Mental health advice for dream chasers.... from a non-mental health expert
Back in March, I wrote a blog post out of frustration, anxiety and potential impending depression. I had left Apple about 18 months before to start my own company in Colombia. In that time, I went through a bit of an emotional, spiritual and mental roller coaster in pursuit of my “dream” — to move to Colombia and open a boutique hotel on an island off the coast of Cartagena (more to come about that in a few months 😬). The article served a few purposes: 1. a release for me and 2. encouragement for other people who may be currently pursuing their dreams, or others who may be close to taking a similar “leap.” Some of the feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation are universal and it was important for me to let these people know that they were not alone…. and that it not just you. It IS hard… but you CAN do it.
Following writing that blog post, I had to pleasure of talking to one of the founders of Release Notes. We ended up talking for quite a bit about the feelings that a lot of people have after “taking the leap.” Those conversations led to the creation of my Release Notes Conference 2019 talk in which I thought it would be helpful to share some of the tools that I use to keep my headspace clear when confronted with pressure, anxiety and isolation sometimes can feel overwhelming. So here they are:
Think about… a lot
Before I left my corporate job to pursue my dreams, I spent A LOT of time deciding whether this was REALLY something I wanted to do. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just running AWAY from something that was making me unhappy, but was rather running TOWARDS something that was going to be fulfilling. This has really helped me in times when challenges and difficulties can make me start questioning whether I SHOULD be even doing this, or maybe when I am considering quitting and returning to “the easy life.” But when those doubts start creeping in, I always combat them by telling myself “NO! This is your dream. You’ve thought about this for a long time…. a really long time. And you were (and are) 1000% sure you want to do this! The difficulty and hardships will all be worth it at the end of the day.” SO before you take a leap be sure to think about it long and hard so that when times get tough, you can affirm that you are indeed following your north star.
Prepare, prepare, prepare — and understand you won’t be prepared enough
I am a tireless preparer. When it came to leaving my corporate job, leaving the country, and starting my own business, I knew that I would be embarking on an unusually complex journey. So I spent a lot of time preparing for different scenarios, fall back plans and contingencies. Then when I started actually LIVING it, I realized that I could of never been prepared enough. With that being said, this has really helped me when it comes to my everyday life here in Colombia. Things move at a much slower pace than I am used to, which sometimes leads to the anxiety of missing deadlines, goals and milestones. But because I prepared so much beforehand, putting in a ton buffers in just knowing that I am prepared for worst case to best case scenario.
Try to stay even keel
Everyone knows that life is about peaks and valleys and we will have highs, and lows. We hear that all the time. My strategy for managing these highs and lows are to try to keep myself as even keel as possible when it comes to day to day events, milestones, goals and progress. For me, we always get advice from people saying “don’t let it get you too down,” but what about the “don’t let it get you too high?” I think that is equally important. Because when you are running a marathon (shout out to Nipsey, RIP), you can’t burn too much energy sprinting and celebrating wins. Equally, I feel like when you allow yourself to get super high, it is also easier to allow yourself to get super low. Because… well…. equilibrium. So I try to keep myself in a nice “middle-range” where I can take time to acknowledge wins, but quickly move on to the next thing. Likewise, when there are losses or setbacks, it allows me to treat them the same — acknowledge them, then move onto the business of solving them. For me it’s like, “damn, that sucks… well, okay… let me take a little break and figure out how to solve this later.” Basically every win and setback, I try to treat the same. “I’m taking a little break to get food or drinks with friends, I’ll reconvene tomorrow” haha.
Ignore the self-doubt
Self-doubt is normal. It’s human. We doubt what we put on in the morning, we doubt our first instincts, we doubt things that we’ve said, we doubt the entree we just ordered — it’s normal. Self-Doubt when it comes to your dreams and aspirations are normal as well. Can I do it? Should I do it? Is that even a good idea? I believe that when it comes to your dreams, if you let self doubt paralyze you, it is dangerous. You start feeling and thinking whether you are smart enough, good enough, driven enough, determined enough, or strong enough to make your dreams become a reality. And THAT is much different than doubting the hairstyle, make-up, clothes, and shoes that you chose in the morning. This type of doubt can lead to depression and a feeling of a lack of self-worth. So as hard as it is, try to ignore the self doubt — especially when it comes to your dreams. You are smart, you are dope, you are intelligent and you were built for this — or you wouldn’t be here!
