By Jen Kuo
If my journey has taught me anything, it would be that looking after your mental, emotional and physical health are the most important things you can do for yourself and for your business.
It took the experience of starting and running a business that wasn’t right for me, to realise the critical importance of good mental health. I emerged with the valuable knowledge of why it’s critical to prioritise yourself, and not neglect your own health and wellbeing.
Working hard in the wrong job and getting nowhere
I started my first business full time back in 2013 after quitting my soul sucking job. I was a newbie entrepreneur – learning about business, growing a business, feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, stressed, and eventually burned myself out.
I ended up building a business I didn’t enjoy because I didn’t know who I was, and was listening to everyone else’s opinions. I did things because I thought I “should” in order to become financially successful, because that’s how society has framed “success” for us.
Everything I did in business felt like pushing a boulder up the hill. Even though I worked extremely hard and pushed myself every day for years, I didn't have the financial success I desperately desired.
Because business didn't work out the way I wanted it to, and I couldn’t see myself working for someone else, I felt like a complete failure because I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with my life. “Work” was a big part of my identity. Without something to strive for, I felt completely lost, trapped and experienced depression and suicidal thoughts.
A turning point comes after seeking professional help
I was living with my parents at the time. They could tell something was wrong, but they didn’t know what to do. The thought of taking my own life has never crossed my mind up until that point. It made me realise that I was deeply depressed.
Even though I had my family around me, at times I didn’t feel like I had support. I didn’t know where to go or who to turn to. Before I was able to seriously consider possible solutions to my problem, I had to first admit to myself that I was depressed and needed help.
My sister was very concerned about me and suggested that I see a psychologist, so I went to the doctor and got a referral. I realised I had to be the one to seek help, because nobody else could do it for me. Nobody else lives in my head but me.
Being in business for a while meant I’d read a lot of business and personal development books, and seen a lot of information and programs. I knew about self-care, it wasn’t new to me. All the things I already knew I should do, turned out to be the same things my psychologist told me to do.
The only thing was; I was doing none of it! Knowing and doing are totally different things. Simply knowing is not enough. That was my “slap in the head” moment – I needed to actually do the work to look after myself and my mental health.
The importance of self-empowerment and inner work
Once the penny dropped, I started eating better, drinking more water, moving my body more, trying meditation, practicing positive affirmations and implementing gratitude exercises. Positive affirmations and gratitude practices were a game changer for me. Before 2015 I was oblivious to all the self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-judgement swimming in my head. I started to understand why I continued seeking external validation like building a successful business and chasing financial success in order to prove myself.
Once I became aware of the negative self-talk, I started practicing putting more positive thoughts in my head and eventually learned self-compassion and self-love. It’s the consistent practice of doing these basic things every day that helped me recover from depression.
The proudest achievement emerges from the hardest time
Having gone through this experience, I have learned a ton of valuable lessons and grown as a person. One of the most important things I’ve learnt is that I am the foundation of my business, and I will never be able to build a successful business if I don't work on myself first.
I’ve come to understand the importance of “inner work” – the willingness to face your demons and desire to grow yourself. I realised that 90% of business issues are actually personal issues like negative self-talk, not feeling worthy, comparing yourself to others, having the wrong definition of success, not listening to yourself and your intuition etc.
Because I have learned to integrate all these lessons and practices into my life, starting a new business now comes with more ease, and a lot less resistance because I feel aligned with who I am and the work I want to do in the world.
Going through years of darkness, feeling despondent about life and stumbling along my journey was exactly what I needed to grow. Because of what I went through, I’ve also developed so much more compassion and empathy – the “human skills” required in order to do the branding and marketing work I do to differentiate myself and stand out in the crowded marketplace.
Mental health and depression was something I never really understood until I experienced suicidal depression. I didn’t think that mental health was a big deal as I didn’t think of myself as a ‘negative person.’ I thought people could be told to “be positive!” and they would “snap out of it”. You actually don’t realise how hard it is to see the light until you lose yourself in the darkness.
Pulling myself out of depression, healing from the inside out and finding alignment is one of the proudest things I have done for myself.