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Three Ways To Fight The Stigma Of Mental Illness

People struggling with mental illness, from the mildest and most routine to the intractable and utterly devastating, are also burdened by the stereotypes and prejudices of stigmatization. The stigma of mental illness interferes with getting needed care and causes social isolation and alienation. This is not how things should be. Instead, people with emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems, regardless of whether the causes are external traumas or circumstances, internal events, or some combination, should be given the same respect and access to treatment as someone dealing with a mild sprain, a flu, or a life-threatening cancer. Healthcare should be healthcare. But it’s not. And stigmatization is largely to blame.

Everyone has a stake in fighting stigmatization. With around 1 in 5 Americans suffering from a mental illness over the course of a year, chances are pretty good you either are, have been, or are close to someone bearing the burden by stigma. The fight to reduce that burden really should involve everyone. So, after some context, I want to talk about three ways anyone can join the fight.

The context of stigma

Regardless of good intentions, people tend to perceive anyone whose psychological problems are worse than one’s own as “them” and not “us.” They are “other.” For the really serious problems there tends to be a perception of people as dangerous and deserving social isolation; we should “lock ‘em up!” People with milder conditions often confront a “weak-not-sick” attitude; they should “just get over it.”

These stereotypes help create social and emotional distance between the stigmatizing and the stigmatized. By creating this distance people can nurture the comforting fiction that instead of a fine line there’s a large gap between the mentally ill (them!) and the mentally well (us, whew!!). But that’s a myth. The line is very fine. They is us.

Sure, people differ in how psychologically resilient they may be, just like how people differ in how physically resilient they may be. But the fundamental reality about mental illness is that it can, and often does, happen to anyone. The social and emotional distance people create is just a way to avoid the anxious-making reality that things like depression, anxiety, emotional dysregulation, behavioral disorders, and the rest can strike anyone. Just like with physical illnesses where a wayward cell or pathogen can strike anyone, mental illness can strike anyone anywhere. We take illusory comfort from the distance stigma creates.

Stigma is insidious. A recent experience from my clinical practice illustrates the burden of stigmatization people with a mental illness must carry. A young man shows up at the ER complaining of an unusual set of symptoms: nausea, trembling, tingling in his legs, numbness around his mouth, and weakness in his hands. He also had an extensive history of mental illness, although he was psychiatrically asymptomatic at the time of this visit and doing very well.

But after the ER doc learned of this history, he quickly sent the patient home with a vague reassurance not worry since it was probably just a panic attack. Of course, it wasn’t. Happily he’s now under the care of an excellent neurologist and making progress. But this episode shows stigma’s insidious influence in stark relief.

Stigmatization is also pervasive. It has a broad social reach. Just consider the marketing campaigns of companies like Talkspace and Betterhelp who broke into the mental health marketplace with promises of anonymous therapy. Leaving aside the problem that anonymous therapy violates various codes of professional ethics, the promise of anonymity as an initial marketing ploy both builds on and enhances the stigmatization against which we should all be fighting.

It cynically trades on the pervasiveness of stigmatization, otherwise it wouldn’t work. What they did is like confronting racial bigotry by saying people should just try to pass or telling a gay person they should stay in the closet. Anonymity validates the prejudice that one should keep secret one’s struggles with mental health.

The fact that this marketing ploy appealed to so many, and it did, also highlights what’s called in the literature “self-stigma.” That’s the term used to refer to the fact that people internalize stigmatization so that it functions as an obstacle to seeking help and therefore as a magnifier of suffering. For example, one study of college students showed that the more people perceive stigma operating in the world the more they blame themselves for having problems and the more they resist seeking care. Other people’s prejudices about mental illness became their attitudes toward their own suffering and towards seeking help.

There’s actually lots more to say about stigma. There’s even an official APA journal specifically on the topic: Stigma and Health. But hopefully this has been enough to activate interest and maybe motivate at last some action. At least I hope you agree the fight against stigma is worth some attention. Here are three things anyone can do to join the fight.

