Founder Wellness: What is it and why should you care?
Seven ways to consider what wellness means to you, your team, and your business
Leslie Campisi, Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC)
Wellness isn’t something you can buy. It’s not a treat, and it’s not just for women. Your sense of wellbeing is a fundamental building block in establishing your personal health. While it’s easy to think of health as the absence of illness, there’s a difference between not being sick and actually feeling good. But how do we get there? What makes us feel good? Wellness theory is rooted in positive psychology, a field that believes that in the right set of circumstances, anyone is capable of identifying what makes them feel well and working toward it.
Entrepreneurs make tons of sacrifices. In my experience working at startups, agencies, and in venture capital, the biggest sacrifice they make — and perhaps the one with the longest-term impact — is to their personal wellbeing. Founding teams are bombarded with messages that tell them the path to success involves much more than hard work and dedication. Family, sleep, relationships, finding time for exercise, or even a day off to unplug: these simple components of personal wellbeing are the first to fall to the wayside if an entrepreneur is “serious” about success.
I hold a different view. I believe that founders who prioritize their own wellness, and the wellbeing of their teams, will ultimately win. I also believe that, beyond a sparkling exit, the world will benefit in many other ways from the companies and products these healthy founders create. But to prioritize wellness in the startup community, we first need to define it so that we can talk about it openly and accessibly. If you are a venture-backed founder interested in exploring your own wellbeing, here are a few guideposts to get headed in the right direction.
Recognize that you have chosen a difficult path
Deciding to take on outside investment adds a whole new layer of stress and complexity to a business. Participating in the venture funding cycle means giving up freedom in terms of ownership and decision-making, which is difficult for many founders. It also means that you and your team will be asked to deliver incredible outcomes within short timeframes. Simply acknowledging these stressors and the limits they will put on your life and time is a great starting point.
Arm yourself with the tools you need to succeed
Entrepreneurs start new ventures because they spot opportunity spaces within the industries they know best. Still, they also have the chance to innovate when it comes to the type of operating structure and office environment they create. Under what circumstances do you do your best work? As you build your business, you can make sure that the organization supports your needs when it comes to the “how” of the work getting done. This could mean the location, lighting, office layout, sound level, and proximity to nature, as well as office hours, decision-making process, and governance structure.
Extend your commitment to wellness to others
If you only support the wellbeing of yourself and your leadership team, you run the risk of creating an unnecessary, and potentially divisive, double-standard within your business. If you’ve created a flexible schedule that allows you to take an exercise class in the middle of the day, find the budget to allocate toward coaching, or support your co-founder as they step away for the day, ask yourself what you might gain by extending this attitude to the rest of your organization.
Respect that what balances you is unique — there is no one true way
A common image used to visualize wellbeing is the wellness wheel, which is comprised of many different components that come together to establish someone’s unique sense of personal balance. Emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental, and spiritual factors all contribute to a sense of wellbeing. But what makes one person feel out-of-whack could be just what someone else needs to achieve peace. Understand and respect how personal the wellness equation is and the limitations of a single method, or policy, in this regard.
Surround yourself with others who take care of themselves (and you)
Look for teammates that have a solid sense of who they are and a realistic sense of how work at a startup fits into their life. I often see founders hiring employees who are, either by nature or performatively, high-stress and high-strung, as though perpetual worry is a sign that they take the job seriously. Your first hires will set the tone for the type of business you create, but so will your outside investors and advisors. Surround yourself with people who are great at their jobs but can also ground you in a crisis, lead lives you respect, and comfort you when things get tough.
Know where wellbeing ends and mental health begins
While attending to your own wellbeing through nutrition, movement, sleep, and other means positively impacts your mental health, it is not a cure-all. If you believe you or someone on your team is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness, seek out a therapist who is licensed to treat these problems. Wellness coaches and therapists often work together to set clients up for success — eliminating disease and building health simultaneously — and refer both ways to make sure you get the support you need.
Remind yourself that wellness is intersectional
One of the many important reasons wellness should be on the agenda for founders and VCs is because the stereotypical startup environment requires sacrifices that women, minorities, and BIPOC historically have not been able to make. If you are passionate about making DEI a cornerstone of your company, a human-centered workplace that puts employees’ wellbeing at its core will help build the inclusive culture you need to make diversity work long term.
One bright spot in all the changes to the way we work in 2020 is a renewed sense of possibility-that businesses can be distributed and still succeed, that the time lost commuting is time gained elsewhere, that there’s more to company culture than donuts and happy hours. As you consider the lessons to take forward, consider how you can make sure the choices you make keep mental health and wellbeing on the roadmap. And if you are struggling to balance your own wellness, know you’re not alone, and help is there if you need it.
About Leslie Campisi
Leslie Campisi, NBC-HWC, is a twenty-year veteran of the New York City technology scene. In addition to her ongoing work as a marketer and agency leader, Leslie’s passion for the people inside tech companies drove her to become a board-certified health and wellness coach. She most recently served as Chief Marketing Officer of fintech VC firm Anthemis. To learn more about Leslie’s coaching work, visit her Alma profile.