Is Entrepreneurism the New Therapy?

person in wheel
Consider the following scenarios:

1991: A man gets overlooked for an expected promotion and has a profound emotional reaction that lasts for weeks. His friend, who went through something similar, suggests he go to therapy, where the man faces some difficult truths. For starters, he realizes that in his efforts to prove himself at work, he took on too much and was often swamped — a habit that made him seem gruff and disorganized. He also — no surprise — had trouble delegating and asking for help. Furthermore, he didn’t want to toot his own horn and make his ambitions known — so they weren’t. Finally, he preferred to toil away in isolation, so he had not properly developed his relationships at work — or at home — such that even if he did get the promotion, it would have been a set up for a professional and/ or personal crisis. Therapy enabled him to to see his behaviors, explore their familial origins and forgive himself for merely doing what he was taught. He was then able to move on and move ahead effectively.

2014: A woman loses her humdrum day job and posts her situation and feelings about it on Facebook. In the comments, someone suggests she read Pam Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation, which she does in a few hours and subsequently decides to start her own business. But she quickly discovers that starting a business is going to be harder than she thought. First, she needs to improve her current personal and business relationships in order to get where she needs to go — as well as confront her fears about reaching out for help. She’s not used to talking about herself, and she needs to overcome her dread of “showing off” her skills and her ambition. Lastly, she needs to find the accurate language to describe her skills, discover what makes her unique, and define who she wants to be as a professional in the world. She begins to tackle these issues, one by one.

Different eras, different situations, different paths — revealing common work issues and inspiring serious self-reflection and behavioral change.

What I really want to do . . .

In my own personal, seemingly never-ending rebrand I have sought necessary help from marketing and business coaches. As a former psychotherapist and emerging mentor I’ve been surprised when, on more than one occasion, the coach confesses: “I love my job, but what I really want to do is therapy or counseling.”

This surprises me for several reasons, but mainly, because I’m starting to realize that today’s marketing and business coaches are the therapists of the new century. Certainly in my experience, their penetrating questions about who I am, what I have to offer, and what false beliefs are holding me back have elicited my vulnerability and stumped me as much as any insightful therapist’s inquiries.

Don’t get me wrong: Psychiatry and psychotherapy provide essential healing and clinical solutions for those who suffer from trauma and real mental illness. However, in the latter half of the last century, psychotherapy has also been the personal growth method of choice for the everyday, urban, “normal” neurotic who struggles in work or love. Due to environmental factors described below, entrepreneurism has become a valuable alternate. It could be the “new therapy” for the following reasons:

1. Economic Necessity and the Desire for Personal Freedom has Trumped Psychological Anxiety as the Driver for Growth: People used to — and clearly still do — seek therapy because they are in emotional pain. But now that pharmaceuticals are widely used to alleviate some of the general malaise and anxiety of living in the modern world, what drives functional people to self-exploration and transformation? The desire to be free of an uninspired, regimented lifestyle and the pursuit of right livelihood. Running your own business creates the possibility of a sizable income all on your own terms — although you’ll have to undergo the requisite amount of self-reflection, emotional discipline and behavioral change to make it work.

2. Time and Money: Psychotherapy is also waning as the personal growth option of choice (again, for “normal neurotics” — people with more formal diagnoses may have no choice), because a true course of psychotherapy takes YEARS, and as we move deeper into the technological age, we expect everything to come rather quickly. Many who are financially stressed literally do not have the cash or other resources to reflect and ruminate about the origin of their issues — although as entrepreneurs, they might bump into and be forced to overcome wounds of neglect, criticism and other family of origin failures if they inhibit the ability to connect, promote, succeed, or move forward with a business in any way.

3. Brand is all about identity: A central goal of psychotherapy has been to discover who you truly are. In order for you to create a clear business vision and market your skills or product, you really have to do the same. Determining your brand — a cross-pollination of your personality and your product — may sound like a rather simple thing to do, but for so many, the process of knowing who you are and packaging it for consumption can be deep and grueling, and usually requires negotiating between who you think you are, who you want to be and who you really are, not to mention how you want to be perceived vs. how you are perceived. People used to spend years on an analysts couch in pursuit of this type of knowledge, albeit without the for-profit component. A good marketing coach can help you do it in 1/8 of the time for about 3/4 of the cash — without treading too deep into personal history.

