Successful entrepreneurship starts with having the right mindset, but what if your mind begins rebelling against you? We're finally talking more about depression and its prevalence among business leaders. Of equal weight is OCD, or obsessive compulsive disorder, a detail-focused mental challenge that affects entrepreneurial leaders including VC Brad Feld.
Liz Funk talks to entrepreneurs about how to manage OCD in their organizations and even within themselves. I asked her about her own struggles, her upcoming project and why now is the time to talk more about the disorder.
What is the absolute number one misconception the general public has about OCD?
People think OCD is visible. We picture people washing their hands repeatedly or living in houses where everything is antiseptic and arranged just so. But for a lot of people with OCD, it's invisible to the outside world.
If you have OCD and it latches onto the idea that your emails 'could' have typos in them, you're going to spend a lot of time in your outbox, re-reading your sent emails, but getting very little relief doing so. What's so interesting about treating OCD is that the solution isn't 'Stop checking your emails for typos. Stop thinking about it.' Instead, it is to accept that, like most people, you had a potential typo that you missed.
How has the perception of OCD changed over the course of your career?
This is a new career for me. I've always been a writer. Earlier this year, I launched my coaching and speaking practice to help others with OCD. I'm want to start a much larger cultural dialogue about how people can be nonreactive when worries and intrusive thoughts pop into their heads and conserve their mental energy for what matters most.
So I'm not very privy to changes, per se, but I'm hoping to make some.
It took me years to truly embrace my interest in tech and intimacy, as, unlike today, it was considered an odd combination when I started my career. At what point did you commit to making your very personal connection to OCD a part of your core business mission?
OCD comes at a high cost. It really interrupts peoples' lives. I was 24 when I was diagnosed and I considered myself having gotten 'back to normal' a few months before I turned 27. I spent some prime years of my twenties half-living, half-worrying. I also don't think it's a coincidence that someone (me) who has this mysterious, widely misunderstood disease is a communications professional. I feel really called to educate others about OCD and help people who think they may have OCD find the tools and resources they need.
What are some smart strategies to manage OCD, particularly for entrepreneurs like ourselves who have intense, often stressful schedules?
The most important thing is being able to observe your thoughts. Not every thought we think is automatically true. It's somewhat rare when something we've worried about actually becomes a problem. So, instead of participating in worry and negative thoughts, observe them.
Becoming more comfortable with uncertainty is critical. The human brain abhors uncertainty, and people with OCD have an especially low tolerance for uncertainty. The more people can adopt a mindset of, 'Okay, if it happens, I'll deal with it,' the better off they'll be.
Focus on this moment, do your best work in this moment, and don't drain your valuable energy solving problems that haven't happened.
How does your upcoming project, Tell the Story You Want to Live. Live the Story You Want to Tell, fit into your mission?
It's a topic that I've been interested in for a long time: How do the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, influence our lives? If we tell ourselves a negative story, do we have the power to change it? How can we change it, and really seal it in?
I've been wanting to write another book; in 2009, Simon and Schuster published my first book, Supergirls Speak Out, and it was thrilling experience. I don't feel quite ready to write a book about OCD, as maintaining the website, blogging and speaking is really working for me right now.
Tell the Story You Want to Live. Live the Story You Want to Tell is related in the sense that my mission statement is to help people be happier by befriending their minds. Simple as that. If you make friends with your mind, life gets a lot easier.
If you were to speak to every entrepreneur on the planet, then what is the one thing you'd like them to know?
Probably the greatest threat to your sense of safety and the health of your business is the thoughts that you have about yourself and your future. If we were are able to trust in our skills and abilities, work hard and generally plan for everything to work out great, we'd save so much mental energy. We would probably also see our businesses grow and thrive, and see our lives become easier.