It is really important to take breaks (Well, duh Haha)… but I think there is a nuance here that should be specifically and directly pointed out: Take breaks BEFORE you reach your breaking point. I think too many people (myself included) are so passionate about something that they want to spend their every waking moment working on THAT THING. Then, the pressure, anxiety, stress and exhaustion creep up on you and before you know it, you are having a meltdown. For this reason, I always suggest not just taking breaks, but scheduling these breaks into your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routine. Make sure you are always doing something that helps you take your mind off of ALLLLL the things you need to do to complete the task(s) ahead. Whether that is going to the gym, yoga, reading, taking a weekend a month not doing anything related to work or scheduling travel every few months. I think this is super important build in these systems that help you decompress along the way so that you don’t end up exploding.
Understand that things will go wrong — really wrong.
Things will always go wrong. Sometimes they will go REALLY WRONG. I had to learn this the hard way. Coming from a company that (more or less) ran like a well oiled machine, I really had to adjust to the way business is conducted Colombia. The pace, the norms, the quality of service, etc. And in my case, this resulted in a lot of things going “wrong” which caused a lot (I mean, A LOT) of stress. I would have a plan on how to attack a problem and dates for starting and completing them and it felt like every day they were getting delayed or left incompleted. The anxiety that this brought was really stressing me out and I was in a perpetual cycle of stress and anxiety. That was until I realized that I just needed be more flexible and understand that things are not always going to go as planned (actually almost never haha). Once I was able to tell myself this, it allowed me not to get so bent out of shape over things that I cannot control and actually easily adapt and roll with the punches.
Ask for help
I am super independent. Like, to a fault. I always felt like no matter how difficult a task was, how much time it would take me to do it out, I would figure it out. When I started my company, I made a list of things to do and started attacking them. This is where the unique experience of living in Colombia forced me out of my ways. It took awhile, but Colombia eventually beat me into submission (haha). In the US, when we are looking for a restaurant to eat at, we just pop open Yelp and we have our choice of whatever type of cuisine we want. We can even be picky and ONLY consider things like “4.5 stars or higher, Vietnamese food within 2 miles.” Colombia… not so much. Starting from finding an apartment, I realized that most of the economy in Colombia was not online. And, the things that are online, are severely marked up because, well, locals aren’t as dependent on the internet as we are. If you are looking for a service online, you’re likely an expat…which meansssss… 🤑🤑🤑🤑. So its no surprise that when I started looking for services for my business ( legal, accounting, real estate, etc.) via the only method I knew how (the internet), it was really difficult. I tried every search term imaginable in English and Spanish, and I would yield little to no results. This continued for months where I would be trying “everything I could” and bashing my head on the wall at my fruitless results. Then, I reached the breaking point and I desperately reached out to a Colombian friend for help. Magically, I got really good recommendations. Then more, then more. Then I reached out to more friends. More recommendations. Things began to roll and I was kicking myself for just not asking for help sooner. Just asking for help can take a ton of weight and stress off my shoulders.
Create a support system
Similar to the point above, creating a support system is about having people there that you can look to in order to support you. This for me was a very uncomfortable idea because I typically don’t want anyone to take on any of my problems. But, the more and more you work in isolation (which I was doing for a while), the more and more hopeless you can feel when you are going through rough times. Creating a support system is like a safety net for you to be able to fall back on to help get your mind back clear and focused. Whether you need to just get things off your chest, grab lunch/dinner, cry, whatever, these are the people who really up uplift you when you are going through rough times. They encourage you, support you, reassure you and challenge you. These people are necessary to have in your corner to give you the energy and mental capacity to keep going.
Document your journey
I have never been a journal type of guy. Like NEVER. But, about a year into embarking on this new journey I decided I start a bit of a video blog (via my instagram stories) about the entire process of starting and building this business in Colombia. When I started it, I had no clue how therapeutic it would be. It allows me to feel a lot less isolated on the journey. It allows people to follow the ups and downs, funny times and sad times. To my surprise, people are always sending me well wishes, words of encouragement, comments, or even asking questions about the business which makes me feel like you have a whole army of people rooting for me and that I am not alone. This is super important on those days when I am feeling really down, confused and low energy. It also allows me to look back and remind myself about the bad things I’ve been through in the journey so far and say “well, if I got through that, I can get through this.” And for the good days, it gives you energy and encouragement to say “Hey, its not all bad, we’ve had some really great moments during this journey.”
Write all of these down
Write all of this down! Haha. I know that most, if not all of this stuff above, you’ve heard in some way, shape or form. The problem is, when you are LIVING through a rough time, it tends to feel like the world is crashing down around you. You rarely have the ability to think clearly about how to pull yourself out of it. As well, a lot of these points of advice are about continually building in systems so that you don’t fall into the “dark phase.” So write these down and constantly check on how you are doing with these daily, weekly or monthly. If you are lacking somewhere, adjust accordingly.
Remember, your ideas are worth something. Your dreams are worth more. If you do make a decision to follow your dreams, its going to be hard. REALLY HARD. But , if you can prepare yourself mentally for these challenges you can do it. I believe in you! Believe in yourself!