Support an organization

There are lots of organizations taking the fight to stigma, both generally and for specific communities, like groups fighting the stigma on mental health care that exists in Asian American communities.. A great way to lessen the burden stigma imposes is by finding an organization that resonates with you and then supporting it.

But be careful, you don’t want to get caught in the paradox of choice so you end up doing nothing. Don’t over think. Instead, dive in and be helpful. Whether you donate money or time, or express support in some way, find an organization that speaks to you and support it.

Here are two stigma-fighting organizations I support.

The first is a group called “Phd Balance.” Graduate student mental health is their focus. Their mission is to show that students pursuing advanced academic degrees who are, quoting their mission statement, “dealing with mental health issues are NOT less capable, are NOT less intelligent, are NOT less creative, are NOT failures … [they] might just need support and a different set of tools.”

They pursue this mission by creating spaces where mental health issues can be openly and safely discussed and by curating resources that can be useful for those pursing both an advanced degree and a healthy balance in their lives. As a former graduate student myself, and someone who now treats and works with several people pursuing doctorates, this groups resonates with my interests and values. So, I want to help them achieve their goals. They have my support.

The other organization is The Ride for Mental Health. Started by an attorney, Malcom (“Mac”) Dorris who lost his son to an intractable and ultimately fatal mental illness, this event is a two day bike-ride through the Hudson Valley in New York. Its mission is both to raise funds for research (McLean Hospital’s research programs being the current beneficiary) and, quoting their mission statement, “to end the stigma surrounding mental illness through education and awareness.” I’ve ridden all three years of this growing event and am already looking forward, and spreading the work, about next year’s ride. Not only is it a wonderful ride on gorgeous roads, participation is a way to do good by having fun.

Tell your story

Stigma lives in darkness, in shame. Bringing stories of struggle into the light weakens it. The social distance and self-stigma that comes from the “them not us” myth can’t survive people telling the story of how they, or their loved ones, experienced emotional suffering. Truth destroys stigma.

Truth telling is actually how Phd Balance began. Its efforts to “increase visibility and awareness for students and to let those struggling know they are not alone” began with Susanna Harris, the founder and a graduate student in microbiology, telling her story of depression and anxiety in a moving video monologue. Sinking into a depression after an academic setback, she spoke up about the experience rather than hiding in silence. Phd Balance grew out of her courage and she has inspired many more to do the same.

I also had an email exchange with Mac Dorris from The Ride for Mental Health about this. He told me that after his son Eric died he “suddenly had a key to everyone else’s story or stories about mental illness.” He recounted being at a business dinner and telling Eric’s story to a new business associate who “responded by telling me that he lost his brother years earlier under very similar circumstances.”

He also shared a story about a colleague of his who had previously lost a son to what was called an unusual heart aliment. When he called Mac to express condolences for Eric’s death “I told him that I was sorry I had joined the club of having a kid pre-decease us. He then explained that his son didn’t die from the heart ailment but from an accidental overdose and that he suffered with mental illness.”

Stories brought to light reduce shame. And one person’s story really can be the key to unlock someone else’s story from the shackles of shame and stigma.

Stop perpetuating it

This one is simple; don’t make things worse. If you insult someone by saying they’re “crazy” or “nuts” you’re inadvertently perpetuating stigma. Same when you judge someone to be “less than” because you found out they’ve been in therapy of years and years. There’s even research showing that even benign, diagnostically accurate labels result in harsher, more negative judgements.

Unfortunately, mental illness is frequently used to explain bad behavior. Instead of describing a mass shooter as a murderer with too easy access to weapons of war, we make them into mental patients as though the illness explains the evil. It doesn’t, any more than one could say someone became a mass murderer because of their diabetes.

