Should You Get a Therapist or Executive Coach?

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Research shows entrepreneurship is a relentless and isolated venture, causing many entrepreneurs anxiety. So should you get a therapist? By Caitlin Roberson (Content Marketer)

For any tech entrepreneur, launching and successfully transitioning a company is the stuff of dreams. Much is required to get there, and many brilliant minds have divulged their qualified perspectives on how to skyrocket startup growth.

I credit such insight for helping me start a content marketing agency in 2011. Our national team partnered with 25 software enterprises, like Google and LinkedIn.

Together, we innovated to quantitatively influence revenue. The impact was powerful: Clear joined forces with Skyword in 2014. (The NYTimes’ acknowledgement still thrills me to read.)

While I am indebted to my entrepreneurial predecessors for sharing their secrets, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t admit that I’m constantly frustrated by a topical gap in the conversation: The potential of therapeutic guidance to unlock astronomical entrepreneurial potential — from mushrooming her affinity for strategic risk and to accelerating her creative genius.

Do Many Startup Founders go to Therapy?

The above subtitle is a question posed in one Quora discussion, where Robert Scoble of Rackspace says he knows many founders who have a therapist or executive coach. He admits to seeing a therapist himself, who partners with other entrepreneurs as well.

Research definitely shows entrepreneurship is a relentless and isolated venture, causing many entrepreneurs anxiety, particularly in tech. For this reason, in this post, I’ll share three simple lessons I gained and applied from the experience — in the hopes that they’ll inspire you to catalyze creativity and ignite courage in your own personal way, possibly with professional guidance.

3 Lessons in Entrepreneurship, Learned on ‘The Couch’

Four years ago, I got a divorce, started a company and got a therapist. I’ve seen “Dr. A” consistently since then, sometimes as often as four sessions a week. While that embarrassed me for a while, today I’m confident the process has enriched my life like nothing else.

(And yes, I recently tabulated what I’ve spent on the relationship, and the sum approximates the cost of a down-payment here in Silicon Valley.)

Below are three valuable lessons that have made the trade more than worthwhile.

Slow Down If You Want to Tap into Your Most Creative Genius

Entrepreneurs tend to skew Type-A. We calendar “Unstructured Time” and schedule appointments by optimized driving routes. Most of us would agree that Work-Life Balance is a Load of Crap.” Sometimes, that’s true. And at other times, it’s not.

Humans have two modes of thinking: fast and slow, and each corresponds to a type of creativity. Rapid thinking reflects automatic, sophisticated systems that our minds build, so we can be functioning members of society. This mode of processing information merely reorganizes ideas we already know. (Think of ‘inventing’ a toaster-oven that also slices your bread: It’s cool. The machine does two things at once. But it’s not an earth-changing invention.)

In contrast, thinking at leisure is what sparks Steve Job’s-style creativity — The kind that innovates a new status quo and bubbles up previously unimagined solutions, from sexy products, to inspired team collaboration exercises and go-to-market strategies. (Think iPad.)

As entrepreneurs, we live at breakneck speeds. It’s part of the fun. But when you periodically force yourself to slow down, to make time to process and reflect, you position yourself to truly innovate, and make significantly better business decisions.

Remember What You've Done

Many companies exist because of entrepreneurs’ tendency toward inherent dissatisfaction and insatiable curiosity. In many cases, the question “what if?” is a productive obsession.

But how often do entrepreneurs cross the line from being driven and having a vision — to making themselves miserable? Continuous learning and never-dying curiosity are chief attributes that the most successful leaders share, according to Warren Bennis — but so is reflecting on your experience, particularly when it comes to visualizing past and future success. Your brain, psychology research shows, literally can’t differentiate between an imagined thought and an actual experience.

While it can be easy for entrepreneurs to charge ahead, particularly in new situations, taking time to meditate on your approach before proceeding is often more effective. Visualize in detail what you want to create and gain. Remind yourself you’ve been in similar situations before, and meditate on how you can recreate success.

Get Away from Your Computer

While I realize this is an ironic lesson to share with an audience of technology professionals, this lesson is important.

Chances are, stepping away from your computer means you’ll go outside, and get some sun and Vitamin D. You’ll breathe. Move. Take a walk to refocus your energy. All are critical ingredients for the “Aha Moments” of creative fusion we seek at our desks. Letting your brain shut down for a while, actually lets it repair and process critical information — just like when we sleep.

The brain tends to seek out experiences that confirm what we already know, and technology is dangerous in this process: It gives us instant access to our status quo. But as Peter Thiel said in a 2014 Fortune interview, “The smartphones that distract us from our surroundings also distract us from the fact that our surroundings are strangely old.”

We can only innovate when we have to answer the questions “why?” and “what if?” on our own. How often do you shut your phone off, or better yet, leave it at home?

We’re in an era where creativity matters perhaps more than ever, because we actually have the resources to bring them alive. As technology has permeated silos, it’s opened the doors to untold potential, if you’re prepared to harness your entrepreneurial chops to act.

These lessons comprise a powerful force for igniting courage and creativity, and I hope begins to make a case for the possible business benefits of therapy for startup founders and CEOs.

Have you found therapy helpful to your entrepreneurial journey?

Photo credit: Pressmaster via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Brands sell with stories. That's why Caitlin Roberson is a storyteller first, tech entrepreneur second. Her first company helped brands like Google and LinkedIn craft powerful stories that sell, before joining Skyword. She swears by good coffee, dines only with fine wine, and paints whilst wearing a beret. The rest of the time, she’s at the gym or track, sprinting or lifting weights. Check her out on the Huffington Post!