From Superhero to Sideshow: Coming Back From The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship | by William Punt | Aug, 2020

From Superhero to Sideshow: Coming Back From The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship | by William Punt | Aug, 2020

I was sitting in an arbitration meeting in the courthouse. I was being sued by some home buyers for an inspection that I did for them and who happened to be district attornies. I had never been more nervous in my life. The business that I had built, my reputation, and the security I provided for my family, all seemed to be going away.

Most of my business heavily relied on referrals from real estate agents. I worked hard to build up the list of agents that I had. I was bringing in between $2000-$3400 per week until those agents caught wind of their reputable home inspector being sued. The phone calls stopped, and so did the money. I could see the writing on the walls.

It was time for me to be done with the home inspection business. I reactivated my general contractor’s license and started my construction business again.

One year later, I walked outside to find that my company trailer was stolen. I was shocked! I immediately posted it on social media. That post had over 850 shares within the first hour of it being live on Facebook! Our local news stations got a hold of the story and aired it as well.

The good news was, thanks to all the wonderful people on Facebook and news outlets, I was able to locate the trailer! The bad news was, the $15,000 worth of tools that my brother and I had bought over the previous year was gone which resulted in another sad news article.

What was I going to do?

We had projects to finish and budgets to keep. We couldn’t just go out and buy all new tools. To top it all off, I had a customer file a claim of abandonment against my contractor’s license and my bond. I was facing a potential felony charge as well as possible jail time.

I was done. There was no coming back from that. The cost was too great for me to bounce back. I took the ‘L’.

If you have experienced anything remotely close to this, and have risen above it, you can empathize with me. If you are someone that is currently going through troubles in your business, life, or career, then I can empathize with you.

For every 10 new startups, 9 of them will fail. It’s no wonder that depression haunts 30% of the world’s most brilliant people. I started a clothing company that failed twice. After that, I moved on to starting businesses in the home inspection, resale, and construction industries. They all failed. FAILED. I didn’t feel so brilliant after the failures kept repeating.

There are still times that the ugly creatures of doubt and fear creep into my head. I doubt myself a lot. I struggle with confidence. How could I ever be “successful” if I have these thoughts and feelings? I thought I was a problem solver! How did I let these businesses fail? As it turns out, I wasn’t alone.

According to Michael Freeman in his Pre-publication manuscript;

“Several mission-critical entrepreneurial propensities and traits are also clinical features of bipolarity, depression, ADHD, and substance use conditions, suggesting the possibility that these conditions may be more prevalent among entrepreneurs.”

In the results of Freeman’s study, “The entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%) and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants.”

In other words, the same traits that drive entrepreneurs to be successful are also the same conditions that can cause them to live under the dark cloud of depression and other indispositions. I would go as far as saying that part of what helps entrepreneurs battle these conditions is their constant pursuit of success and drive towards creation and productivity. For a lot of them, their entrepreneurial spirit is our way of coping with mental health issues.

Freeman’s quote is packed full of useful information. I would encourage you to read the full manuscript, but we can learn a lot from what lies in this one sentence. Knowing that a problem exists can be helpful, not only for entrepreneurs but for everyone that struggles with their mental health.

So what problems exist? What can we do to not make the choice that leads us down a dark, narrow path? How can we learn from Freeman? Let’s dissect this quote from the manuscript together, fuse it with some of my personal experience, and see how we can apply the findings to our everyday lives.

Let’s start with…

“Several mission-critical entrepreneurial propensities and traits…”

Multiple factors make up our personalities, and/or behaviors that must remain intact to keep the human race riding on the path of success. It’s our chemical make-up that provides us with the will and tenacity to push through some of the challenges we might face in our journey.

Most of us have heard that you must be passionate about what you do. Did you know that passion is a synonym of propensity? A propensity is a natural tendency to behave in a certain way, while passion is a thing arousing enthusiasm or a state or outburst of strong emotion. So propensity is our behavior and passion is a strong emotion. How are they considered closely related?

Our strong emotions are what drive our behaviors.

That’s the best answer that I can come up with. When business is good, our behavior is good. When business is bad, our behavior goes down the drain. Our “strong emotions” not only drive us to be successful, but they can also drive us to the clinical features listed above.

We have more control over our emotions than we think. Our natural behaviors are comprised of things like habits and past experiences. Those can be broken, changed, molded, or re-shaped. We can break habits and create new experiences.

Here is the most interesting part of Freeman’s statement:

“…are also clinical features of bipolarity, depression, ADHD, and substance use conditions, suggesting the possibility that these conditions may be more prevalent among entrepreneurs.”