We have a particularly pernicious version of this these days. During the Trump presidency mental health professionals have unfortunately fallen into the stigma-supporting trap of explaining his bad behavior with a diagnosis. I firmly believe there are many things that make him unfit for the office such as his racism, history of sexual predation, constant dishonesty, science denial, invitations for Russian election interference and subsequent obstruction, family separations, and historical ignorance, especially about immigration, to name a few.

Just this week he stood in front of an audience of 9/11 first responders and lied about his participation. Of course, your politics may be such that you do not think such reasons disqualify him. OK, difference of opinion. But saying those qualities are symptoms of a mental illness will not convince anyone of his unfitness. I believe the reality is that a mental illness is not what is making him unfit for the office, anymore than someone with a mental illness is unfit to be a lawyer, a plumber, a teacher or any other job or profession. What makes him unfit is how he does what he does, a constellation of evil actions that spells the end of the American experiment. I believe we should not insult people with mental illness by implying it is illness rather than his dishonorable actions that make him unfit for his office. Doing so merely supports the stigma.

And always remember, they is us.

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I’m a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst. For 20 plus years I’ve been practicing on 12th Street, around the corner from what used to be the Forbes Building and right in the middle of New York’s digital revolutions. Having written for professional audiences and become a not infrequent source (e.g., Wired, New York, NY Times, The Today Show) I decided to put my ideas out there myself. First at True/Slant, then Psychology Today, and now at Forbes, my “beat” includes clinical insights and research developments useful for building an authentically good life in our increasingly complex and technologically-mediated world, along with identifying those choices that promise more than they can deliver. Along with my full-time private practice I’m a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute.

Source: Three Ways To Fight The Stigma Of Mental Illness

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Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid

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Editors’ Note: Following the huge popularity of this post, article source Amy Morin has authored a guest post on exercises to increase mental strength here and Cheryl Conner has interviewed Amy in a Forbes video chat about this article here.

For all the time executives spend concerned about physical strength and health, when it comes down to it, mental strength can mean even more. Particularly for entrepreneurs, numerous articles talk about critical characteristics of mental strength—tenacity, “grit,” optimism, and an unfailing ability as Forbes contributor David Williams says, to “fail up.”

However, we can also define mental strength by identifying the things mentally strong individuals don’t do. Over the weekend, I was impressed by this list compiled by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker,  that she shared in LifeHack. It impressed me enough I’d also like to share her list here along with my thoughts on how each of these items is particularly applicable to entrepreneurs.

1.    Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves. You don’t see mentally strong people feeling sorry for their circumstances or dwelling on the way they’ve been mistreated. They have learned to take responsibility for their actions and outcomes, and they have an inherent understanding of the fact that frequently life is not fair. They are able to emerge from trying circumstances with self-awareness and gratitude for the lessons learned. When a situation turns out badly, they respond with phrases such as “Oh, well.” Or perhaps simply, “Next!”

2. Give Away Their Power. Mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them feel inferior or bad. They understand they are in control of their actions and emotions. They know their strength is in their ability to manage the way they respond.

3.    Shy Away from Change. Mentally strong people embrace change and they welcome challenge. Their biggest “fear,” if they have one, is not of the unknown, but of becoming complacent and stagnant. An environment of change and even uncertainty can energize a mentally strong person and bring out their best.

4. Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control. Mentally strong people don’t complain (much) about bad traffic, lost luggage, or especially about other people, as they recognize that all of these factors are generally beyond their control. In a bad situation, they recognize that the one thing they can always control is their own response and attitude, and they use these attributes well.

5. Worry About Pleasing Others. Know any people pleasers? Or, conversely, people who go out of their way to dis-please others as a way of reinforcing an image of strength? Neither position is a good one. A mentally strong person strives to be kind and fair and to please others where appropriate, but is unafraid to speak up. They are able to withstand the possibility that someone will get upset and will navigate the situation, wherever possible, with grace.

6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks. A mentally strong person is willing to take calculated risks. This is a different thing entirely than jumping headlong into foolish risks. But with mental strength, an individual can weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly, and will fully assess the potential downsides and even the worst-case scenarios before they take action.

