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A startup's early days are brutal.
So It's sad and rarely surprising to hear about founders experiencing mental health issues or falling into deep vices. I was reminded of this on Thursday, when Justin Kan opened up about his struggles with addiction in a Business Insider op-ed.
Kan, 35, is the founder of Twitch -- a massively popular live-streaming video platform that sold to Amazon for $970 million in 2014. He's a former partner at Y Combinator, the legendary startup accelerator in Mountain View, California. His current venture Atrium, an automation company for law firms, has raised $75.5 million, according to Crunchbase.
In his op-ed, Kan writes that after a long history of drinking dating back to high school, he's quitting alcohol permanently:
As a young founder in high-stress situations, I often used alcohol to escape facing things. I've struggled with this for a long time, and while I think I've gotten better over time, I believe that this is the last thing preventing me from actualizing my 100 percent conscious self.
Normally I would keep this private, but I hope for two things here: One, to encourage others who have struggled the same way, and two, to hold myself publicly accountable to my personal commitment.
As I read Kan's story--his ups and downs, his problems and solutions--I was vividly reminded of one of Inc.'s most well-known and award-winning pieces, a 2013 article titled "The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship." The article laid bare many of the secret thoughts and insecurities shared by even the most successful founders: I'm in a massive amount of debt, and I haven't slept for months. I can't stop thinking about the employees I had to lay off. I'm overreacting to the smallest prompts.
"You can get into a startup mode, where you push yourself and abuse your body," psychiatrist and former entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman told Inc. at the time. "That can trigger mood vulnerability."
In other words, when your business is experiencing a series of ups and downs, you might find yourself emulating that roller-coaster. It's easy to spiral out of control--to think that asking for help is a sign of weakness instead of strength. This is when it's time to reframe the conversation: You are not the same as your business.
As Kan writes: "You can have all the success in the world and still be unhappy or engage in toxic behaviors (and you will not be alone). But it is never too late to make changes in your life. I wish you the very best in your journey."
Correction: This post has been updated since it first published to clarify that Kan is no longer with Y Combinator.