The Advantage of Adversity: A Different Perspective on Depression

20/05/2016 13:07 | Updated 20 May 2016

The one thing that running a business has taught me is that things are never constant. Things are never permanent. You cannot separate the highs and lows or have one without the other, so you must learn to accept the process and understand that it's part of the journey.

Like every Founder, I've had to accept some things in return for the freedom, autonomy and mental stimulation that running a business provides:

- Solving my problem/creating my solution will be a marathon, not a sprint

- Short-term fixes don't work. They often make things worse. I must work with a long-term view

- At the end of the day, I know that things rest on me. No one else is going to step in and take control

- There is no formula, there is no right or wrong journey to surviving and thriving, I have to make mistakes and find my own way

- I have to portray an image of strength and positivity; to employees, investors, customers - even if shit is hitting the fan

- And, every now and then, there will be days when I know my back is up against the wall and I must do whatever I need to do to survive

I realised very quickly that all of these points also applied to my experience of depression.

Entrepreneurship and depression might not seem like an obvious pair, but they share some remarkably similar characteristics. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I'm convinced that those who have experienced depression often have the tools at their disposal to be better entrepreneurs and leaders - empathy, working through problems alone and resilience, for example. However, someone experiencing depression should not have to fight alone.

I'm fortunate to know many entrepreneurs and, because of my interest in mental health and psychology, many have opened up to me about their experiences. So many of these talented people portray an image of strength and confidence on the outside but are breaking on the inside. Individual and free-spirited by nature, entrepreneurs tend to have ego, strong personal drive and a mean competitive streak. Unfortunately it's these same qualities that drive a culture of silence, re-enforced by the self-imposed expectation that they must maintain composure under immense stress - this is not an environment for 'weakness'.

In business when you come up against a problem, if your view is - 'if I can find a solution, not to get rid of this problem, but a way around it, then I will be stronger for it and we will be ahead of our competitors' - you will have a major advantage. This mind-set has helped me deal with problems, both personal and at work. It's an attitude captured in the works of Stoic philosophers, most notably Marcus Aurelius who sums up the sentiment in two eloquent lines:

"The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way."

Often great things come from a place of real adversity and struggle for survival. I firmly believe that most of my major achievements to date are because of my depression, not despite it. And I am not alone. Without romanticising the illness, I talk to so many entrepreneurs who have found their calling having reached the deepest darkest depths of adversity. From that point fight or flight has kicked in, they've thrown off the safety net that holds so many people back from doing what they actually want and they've said fuck it, lets do it.

Whether its depression within start up businesses or more generally in the workplace, this is a subject that needs to be taken from the shadows and discussed more openly.

Join us in doing that this weekend and hear some inspiring stories at Stories of Being Festival, Platform Southwark.

"In the meantime, cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, not to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune's habit of behaving just as she pleases." - Seneca

James Shillcock (28, London) is Founder/CEO of Vivid Drinks and a Founding Partner of the Stories of Being Festival, a new festival, which explores mental health and wellbeing through the arts. On Sunday 22nd May, James will co-host an eclectic panel which looks at wellbeing in the workplace, with entrepreneurs who are breaking ground to take depression and anxiety out of the shadows and into everyday conversation.
The festival takes place during Metal Health Awareness Week 2016 at Platform Southwark