7. Dwell on the Past. There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences—but a mentally strong person is able to avoid miring their mental energy in past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their energy in creating an optimal present and future.

8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. We all know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when we take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than we’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of spectacularly successful executives and entrepreneurs.

9. Resent Other People’s Success. It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.

10. Give Up After Failure. Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.

11. Fear Alone Time. Mentally strong people enjoy and even treasure the time they spend alone. They use their downtime to reflect, to plan, and to be productive. Most importantly, they don’t depend on others to shore up their happiness and moods. They can be happy with others, and they can also be happy alone.

12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything. Particularly in the current economy, executives and employees at every level are gaining the realization that the world does not owe them a salary, a benefits package and a comfortable life, regardless of their preparation and schooling. Mentally strong people enter the world prepared to work and succeed on their merits, at every stage of the game.

13. Expect Immediate Results. Whether it’s a workout plan, a nutritional regimen, or starting a business, mentally strong people are “in it for the long haul”. They know better than to expect immediate results. They apply their energy and time in measured doses and they celebrate each milestone and increment of success on the way. They have “staying power.” And they understand that genuine changes take time. Do you have mental strength? Are there elements on this list you need more of? With thanks to Amy Morin, I would like to reinforce my own abilities further in each of these areas today. How about you?

Cheryl Snapp Conner is a frequent speaker and author on reputation and thought leadership. You can subscribe to her team’s bi-weekly newsletter, The Snappington Post, here.

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I am an entrepreneur and communications expert from Salt Lake City and founder of SnappConner PR. I am the author of Beyond PR

 

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/11/18/mentally-strong-people-the-13-things-they-avoid/#2bd3b0056d75

How An Outsider In Alzheimer’s Research Bucked The Prevailing Theory & Clawed For Validation – Sharon Begley

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Robert Moir was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. The Massachusetts General Hospital neurobiologist had applied for government funding for his Alzheimer’s disease research and received wildly disparate comments from the scientists tapped to assess his proposal’s merits. It was an “unorthodox hypothesis” that might “fill flagrant knowledge gaps,” wrote one reviewer, but another said the planned work might add little “to what is currently known……..

Read more: https://www.statnews.com/2018/10/29/alzheimers-research-outsider-bucked-prevailing-theory/

 

 

 

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YouTube Stars Are Being Accused of Profiting Off Fans’ Depression – Taylor Lorenz

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Some of YouTube’s biggest stars have found themselves embroiled in controversy over videos that critics say allow them to profit off fans struggling with depression. Over the past year, mental health and burnout have become big topics in the YouTube community. Stars like Philip DeFranco and Shane Dawson have posted heartfelt videos about their struggles with depression, encouraging fans to get help with their own issues…….

Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/10/youtube-stars-accused-of-profiting-off-depression-betterhelp-shane-dawson-phillip-defranco-elle-mills/572803/

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Inherited Trauma Shapes Your Health – Olga Khazan

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Often when I complain to my therapist about how stressed out I am by a problem I’m having, she says a variation on the same thing: “Well, like all Ashkenazi, you have a lot of inter generational trauma. You know, because of everything that’s … happened.”The effects on longevity showed up for the sons of men who were imprisoned in 1863 and 1864, when conditions in POW camps were especially bad. Crowding was extreme—each man was said to have had a grave’s worth of square footage to himself—and deaths from diarrhea and scurvy were common…….

Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/10/trauma-inherited-generations/573055/

 

 

 

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High-Tech Parkinson’s Therapy With A Powerful Consumer Touch

Via: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnnosta/2018/07/27/high-tech-parkinsons-therapy-with-a-powerful-consumer-touch/

 

 

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The Hard Truth About Mental Health — My Life with PTSD & Bipolar

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This is how being bipolar 2 feels like. You don’t know what’s coming. It’s a Rollacoaster but how far will I drop? Will I be able to handle it like a mature adult or will I yell and scream. I hope not. The hard truth about mental illness. It’s hard to fix yourself. I experienced […]

via The Hard Truth About Mental Health — My Life with PTSD & Bipolar

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Mental Health or Mental Illness? — How I Killed Betty!