4. Brand is all about story: These days, nearly every package of shampoo, sauerkraut and sneakers from smaller companies has a story written on it — one that shares the origins of the product and reveals the values and style of the people who create it. I recently worked with a woman who felt stuck in her business as a health coach. In order to increase her visibility and establish herself as distinct from other health coaches, we reflected on her story about why she got into it in the first place. She realized that what drew her to health coaching was not her appreciation of green smoothies, but that she had been suffering from an overload of self-hatred, and mothering herself via good nutrition was her ticket out of it. Now she wanted to help other women her age move into self-love through nutrition and exercise. As in psychotherapy, a whole story of which she was only partially aware emerged, and it provided essential information about her services her brand, her audience, and moving forward.

5. You have to create successful relationships: To succeed in your own — in almost any business, really — you’re gonna have to learn how to create and sustain authentic relationships: with consultants, customers, colleagues, affiliates, vendors, employees, etc. You may still need therapy to learn how to be intimate with friends and lovers.

6. You have to confront your fears: Self-employment will force you to develop leadership and strong coping skills to manage anxiety about money, risk, exposure, etc, and still move forward. You will fail, and you will be forced to self-reflect and develop your resilience. You will learn how to persevere. You will eventually succeed, and perhaps become more overwhelmed by success than failure. You will seek help from those who have “been there” and learn how to manage the voices, beliefs, and limitations that hold you back.

And, if you are an introvert and a real or self-proclaimed expert on something (ahem, not speaking personally or anything) no therapy can prepare you for the types of visibility issues you will encounter if you really commit to putting yourself out there.

A Shift in the WHY
I’m noticing a shift in the personal growth arena. While there is still a high value placed on insight — because understanding where your behavior comes from can help you have compassion and/ or choose differently — insight is becoming less valuable than purpose. As Simon Sinek suggests, the most successful leaders and companies stay connected to their WHY — not the psychotherapeutic, cause-of-your-behavior WHY, but the entrepreneurial WHY — the essential reason that drives them to provide a specific service to the world. A great chef wants to light up the world’s taste buds with his passion for flavor; a great soldier loves his countrymen, etc., that WHY.

Are you an entrepreneur who feels the journey has been therapeutic? Have you been in therapy and believe that starting your own business might be the next step in your personal growth? What new trends in personal growth are you seeing? Would love to hear your comments below!

11 responses to “Is Entrepreneurism the New Therapy?”

  1. Another gem, Blair! I especially like how you juxtapose the two different eras – and 1991 was so different than 2015. When I think about crises these days, I think about things like divorce, separation, job loss, relocation, death in the family, child with disease that disrupts family dynamic, doubt, and questioning of institutions that once held the family together (I am thinking religion). These crises in 1991 would have been treated with therapy – in most cases. Beginning an entrepreneurial business decades ago would have been … careless and lonely and disruptive to the family. What happened in the past 30 years?

    What you touch on, Blair, is so important. We are connected to each other in supportive ways that never existed 30 years ago. We have a support system and a network of virtual “partners” who can help us in an entrepreneurial endeavor. I also believe that in 2015, it is Okay to question institutions (religion, marriage, economic & income). Is it even healthy to question these institutions? Hard to say. But taking a crisis and responding by becoming an entrepreneur is not a “crazy” idea in 2015. That’s just my opinion. By turning on the computer today, I am connected to friends all over the United States and the world – a privilege that did not exist 30 years ago. And what I do with that privilege can be empowering, liberating.

    Four weeks ago I wrote my first blog post on LinkedIn. Why did I write the post? I am in job transition. I want to take a step to define my brand and to do what I enjoy – bringing value to others through digital communication. Do I need less therapy because of these posts? All I can say is that I am empowered, I have an audience, and I am able to test the waters and gain followers at no cost. A time of exploring and a privilege. Will this activity turn into income? Hard to say, but I am confident that with my blog writing, I can bring value to others, share my passion, and shake hands in a digital way with friends all over the world. A pretty good way to start an entrepreneurial endeavor, for sure!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Hi David,
      Congrats on starting or testing the waters with the entrepreneurial journey! What happened in the past 30 years? So much. The internet. The economy. Amazon. Netflix. And Miley Cyrus. To name a few.
      Thanks, as always, for your reflections and thoughts.
      Good luck with it!

