Super Cities №223—Why Silicon Valley Needs Family

Brendan Hart

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an important article describing the all-encompassing mental, emotional, and psychological toll that building a company takes on its founder.

The article describes a research study showing how entrepreneurs are 50% more likely than their peers to develop mental health conditions. Drug abuse, depression, and insomnia are common.

It goes on to describe how successful founders use “hacks” to manage their mental health.

Kimbal Musk, Elon’s brother, slow-scrambles eggs as a form of morning meditation. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s former CEO, does CrossFit and handstands. Mark Pincus — who likened founding Zygna to being a “war general” — runs triathlons and goes surfing. Rebecca Alonzi goes on “barefoot hikes.”

California has slow-scrambled eggs, handstands, and barefoot hikes, but it is easy to imagine the Wall Street mix of gambling, strip clubs, and all-nighters.

What I find interesting about this article, though, is what the entrepreneurs didn’t say.

No one said that they go on a date with their spouse, or hike with their kids, or retreat to their parents’ home for a weekend of movies and mom’s cooking. Not one of them mentioned family. Not how stress impacts their families nor how family is where they turn to for love and support.

I just finished a great book on Elon Musk. His extraordinary path — from immigrant to multi-billionaire founder of two-generational companies — is littered with disregarded relationship. Family is no exception. At one point, Musk casually mentions that he would like to die alone on Mars; his then-wife and five kids would stay in California.

Community, however one defines it, serves a similar role to family. Both provide support, perspective, and groundedness.

The inverse is also true. Lack of community causes isolation. Research says that isolated people are unhealthy and die younger.

If billionaire founders cannot take the time to retreat to the regenerative support and protection of family, how can the rest of us?

For the very reasons described in this article, I often lead my lectures by saying that most people should not become entrepreneurs. But for those of us who make the leap, we would be wise to remember that family and community make us happier, healthier, and more productive.

Silicon Valley may be cool, but nothing is better than building at home.

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