I dislike the terms ‘Mental Heath’ and/or ‘Mental Illness’. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement. For me, simply using the word ‘mental’ immediately brings images to my mind of the mental asylums of old, with padded cells, beds with wide leather straps and children being torn from the arms of their mothers. The film […]

via Mental Health or Mental Illness? — How I Killed Betty!

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Living Empathy, Active Listening are Keys To Understanding Those Thinking of Suicide – Carolina Living

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Suicide is a tough topic. It has been in the headlines recently with the passing of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. The topic has spurred much debate on mental health awareness and reform. I understand it is a sensitive issue and challenging for many to talk about.

However, I am not one to shy away from a challenge. Recent figures from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention list suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. 44,965 Americans pass away from suicide each year. The state of North Carolina accounts for 1,373 of those deaths, making our state 38th in the national ranking.

Being we are in a military community, the harrowing figure released by Veterans Affairs states veterans are at a 22 percent higher risk for dying by suicide than non-veteran adults. I also want to make note of this since “Raising Healthy Minds” primarily focuses on youth, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for individuals 15 to 34 here in NC. What can we do individually and as a community to help prevent this tragedy?

While there is no convenient solution, there are attainable ones. The main point to drive home is that suicide is the final symptom in depression and other mental health struggles. It should not be thought of as a selfish or attention-seeking act. People who die from suicide typically feel isolated, overwhelmed or like they are out of options.

A myriad of factors including past mental health history, access to treatment and amount of support all contribute to whether someone may succumb to it. To help you be able to identify if someone may be at risk, here are a few warning signs:

  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Talking about feeling trapped or hopeless
  • Searching for methods through print or online

People can be very good at hiding these symptoms and putting on a happy mask. These symptoms can often linger on for months or years before a person actually starts planning to take their life. However, taking time to really be observant and have deep conversations with those you see are struggling can bring their true thoughts and feelings to light. Listen and do not insert your opinions or advice.

Let them reveal what is going on and then start to guide them to resources that can help. Suicide is a very serious mental health concern and reporting it can lead to a person being hospitalized Only take immediate action such as calling 911 or other emergency services if you suspect the person has immediate plans. If you do, however, do not hesitate to act. You could save a life.

The good news is that treatment is available. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medications and rehabilitation from any substance abuse are all some ways suicidal thoughts and ideations can be addressed and resolved. While the road to recovery can be long, it is reachable. Together, we can address and overcome this horrible phenomenon.

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A Few Thoughts For Entrepreneurs Wrestling With Depression – Chris Myers

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This has been a hard week for those of us who care deeply about depression and the people who wrestle with it.

Both entrepreneur/designer Kate Spade and chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain took their own lives this week, leaving many to wonder why people who seemed to have it all would go to such lengths.

If I’ve learned anything during my entrepreneurial journey, it’s that people who have ambition, vision, and big dreams tend to suffer from what author Nassir Ghaemi calls “A first-rate madness.” The genius is often offset by battles with personal demons.

That there is a link between creativity and mental illness is known to some extent, details regarding that link are mostly unknown.

Entrepreneurs are, if nothing else, creators. They thrive on the unknown and live to create something out of nothing. With that drive, however, comes an increased risk of depression and mental illness.

While I don’t claim to know precisely what happened in these particular cases, I do know that the stresses of living a high-profile, creative, or entrepreneurial can take their toll on people, both physically and emotionally.

I want to be very clear about one thing. I don’t have all the answers. Like everyone else, I’m just trying to find my way in a complicated and challenging world.

I have, however, learned a few things along my personal entrepreneurial and creative journey that have helped me navigate challenging situations, particularly in regards to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Let’s be honest about the difference between mental illness and circumstance

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is that there is a stark difference between mental illness and the shared human response to challenging circumstances with which we are forced to deal.