  2. Samantha says:

    Hi Blair,

    GREAT post on such a deep topic! And yes, you know it resonates, don’t you!? (grins)

    I loved reading your contrasts and comparison scenarios between the early 90’s and current times. What also came to mind is in regards to gender issues. A huge impact on how we handle things is HOW we are raised and conditioned based on our gender. Most women are raised differently than men. And this has a HUGE impact on how we operate as adults.

    Equally important is that each of us have a completely unique life experience. No two people are alike no matter HOW we try to lump each other underneath a broad set of labels for ease in understanding. Yet often leaves people feeling stereotyped rather than supported. Or shoved into a limiting box or another list of personality traits one may feel they are forced to adopt or align with because, after all, that’s what the personality experts SAYS we ‘should’ be, etc.

    Yes, I wholeheartedly believe that in our modern era, our entire JOURNEY can be one big evergreen ‘therapy’ session. (It definitely requires a shift in mindset!)

    We’ve been taught so many things that we are now finding may NOT be helpful.

    Examples regarding psychotherapy.

    We’ve been taught to communicate with a therapist INSTEAD of the people in our lives. Now the GOAL might be to IMPROVE communications between two people, and it can be with the RIGHT person facilitating in that direction. Yet often the 3rd party REMAINS the confidante and has a conscious or unconscious reason to do so….to keep the client coming back for another session.

    Not I’m not DISSING the need for outside help and assistance. AT ALL!

    However, what I have personally experienced in our modern times here in America that has given me MAJOR pause (as you already know because I’ve shared it with you personally in the past) is we’ve become a country SATURATED with coaches. Of various kinds. Some are FABULOUS at what they do. And some are…well…to be frank…DANGEROUS.


    The most dangerous coaches that I have encountered are those that learned to copycat and parrot but didn’t actually LEARN HOW TO COACH. Lots of plagiarism, borrowing, and stealing from legitimate ‘experts’ yet don’t really know how to pull it off in a real coaching session with people.

    There’s nothing worse than getting caught up with coaches that:

    1) don’t have your best interests at heart
    2) know how to run a business but don’t know really know how to be a coach
    3) think that copying what someone else is doing automatically qualifies them to be an expert in coaching
    4) do not understand some of the dangers of trying to dig up every rock and pebble of a persons past….or taking into account how much ‘therapy’ a person has already been through..etc

    On this last one…when coaches are taught to follow a SCRIPT or a paint by numbers or factory turn key approach to coaching, the inexperienced do just that. They follow the SCRIPT without regard to the individual needs and experiences of the coaching client. They fail to attune with their client, etc.

    I’ve already shared with you in private about the experience I had attending a spiritual life coaching school that cost me over $8000 with a coach who knew how to run a business but was not a good coach.

    That has been the NECESSARY insight that I’ve needed (but has also kept me stuck …as you know) because it left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Personally, I didn’t want to be in any way ASSOCIATED with the coaching industry after that. I wanted to really be of help to people and not hurt them. As for branding, i wanted to call what I did something else…ANYTHING else but COACHING…

    I could relate to nearly everything you shared in this post Blair, so if I touched on everything, I’d be writing a book in the comments section here! haha! So I’ll only share an additional point or two.

    One of the other challenges for me as a single mother and widow is in the area of intrapreneur vs entrepreneur.

    Although I could almost be a polymath in some ways because I’ve worked in a several industries now: military, healthcare (Nursing), decorative painting industry, and computer software industry etc, I also acquired MOST of my experience as an ’employee’ rather than entrepreneur. Meaning, all but the decorative painting businesses, were already set up and running. I simply played a ROLE INSIDE the organization. (multiple roles at times) Yet running the business or HOW TO set up and run businesses wasn’t my forte. yet WITHIN an organization, I could often see how to create new products/services, or do things differently to improve things etc. (especially in a new startup software company I worked for after my husband died)

    So I’m naturally stronger WITHIN an already existing organization rather than creating and running one simply based on experience.

    And without a net or support to fall back on, meaning,….I no longer have a husband around to share the burden, extended family members ( mother has been too sick for past several years etc)..and being solely responsible for the care of my two daughters, it made me more protective and less of a risk taker than I was when my husband was alive. Or should I say, the risks I took AFTER he died ended up costing me in painful ways and so it has felt like there is little room to make ANY mistakes at all at this point.

