Therapy: Much safer than bungee jumping
A conversation with Mixpanel’s Suhail Doshi on company building, mood management hacks, and, of course, therapy.
Suhail Doshi is co-founder and former CEO of Mixpanel, a web and mobile analytics platform. He’s also a husband, a friend, and a big fan of self-improvement. Kip co-founder and CEO Ti Zhao explores how Suhail balances a demanding job with the rest of his life through therapy sessions, vulnerability, and shared Google Documents with his wife.
Tell me a little bit more about your journey with Mixpanel.
When you start a company at twenty, one of the greatest flaws and benefits is your own naivete. It’s starting out thinking, “maybe I know everything that I need to know so far” and kind of not realizing the depth of things that I did not yet understand. So, you kind of just have this weird, blind confidence when you start out that’s helpful because you might’ve not started the company had you known all the things you needed to know but it also gives you the confidence to do it in the first place.
You shared a series of tweets on lessons you learned while building, growing, and scaling Mixpanel. Tell me a little bit more about that — specifically about getting yourself a therapist to “level yourself up.”
I think that all people need some kind of an outlet — somebody with which they can share their feelings, thoughts, and stories — good and bad — each day. As CEO of a company, this becomes more difficult because you don’t necessarily have any peers — you can’t go to your executive team and tell them about all of your doubts and fears, you can’t go to your team, and you can’t go to all of your investors or board members because you don’t exactly know how they’ll react if you express concern. Then, you have your family and your friends left over, and you can’t burden them with every single thing that happens, every single day. Plus, they’re not accessible every single day. The last person (but usually your first person) is your significant other, and using them as an outlet will create a heavy emotional load for your partner day in and day out, especially since all companies experience ups and downs. So, I think it’s really important to find somebody to talk to, whether it’s a C.O. coach or a therapist.
What was the moment that prompted you to start therapy?
For me, it happened when I felt like I was bringing it home too much.
I ran into the same kinds of problems that others often do — I initially thought therapy was something that I needed to do if I felt like — I don’t know — like maybe I had a “huge mental health problem”. I never thought about therapy as something that could help me with a pretty basic problem, actually, that maybe other people couldn’t help me with. So, I felt like I could unburden my wife — and friends — and family — and go to someone to talk to about myself and not feel judged. But I was kind of fearful of trying therapy for the first time, I remember.
What are your thoughts on if you’re not a CEO — if you’re a manager, or if you’re an individual contributor — how does therapy benefit employees at different levels of the company?
We all have eccentricities and upbringings that affect us in different ways and that we take with us to work. I think anyone can benefit from therapy because there’s almost always something worth fixing about ourselves. I wish that I had started a lot earlier in life because I think I would’ve been able to deal with challenges a lot sooner and would have been able to think more clearly about them. We all kind of want to know what people think about us — and we also kind of don’t. It can be this soul-crushing, demoralizing thing that’s actually paralyzing. But, if you’re able to communicate your perspective to someone who can professionally help you realize where you’re wrong and right, but kind of make you realize it for yourself, it’s softer but also has a big impact on your behavior.
I look at therapy as an opportunity to not only be a better person but also to break the walls that make me not reach my greatest potential.
It would be kind of a shame to reach the age of eighty and be like, “I finally realized which walls I should break down” or “I finally figured out what I didn’t need to care so much about” and go, “ok — now, I can live my life.” I think the sooner you figure out what’s holding you back, the sooner you get to reap the benefits.
How do you manage your feelings at work, particularly from meeting-to-meeting, and be your best self for people?
There are a few different scenarios in which you may need to find ways to regulate your mood at work. Maybe your mind is in a different place; maybe you’re not fully present. Maybe the meeting you just had did not go well; in fact, it went terribly. Or maybe you’re just having a crappy day; it could be something from your personal life and it could be from something that happened earlier at work. So, what can you do in these situations to stay focused, manage your emotions, and be your best self for those around you?
I think that sometimes the best thing you can do if you’re just having a really, really bad day is that you may just need to declare bankruptcy on the day.
You have to decide what kind of effect to have on everybody. So, that was one solution — and obviously, you can’t do it every day. If you’re having trouble focusing from one meeting to the next, I think it’s a practical skill to decide to “put it in a drawer” and choose to address the problem later. And a simple way to solve not forgetting the problem is to just write it down. I think with my wife, I found this life hack — I would just write things down during my day so she didn’t have to listen to me for like an hour — she could just read that thing for 10 minutes and she could decide what she wanted to weigh in on. We just have a Google Doc and I would just write down my day. And a third option is to just give people a warning, be vulnerable, and say, “Hey, if I’m not myself, it has nothing to do with you.” This gives you a chance to be worse than you are without people thinking that you’re worse than you are.
You mentioned how important therapy can be for anyone — how do you think therapy can benefit a company if every employee went to therapy?
So much of how we think and behave within a company is intertwined with the things we can control and the things we can’t control, like our own insecurities and projections. And, as a result of that, people go to work and they basically call this phenomenon “politics”. And so, I think that therapy could probably help cut through some of these politics. You may not feel comfortable sharing everything with your manager, and there are limits to what they can do to help. So, I think that therapy can help you with the personal, emotional side of seeing something in a different light or acting in a different way that nobody else in the company can help you with, but might be causing a problem for you in your job. It’s worth a shot to see if there’s anything you can do to change — regardless of whether you’re the actual problem — sometimes, even how you react to others can make something better than it was.
What do you wish more people knew about therapy?
If you have a genuine interest in improving something about yourself, and you’ve been kind of stuck on it for a while, and you just don’t know how to get yourself out of that rut — or you have some insecurity — or you just need someone to talk to so you can figure out how to sort through something — someone (like a therapist) to talk to and to sort things out with is so helpful.
You don’t necessarily need therapy your whole life — you may just need therapy in moments.
You should just try it — go to two sessions — it won’t cost you that much money — and figure out if the therapy stigma that you believe is really still true after all of these years. There are so many things that people will do just because somebody says “Just try it!” — like some people are crazy and jump out of a plane or bungee jump. And therapy is none of these things — it’s probably much more impactful than any one of those things and not that crazy. It kind of surprises me — you bungee jump and your friends say, “You might die…” and you say, “It’s ok, it’s a thrill!” Whereas if you go to therapy, people often assume there’s something really wrong with you and I don’t think that’s true.
To listen to the full interview, click here.
Kip is a YC startup that provides data-driven therapy to individuals including founders in San Francisco. We also work with companies to build therapy programs to support high performance teams.