“No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness,” said Aristotle.
The Dark Side of Creativity
Creativity is like a double-edged sword. It’s no wonder that some of the greatest minds throughout history have been considered a bit “off.”
The entrepreneur is often represented as a go-getter with limitless ambition and an inventive mind. Over time, these innovators and risk-takers have shown a kind of fearlessness that many never experience. And throughout history, some of the most genius creators and thinkers have, less famously, struggled with mental illness.
Researchers at the University of California studied the link between entrepreneurship and mental illness. Their results don’t necessarily reveal the truth about entrepreneurial genius. Instead, they start an important conversation about the lesser-known dark side of the enlightened mind.
What’s on the other side of genius?
The Link Exists
The researchers found that 49% of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness (such as ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression, or anxiety) and about one third of entrepreneurs struggle with two or more mental illnesses.
By comparison, only about 32% of all adults in the United States report being diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses. The link is clear, but does correlation equal causation?
Strength In Weaknesses
Is it just coincidence that the most brilliant minds are sometimes the ones that struggle the most? Michael A. Freeman of the University of California doesn’t think so.
Psychologists agree that creative individuals are more genetically predisposed to mental illness, and it’s clear that creative people often go on to become entrepreneurs. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” notes Freeman.
Inherently An Entrepreneur?
The very behaviors that are symptoms of mental illness also seem to be the ones that help propel entrepreneurs along their fast-paced journeys. Could that explain how so many affected by mental illness end up in the entrepreneurship world?
The lows of depression might give way to smart solutions and ideas. A manic episode can sometimes enlighten. ADHD prompts fast decision-making. And combined, these struggles may incubate tremendous creativity that inspires would-be entrepreneurs to take a chance on their ideas.
It’s quite possible that mental illness and entrepreneurship are even more closely related than we’ve discovered. Scientists are currently doing studies on the genetic links between mental illness and entrepreneurial traits.
Psychologists like Michael Freeman from the University of California’s study above recommend that more research be done to further build the evidence of the link between mental illness and entrepreneurship.
Until then, entrepreneurs would be wise to take care of themselves wholly–physically and mentally–and accept that the very traits that make life seem unusually difficult at times are likely the same ones that allow them to stand out so brilliantly.