This past year has been one of the worst years of my life.
I haven't talked a lot about what made this previous year so awful, but after waking up this morning to the news of chef and television star Anthony Bourdain's suicide only days after the shocking news that Kate Spade, the famed fashion industry icon, had also taken her own life, I feel like maybe now is the right time to talk about the hell that often accompanies success.
First of all, let me clarify that I am by no means on the same plane of success as either of these two American icons who gained the affection and admiration of millions of people after rising to the greatest pinnacles of success within their own respective careers. I honestly can't speak to the unique struggles either of them might have faced because of their height of success or because of their own personal lives.
But I do know what it is like to have obligations and expectations drive someone to put on a brave face and pretend nothing is wrong, to push past breaking points and continue to carry loads that are unreasonable and even unbearable because there simply doesn't seem to be any other option. This burden of obligation is almost always the side effect of success.
To give you a little perspective on my own journey, it's probably helpful to know that ten years ago I was a stay-at-home mom who spent my days at home raising our three children, puttering in our garden, and volunteering at their schools.
Today I am the founder and CEO of APPCityLife, a tech company that creates cutting edge technology like blockchain solutions and virtual assistants for nonprofits and governments. Since launching our startup, I've raised almost $2 Million in venture capital and cofounded Hautepreneurs, an organization that helps other women entrepreneurs gain the skills, network and confidence they need to scale their own businesses.
To put it mildly, I have far exceeded my own expectations and those of pretty much everyone who knew me before I started on this entrepreneurial journey - and I am nowhere near ready to stop.
So, how in the middle of so much going right did enough happen to make last year one of the most difficult years of my life?
I've been asking myself that question a lot these past few days, and I'm pretty sure that the decisions that I made that led to such a hard year are very much in line with the kinds of sacrifices and choices that most founders have to make at some point while building their business.
I got tired and ignored it.
I said yes too often.
I got sick and ignored it.
When I ended up with pneumonia, I couldn't ignore it. But I didn't take as long as I should to recover. A few months later, I walked out of a conference in another city where I'd just finished speaking and called a cab to rush to Urgent Care. It was my second bout of pneumonia that year, and this time I had to get serious about getting better.
And just when I was back to normal, a single mosquito bite left me battling West Nile Encephalitis, a rare infection that causes brain inflammation and can lead to debilitating consequences and even death. I honestly feel quite fortunate that as bad the experience was, I didn't suffer any long term side effects.
I had to make some incredibly hard decisions about reducing my workload while still running a company. Anything that wasn't absolutely necessary to keep us moving forward had to be dropped for the time being.
I have never been more aware that the quality of individuals who you choose to build your business with can either make you or break you when things go wrong. I am beyond fortunate to have the kind of team that helped make us even stronger.
But I haven't talked a lot publicly about being so sick. Founders usually don't. We keep a brave face and push forward. But the weight of it all is sometimes hard to get past. I discovered I felt guilty that I'd been sick, even though it wasn't my fault. And that started to eat at my confidence. It took a while to get my mojo back, to feel like I was back in the full swing of things and confidently able to lead again.
As leaders, we push ourselves and believe that we can sacrifice our time, our health, our psyche - and that we can hold off the consequences long enough to achieve our goals. But this week's news has delivered a very serious wakeup call that taking care of ourselves, asking for help, talking about our struggles - they do not make us weak, they make it possible to get through the difficulties that all of us face in life.
It really is time we stopped acting like struggles never happen to people who've found some modicum of success - and time we started making it easier to talk about them and get the needed support to get through them. Because, really, that takes every bit as much courage as it does to do everything else that leads to success.