“As a creator, you will metaphorically relive many of the childhood memories you never wanted to think about again. Entrepreneurship forces us to resurface and process those old stories of not being good enough. Of being too small to move the needle. Of being unworthy of a seat at the table. But it’s all good — because this time, there are enough seats at the lunch table and you are big enough to fight the monsters in the closet.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Carson, a thought-leader in entrepreneur psychology with a background in startups, venture capital, psychology, yoga, and mindfulness. She started her career as a Neuroscience & Psychology Research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), before entering the world of startups and venture capital. With a passion for psychology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, she is now an intrapreneur at American Psychological Association (APA). Jessica is the founder of ColorfulCortex where she writes and speaks about the psychology of creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
It’s a wonky one! But like so many creators, my path unfolded in a serendipitous way to offer me the diverse experiences and perspectives I now fuse every day. My whole life I’ve poked at the question: What makes this person tick? I started my career as a Psychology & Neuroscience Research Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, but fate — or twenty-something squirliness — had other ideas. Around that time I started to get my first taste of entrepreneurship and I was hooked. I found the novelty, risk-taking, energy, and magnetic pull of creators contagious. So I made a huge leap of faith into the world of startups, and it was the best decision of my life. From startups, I moved into venture capital where I had the opportunity to meet thousands of entrepreneurs and develop my theories about their behavior. To bridge all my worlds, I’m now an Intrapraneur at the American Psychological Association. All of these experiences, combined with my love of mindfulness and yoga, led me to my true passion of creator psychology. I now write and speak on the emotional, relational, energetic lives of entrepreneurs — and why it’s so important to harness their potent superpowers to keep them emotionally and physically well.
Can you share an interesting story that happened to you since you started your work?
When I was in venture capital, I was fixated on the psychology of the entrepreneurs we worked with. People would tell me I was Wendy Rhoades from Billions — which was the ultimate compliment! And it didn’t take a degree in psychology to recognize the epidemic of emotional and physical ailments disrupting these “disruptors.” But when you’re sitting on the other side of the table, there’s often an impenetrable wall between the creator and their potential persecutor, be that a VC, a customer, or the press. Entrepreneurs are tremendous impression managers, so you rarely get the real story of their inner lives. I would have my instincts and intuitions about their struggles, but there were a lot of peacock feathers and masks blocking the view. Now that I’m far removed from VC and focused on creator psychology, the flood walls have cracked. I’ve received an outpouring of enthusiasm and solidarity from creators who want a practical handbook to help them work through their brilliantly nuanced psychology.
What do you think makes your work stand out?
My approach to creator psychology is from a place of fullness, not of lack. I believe creators self-select based on an intrinsic set of superpowers — they are energetically potent, inherently influential, naturally intuitive, and surprisingly empathic. They propel themselves into the world with nothing more than the force of their own intention. The only commonality in the creator job description is that they manifest something from nothing. That’s unbelievably power-full. So when the creator experiences an emotional or physical breakdown — anxiety, depression, illness, fatigue, addiction, obsession, and the like — it’s simply these superpowers being channeled in the wrong direction. With great power comes great responsibility, and creators can absolutely learn to direct their potency for maximum potential.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The bravest thing you can do is transform your struggle and give it away as a lesson for others. It’s a beautiful conservation of energy — to transmute your lessons into an equal and opposite catalyst for growth. I wouldn’t be able to write and teach without having experienced these struggles myself. What is most personal is most universal, but it takes stomach-churning courage to be publicly vulnerable. Whenever I wish I didn’t have to experience quite as much tough stuff, I remind myself that I can now teach with intense empathy and knowing. There’s a lot of goodness in that.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You’re Going to Be Out of Control (Almost) All the Time
Entrepreneurship is all about creating in a place of potentiality — a state of uncertainty with limited information, a high degree of risk, and little to no precedent. This lack of control can create a lot of resistance for many creators who are perfectionistic by design. The most successful entrepreneurs learn to loosen the grips on control, put the breaks on expectation and anticipation, relax the hypervigilance, and rely heavily on trust in themselves. The magic comes when you figure out what you can control and how to surrender the rest.
- Don’t Be a Helicopter Parent — Create Boundaries
It’s natural for your company or initiative to be your baby. But like a parent without healthy boundaries, insecure attachment can breed a lot of anxiety and unrest. If your contentment is entirely dependent on the daily wins or losses of your company, you’re going to have a lot of sleepless nights. Create healthy boundaries so you can shake (some) of it off when you leave the office at the end of the day.
- You Will Relive (and Heal) Most of Your Worst Childhood Memories
As a creator, you will metaphorically relive many of the childhood memories you never wanted to think about again. Entrepreneurship forces us to resurface and process those old stories of not being good enough. Of being too small to move the needle. Of being unworthy of a seat at the table. But it’s all good — because this time, there are enough seats at the lunch table and you are big enough to fight the monsters in the closet.
- Your Intuition is Your Best Friend.
Get in touch with that intuition! It will be your saving grace when you’re at an impasse, making a difficult decision, or surrounded by people with opinions that don’t serve you. You can strengthen the WiFi connection with your intuition through practices like meditation, emotional awareness, creative expression, and movement.
- Work Hard (But Don’t Over-Glorify Busy) & Be Nice
Your energy is your currency — your efforts won’t go far if your intentions aren’t pure. They also won’t go far if you burn yourself out. Don’t create false competitions. Don’t judge someone else’s journey. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t convince yourself you’re too busy to recharge your battery. Don’t be a jerk.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Not to state the obvious, but Arianna Huffington! I’ve hungrily read her books, admiringly watched her journey, and been captivated by her emotional intelligence, empathy, grace, and sensitivity to the wellbeing of creators.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.