    So there has been quite a few things and it’s definitely a process that is unique to each of us and entirely dependent on our circumstances.

    One other factor IS financial. I invested $8000 that could have been well spent with the right person (coach) Yet when the money is gone…it’s gone. People NEED feedback but many can’t get that necessary feedback without being able to pay for it.

    So in those cases, it can take much longer to tackle issues.

    I loved ALL of your points and resonated with them.

    Thanks for sharing Blair!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story! You bring up some really salient points here. Coaching has become a fraught industry. Some coaches double as therapists without the right training, others, as you suggest, don’t really know what it means to transform, or what they’re really doing, and so they’re coaching is limited. And others . . . well . . .so sorry to hear that you were betrayed by some of the ickier aspects of the industry.
      Your point about the therapist being the one that everyone talks to but not each other is so interesting. It makes me think there’s another post there. There are reasons why it’s useful and as you point out, reasons why it’s destructive– we don’t know how to talk to one another.
      And yes, these days, with all the personal growth pioneers out there, our whole journey is one big therapy session / spiritual lesson. It’s kind of true.
      Thanks for responding and bringing your vulnerability and insights, Samantha. I always get so much from them.

  3. Great post Blair, thanks for sharing and great quality dialogue going on in the comments.

    I would like to comment on the ‘story’ part:

    I have encountered more than once coaches / experts / entrepreneurs who actually MADE UP dramatic stories about their past and current live in order to HAVE a story to tell which touches people’s hearts, getting them the ‘sympathy vote’ into business. Needless to say it is not a sustainable way of BEING nor of doing business (as the truth always will come out) which nowadays is all about trust, closeness, truth and connection. Furthermore as a ‘normal neurotic’ without a dramatic life story I am a strong advocate of safeguarding the boundaries between coaching and psychotherapy for reasons Samantha mentioned. In addition to the great professionals, unfortunately some untrained coaches touch on people’s lives and dig into their hearts and emotions in such a way that it creates unhealthy dependency between coach and coachee. Keeping them into repeat business. I am a firm believer in asking for help, getting therapy. And I am a firm believer in coaching. Both by trained professionals. Both for the right reasons, aso to discern by the coach.

    And I am a proud ‘normal neurotic’ entrepreneur 🙂 who indeed feels and experiences the freedom to serve and partner with clients, creating value TOGETHER with all the ups and downs, in a truthful honest manner.

    Love your post! Jacky

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Jacky! Thanks for stopping by here and bringing your wisdom to the conversation.
      Re: making up dramatic stories . . . Ewww! I think these comments are inspiring a new post, not only about the differences between coaching and therapy, but the differences between GOOD coaching and therapy! “And I am a proud ‘normal neurotic’ entrepreneur 🙂 who indeed feels and experiences the freedom to serve and partner with clients, creating value TOGETHER with all the ups and downs, in a truthful honest manner.” This is so good to hear, Jackie! You express yourself as someone who does walk the walk and talk it, too. Thanks again.

  4. Rebecca Wong says:

    Introverted entrepreneurial psychotherapist on a path to hone my purpose struggling with visibility issues here. Loved this, Blair!

  5. Marisa says:

    This is brilliant, Blair. And it’s exactly what I need to prove a point in this week’s Sovereign Standard! Excited to include this post.
    That mingling of brand and self has such value, but it’s also difficult to detangle what part of the story is about me, the entrepreneur, and what parts of the story must be about the client so that she finds a place in the narrative – and the business!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks so much for your reflections and willingness to include the post!
      I am all for separation of “church and state” as it were — although this is becoming less popular. I believe in the value, as you suggest, in separating the three narratives and regarding them differently. Knowing our story helps us make creative decisions about who we want to be as an entrepreneur; our entrepreneur story is crafted to have a distinct appeal to our clients, and knowing our client’s stories can help us see them better. When they all meld into one, we become vulnerable to confusion, myopia, and devastation if our business is criticized.
      Thanks Marisa, for reading and stopping by!

  6. […] Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart or the weak of mind. Kudos to you for building a profitable business that provides unique value to its customers. It gives me the greatest pleasure to hear your stories and to serve remarkable business owners like you! […]

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