According to Health On The Net, Clinical Features are described as — Clinical manifestations that can be either objective when observed by a physician, or subjective when perceived by the patient”

So, “bipolarity, depression, ADHD, and substance use conditions,…” are examples of observations from physicians and patients. These are usually identified by signs and symptoms of each condition.

I can honestly say that depression with a dash of bipolarity existed prior to embarking on my entrepreneurial journey. It’s not like they just appeared after I started my first business. I knew these problems existed, I just didn’t accept that they had any impact or relation to my decision making.

I like to think of superhero movies and how their storylines can relate to real life and the business world. In this instance, I think of Spiderman. Marvel’s website explains what happens when Peter Parker is taken over by Venom.

“Falling in line with wearing all black, Parker went from wisecracking wall-crawler to vengeance-fueled vigilante. The suit — which, of course, revealed itself to be an alien symbiote — fed off Spidey and changed his demeanor exponentially.”

Do you see how something from outside of Parker’s world eventually infiltrated his decision making and “changed his demeanor exponentially”? Often, we let the outside world have a major impact and influence on our lives. We let the world’s expectations become the suit that eventually controls our ability to make wise decisions.

We can’t let the world’s opinion of us become our identity. I‘ve come to the conclusion that half (not exact!) of the depression that I had was simply because I felt like I had to live up to the world’s expectations. And when I couldn’t meet the worldly qualifications of “success”, I was miserable. I look back and realize that I was emotionally immature and I didn’t know how to handle adversity.

It is not the responsibility of other people to make us feel good, happy, or comfortable. It’s up to us. It’s up to you. So how can a person become emotionally strong and able to take on challenges in life or the business world?

When I go through times of anxiety or stress, the last thing that I want to hear is, “You need to calm down”. While I was searching for answers as a new Christian, I was often told “you just need to have faith”. Not everyone likes getting advice when we are in the heat of the moment.

With that being said, I know that what I’m about to say may sound like a very obvious solution to our problems. So I hope that this article will find you in the perfect time, environment, and mindset.

I honestly believe the real-life application of what you are about to read will make a lasting impact on your life.

Let’s explore two ways that you can start to build an impenetrable foundation. After all, having a solid foundation is what will tie everything together.

1. Start With Consistency

Having consistency in your life is going to benefit you. When you have something that is a constant, everything outside of that is now able to be measured. Measuring your progress, changes, and losses are much easier when you have a reference point.

The consistencies that help me maintain the firm foundations in my life are things like the Bible, prayer, reading, and my new found love for writing. Find out what it is that makes you who you are, meditate on that belief, and live it out in your daily life.

2. Grow With Groups

Find more people within the same core belief system and interests. That core group of people can help hold you accountable. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group setting, try to find an individual that you can talk to. This will create accountability. Accountability is extremely important to your progress.

Getting out of a dark place is going to require some light. Having people in your circle will help you shed some light in those dark areas of your life. I tried to go at it alone. What I learned is that it is near impossible to maintain.

Check out this quote below. It’s from an article from the Harvard Business Review.

“We found that 39% of respondents feel the greatest sense of belonging when their colleagues check in with them, both personally and professionally.”

So, make sure that you find a group that cares. You’re in this for the long haul. Make a choice to move forward.

Some Highlights About These Tips That Will Help You Bounce Back

  1. Know that you are not alone — 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness. That’s a huge number when you consider the entire U.S. You can get help!
  2. Know that you have resources — The National Alliance of Mental Illness and The Suicide Prevention Lifeline are some great starting resources. I would also recommend calling a local church as they could offer some free assistance as well. Seek some professional help and don’t be ashamed.
  3. Be VERY aware of yourself and your feelings (or lack thereof )— If you know that you have conditions, think that you might be struggling with mental health, or might know someone that is, make a connection. This condition is a part of you. You just have to know how to handle it. You at least need to be aware of it to notice when it’s affecting you. You can be in control. Know the signs of mental illness.


I can feel when my anxiety starts to hit me. I sometimes have to walk away from people that make me angry, or I slow down and think about the situation. I notice that my heart starts to beat a little faster, my body temperature starts to slightly rise, I feel anger starts to take over my thoughts. This is the point of recognition. This is when I tell myself that I am in control, not my feelings or emotions. Our strong emotions can be beneficial when they are a passion, but they can be detrimental when those feelings are anger or sadness.

As cliche as it sounds, life is about choices.

Humans are not perfect, you never will be. Being aware that you aren’t alone will help you come back from the dark side. You will start to see some light as you push yourself to take back control of your actions. You have to slow down and stop reacting. Start thinking and acting accordingly. This is something that I practice every day. I don’t win in every situation. Sometimes I lose my cool. I still practice every day. It takes work, but it’s worth it.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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