losses (draining our life savings, alienating my husband and kids and never going to bed without a bottle of wine and sleeping pills).
It wasn’t until things got so out of hand that I realized I needed professional help. My therapist first helped me uncover the fact I was not alone. So many entrepreneurs and inventors suffer from some form of mental illness. A study called, Are Entrepreneurs “Touched with Fire”? published by Michael A. Freeman, M.D. at the University of California San Francisco shows that 72% of the entrepreneurs in their sample self-reported mental health concerns, a proportion that was significantly higher than that of the comparison group.
This predisposition to mental health challenges was also listed in a recent Forbes article as one of the 8 reasons entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges written by mental health therapist and executive coach, Megan Bruneau. Megan, who also suffers from mental illness, is quick to point out in her piece “…the qualities that make me a great entrepreneur – creativity, empathy, adaptiveness, humor, independence, risk-taking, multi-tasking, and crisis-management skills – come from the same roots of trauma as my experiences of shame, anxiety, perfectionism, ADHD, and discomfort with stability.”
How to use your mental extremes to help you succeed
"...we need to learn to harvest our heightened emotions into the fuel that would keep us going."
As my therapy continued, I became aware of my specific mental intensities and began working towards accepting and even appreciating them. I also began to see these same characteristics, if managed correctly, could actually be the key to building a successful business and dare I say…a harmonious life.
I slowly discovered that the aim is not to cure our overly emotional tendencies nor to mask them with substances (believe me I tried). Instead we need to learn to harvest our heightened emotions into the fuel that would keep us going.
Here are five strategies that may help you manage your mental intensities to improve your business and keep your life in check during your own entrepreneurial journey.
1. Use your emotions to empathize and build strong, trusting relationships.
Every human…every person you interact with in business is beautifully flawed. Our customers, vendors, employees and competitors...we all make mistakes. People over-react, they have highs and they have lows. I use my heightened sensitivity to key in on these vulnerabilities allowing me to more authentically relate to their needs, their concerns and motivators. I don’t waste a lot of time pretending I am more important or weaker than the rest. I pretty much expose myself for who I am and for the most part people do the same...then we can get down to business.
Stay authentic. Taking the time to understand customers' and vendors' own struggles helps us to quickly relate and build trust. Left: with my engineer Dave; Center: the production team in China; Right: our first Fedex delivery man.
2. Use your ability to think in alternatives for effective problem solving.
I accepted a long time ago that I don’t think like everyone else. This abnormal thinking didn’t work out so well for me while in school. Business is another story. My ability to think outside of the norm gives me more options when problem solving, an activity that is never ending, particularly in start-ups. Admittedly, sometimes my ideas are a little “crazy.” But I have found if you start with the crazy, your solutions usually end up better than average.
Inventive thinking doesn't end with product development.
3. Get addicted to “the good stuff”!
Oh, that damn addiction…plaguing the inventive mind that thinks in mental extremes. A bottle of wine to quiet our inner voice, a pack of cigarettes to remind us to breathe in and out and that giant chocolate cake waiting at home to wipe away the pains of the day. We have to remind ourselves that good addictions are just as powerful as bad ones. So, make the “good stuff” addictions you can’t live without. Convince yourself that you “must have” your morning workout to survive your day. Believe that your protein bar at 10am and 3pm will give you the “fix” necessary to stay focused and aware. Believe that time without your kids each day will throw you in a state of withdrawals. It works.
The "Good Stuff"
4. Find your “Dear Watson”
Like Sherlock Holmes, find yourself a right-hand man/woman that not only accepts your eccentricities but also one who appreciates them. Your Watson needs to be a good interpreter; he or she needs to understand the way you think and how you communicate (even when others don’t). When your ideas are not clear, your Watson needs to have the courage to ask for clarification or even question “Why do it that way?” Your Watson must be adventurous; going with the unconventional even if their logic tells them to stay the course. Lastly, they need to be forgiving and light-hearted; bosses with mental extremes tend to get lost in their thoughts, so Watson may need to repeat himself/herself…a lot!
My "Dear Watson" - Shelly Wolfe-VP of Everything
5. Power down and sleep
If you take nothing else away from this post, I beg of you to "shut 'er down" and get a good sleep every night. Lack of sleep for any person is draining. But for the intense entrepreneur it's downright debilitating. In a recent National Geographic article about sleep, we learn the brain does mostly data gathering in our waking hours...but it's when we sleep that it edits and makes sense of it all. If we don't sleep, our data tends to pile up and overflow; making us more inclined to make risky decisions based only on data and not analysis. Best part is, you don't have to train or pay your brain to do this kind of sophisticated analytics...the job comes compliments of our maker.
Completely staged but you get the picture...shut 'er down!
At the end of this post I’ve listed a number of articles and studies that I read often. They remind me that I am one of many entrepreneurs struggling to keep my mental health in check. They also remind me that this world would not be as electrifying if not for crazy thinkers like you and I. Someone saw a phone and thought it should be mobile, someone saw a car and thought it should park itself and I saw an ugly iron-barred gate that needed to be beautiful.
One way to help yourself is to help others. I recognize that some mental conditions can be extreme and in many cases life-threatening such as in the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain; two one-of-a-kind entrepreneurs that we will miss tremendously. Brain and behavior disorders affect 1 in 5 people. You can help accelerate the pace of mental illness research by donating to The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRFoundation). Read more about this groundbreaking foundation awarding grants that will lead to scientific breakthroughs focused on alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness. Go to: The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation-Get Involved
Are Entrepreneurs “Touched with Fire”? published by Michael A. Freeman, M.D.
Crazy Good: How Mental Illnesses Help Entrepreneurs Thrive; Washingtonpost.com
Major Depressive Disorder Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses; Psychiatrictimes.com
Coming Soon - Entrepreneur Near You the Cyclothymic Personality; Psychology Today
The Parallels Between Entrepreneurship and Bipolar Disorder; Entrepreneur.com
Talking about trauma: Mental healthcare lacking small business owners; Psychology Today
While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey National Geographic
Aesthetics and Well Being How Interior Design Effects your Happiness; by Psychology Tomorrow Magazine: