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In my early twenties, with just two months to go before I was to graduate from college with honors, I jumped off the deep end, head first.
While I had been trying to hide it, depression had been building for a while, my world growing darker and darker, until finally I decided that enough was enough. I attempted suicide, then subsequently found myself involuntarily committed into a psychiatric hospital.
In one fell swoop, I went from a bright young student, full of promise, to a full-blown basket case. I would spend the next two-and-a-half years in a blur of hospitals and self-destructive behavior, and ultimately make four more suicide attempts — the worst of which landed me in a coma on life support, with a less than 10 percent chance of waking up.
The doctors, to their credit, tried everything. Antidepressants. Anti-anxiety drugs. Anger therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Dialectical behavioral therapy. Group therapy. Individual therapy. Residential therapy. As a last resort, they even tried electroshock therapy.
I was a lost cause, and finally, they gave up, and sent me home to die. I was too depressed to care. By that point, I was a divorced, bankrupt college dropout who managed to alienate anyone who had ever cared about me. I had hit rock bottom.
But, by some miracle, I didn’t die.
Instead, those dark clouds that had been hanging over me for so long finally began to lift, and I very slowly began to pick up the pieces and put my life back together, one small — and sometimes painful — step at a time. It started with exercise — just a little. Then I managed to get an apartment, and then a job, and a dog. I started making new friends, and eventually went back to school to finish my degree, met the love of my life, got remarried and became a mom to two beautiful daughters.
And then, in 2010, almost 20 years to the day after jumping off the deep end, I found myself jumping off an entirely different cliff — entrepreneurship.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really intending to start a business, at least not at first. I was a stay-at-home mom to my two young kids, my husband and I were fighting a lot about money, and I was looking for something to do that didn’t involve going to Target. I had always liked to write, so I decided to start a blog about trying to live well and spend less.
As it turns out, it was a topic that resonated with a lot of people.
But, almost immediately after starting my blog, I discovered there are people out there who actually make money through their blogs, and I realized there was a whole new world of online entrepreneurship that I had never known about before.
I decided that if other people could do it, I could too.
I dove in head first, and set out to learn everything I possibly could about creating a successful online business. I tried a lot of different things, some that worked and some that didn’t. It was hard, and it was scary, and most of the time, I felt like I was just making it all up as I went along.
These days my company serves more than 1 million readers and earns me a healthy seven-figure income. I’ve written five bestselling books, created the Living Well Planner, and most recently, launched the Do It Scared podcast.
And every single day, I still feel like I am making it up as I go along.
But, that’s the thing about entrepreneurship — the very nature of it is scary, because so much of it is unknown. You have to take risks and try new things and take decisions that don’t always have a right answer. You have to be willing to make mistakes, and know that — sometimes more often than not — you are going to fail, and also know that those failures will ultimately be the source of your biggest lessons.
And while I wouldn’t wish depression on anyone, I’m also not at all sorry for those years I spent self-destructing. Because making it through that experience to the other side has taught me more about entrepreneurship and being a successful business owner than any business school ever could.
The first thing is to …
There’s nothing that teaches you compassion and humility like personal struggle, and I think that one of the most important things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that kindness is not weakness. The reality is that giving someone the benefit of the doubt, or extending grace even when it is undeserved, will only serve your business in the long run.
Take baby steps.
It’s easy to get frustrated when we feel like something isn’t happening fast enough, but often the most important thing you can do is just keep going. Small steps will eventually add up to big results, as long as you keep walking in the right direction.
Do it scared.
There will never be a time when you feel completely confident or comfortable, and that’s OK, because in the end, action is the only antidote to fear. Courage doesn’t mean you are never afraid; courage is simply being willing to take that next step.
Don’t give up.
In life or in business, there is no mistake so big that you can’t recover from it. No matter how bad you screw up, there is always a way to rise from the ashes, and the reality is that your biggest breakthroughs will always come from your biggest breakdowns, as long as you refuse to be defeated. Nothing in the world will ever take the place of persistence.
So just keep going.