For so long there was a stigma associated with mental illness, and people were afraid to entertain the idea that they might be suffering from its effects. Fortunately, this stigma is starting to give way to a more honest and understanding view of the matter. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, you have to ask yourself “Have I suffered from panic, anxiety, or depression my whole life, or is this something new?”

If you find that your feelings and sufferings are part of a larger pattern, please don’t be afraid to talk to a medical professional.

In many cases, anxiety and other symptoms are biological. No matter what you try to do, or how you try to cope, you won’t be able to run away from the underlying biological problem. There are, fortunately, solutions and treatments out there that can help.

If what you’re experiencing is relatively new for you, there’s a reasonable chance that it is mostly circumstantial. This is where I can offer some insight, having dealt with this type of emotional stress firsthand.

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Keep things in perspective

A few years ago, Business Insider published a great article about the depression epidemic in the startup community. According to the article, only 7% of the general population report suffering from depression, but a whopping 30% of founders report dealing with its effects.

That statistic is staggering but entirely believable.

Entrepreneurship is an intensely personal journey, and it’s incredibly difficult to separate your identity from the business that you’re trying to create. Soon, business setbacks (of which there are many) seem like personal setbacks, and depression can quickly take root.

The key is always to strive to keep things in perspective. Life, like business, is a journey full of ups and downs.

When talking to entrepreneurs and other creatives going through tough times, I often encourage them to think back to high school. For most of us, there were moments in our high school lives that seemed to be monumentally crucial that in retrospect seem childish.

At the time, of course, the pain and anxiety that you experienced were real and raw. However, the more distance you gain from the situation, the less painful it becomes.

While the problems that you’re facing right here and right now may seem insurmountable, it’s important to realize these too will pass and fade in time.

Entrepreneurs have to accept the fact that the odds are stacked against their success. Most new business ventures fail, and even those that are eventually successful take a long time to get off the ground.

Setbacks will outnumber successes, and there’s a good chance that most days will be stressful. That’s the game we chose to play and the ability to embrace these realities is what makes us entrepreneurs.

Still, when challenges pile up, it’s easy to feel like the world is ending and that we’re failures. I recently had lunch with a good friend who was in the process of shuttering his third startup in seven years.

During our conversation, I reminded him that in his brief career to date, he’s accomplished more than the vast majority of people do in decades.

His pedigree and experience put him in the top one percent of people in his age group, and, as a result, his opportunities are vast. Sure, the latest venture didn’t work out, but he can and will live to fight another day.

Wherever you’re at this point in your life, there is an excellent chance that your current endeavor will not be your last. In fact, many of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world hit their stride on the second or third attempt.

Consider the case of Mark Cuban. Before he struck it big by selling his business to Yahoo, Cuban had a string of failures.  After failing as a cook, carpenter, and even a waiter he remarked, “I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you failed. You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all.”

The lesson here is that there are second (and third and fourth) acts in life, and it’s important to remember that whenever you encounter failure.

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Don’t be afraid to get help

I’m fortunate in the sense that I have a fantastic support network I can call on when I need help. My family and friends are always there when I need them, whether it’s to listen to my struggles or to lend a hand.

Not everyone is as lucky. Entrepreneurs need to be able to reach out and get help when they need it. This can be difficult in a world where everyone feels the need to be “crushing it” all the time. Asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness, which leads to people merely keeping their difficulties to themselves.

We in the entrepreneurial and creative communities need to change this mentality. People should feel free to get help without the fear of judgment, and it’s going to take a few strong influencers to initiate the change.

I know a few people in the industry who care about this deeply, including Structure Capital (a team of high-profile venture investors based out of San Francisco), but more are needed. There are good people out there who want to help. It’s just a matter of having the courage to reach out.

There will be bumps, setbacks, and even catastrophic failures on any worthwhile journey, but remember that you’re not alone. Keep your challenges in perspective and live to fight another day.

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