Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You

The sky is falling!

Ever since the media’s Chicken Little response to the tremors in the financial markets, I’ve felt like shouting from the rooftops “now you know how it feels to be an entrepreneur!”

I just lost 9% overnight?! Fill a bathtub and get the toaster. I’ve had enough.

Wait… I actually gained 13% while in the bathroom? I’m f**king Superman!

This is a guest post on capitalizing on — vs. countering — the “entrepreneur’s disease” (manic depression) through 4 cyclical stages. This is done by pairing appropriate activities to specific — though not necessarily positive — emotional states…

The author is Cameron Herold, former COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, whose professional resume includes:

-Helping build revenues from $2 Million to $105 Million in 6 years (no debt or outside shareholders)

-Building a PR team that landed more than 5,000 stories in those same 6 years

-Hiring 220 people in 4 months

-Leading the sale, branding, and integration of 450+ franchise locations.

-Teaching his psychological theories at the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT.

I first saw this presentation at an Entepreneurs’ Organization (EO) event in Omaha prior to my successful Warren Buffett quest at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting.

I encourage you all to read this, especially with the fear mongering that is just getting started.

Skip CNN and just watch 4:08 – 5:00 over and over.


Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, once wrote:

“First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day – one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over. And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs. There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. Sound like fun?”

Many ultra-successful entrepreneurs are even clinically diagnosed as manic-depressive or bi-polar. Francis Ford Coppola has it. So does Ted Turner.

This article is about the emotional intricacies of being an entrepreneur – about what you’re going to feel during the journey.

The concept that we’re going to examine is called the Transition Curve. It resembles a rollercoaster.

Regardless of whether or not you believe you will ride an emotional rollercoaster running a business, you will. You have two fundamental choices: you can hold on and scream, or you can wave your hands in the air and have some fun.

I’m going to walk you through these different analogies, but let’s first look at the various stages of this process, which repeat.

* Stage 1: The first stage of the concept is called “Uninformed Optimism”. At this stage on a rollercoaster, just getting to the top of the rollercoaster, you experience feelings of an adrenalin rush, characterized by excitement and nervous energy.

* Stage 2: The second stage is called “Informed Pessimism”. As you ride over the top of the curve you now have a bit more information. Feelings of fear, nervousness, and frustration begin to set in. Perhaps you even want to get off of it.

* Stage 3 – The third stage is called “Crisis of Meaning”. You’re past scared. You feel despair. It’s as if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff ready to jump, and you begin to think “Today the rollercoaster’s going off the bottom of the track for the very first time.” You feel helpless and you’re both terrified and frozen.

* At this point, you face a critical juncture. You can come off the bottom of the curve and crash and burn, which is when your business goes bankrupt, you lose your marriage, you start drinking, or you end up in a doctor’s office because of stress. Or you can come around the corner because you’re getting support at “Crisis of Meaning” and you can enter an upward swing call “Informed Optimism”.

* Stage 4 – Informed Optimism. You’re calm. You’re informed. You might even say you are cautiously optimistic.

Capitalizing on All Emotional Phases — Activity Pairing

Here is the critical point – at each stage of the curve, you can do things to leverage the feelings and energy — positive or negative — that you have at that moment. Fighting against these phases is like working against a natural force.

Stage 1 – Uninformed Optimism

As an example – at Stage 1 – Uninformed Optimism – it’s both a great place and a dangerous place to be for your business, depending on what you are working on or in at that time.

When you’re starting your business, you have seed financing, some friend and family money, or you’ve just started the business with $50 in your pocket. You can start a business without a lot of money directly because you’re benefiting from uninformed optimism. You can take risks when you’re feeling like this. Because you’re so full of excitement you don’t really know what’s coming yet. So you’re uninformed and your fully optimistic – or you wouldn’t have started.

When you’re at Uninformed Optimism you should be doing things like:

* Talking to the media. Imagine if a newspaper calls you when you’re at that stage of uninformed optimism. How’s your media interview going to go? It’s going to go amazing because you have unbridled excitement and big thinking.

* Talking to potential investors. That’s why everyone was investing through the 90s with the dotcom bubble. The entrepreneurs were so full of uninformed optimism and enthusiasm.

* Doing speeches in public – the audience will love you.

* Recruiting new employees – they’ll all want to work for you.

* Networking for new clients – who wouldn’t want to buy from you?

When you’re at Uninformed Optimism there are also some things you should avoid doing:

* Spending money is a bad thing to be doing at this point. Because when you are really excited and full of optimism you think nothing will go wrong. The last thing you want to be doing is spending all this money because the reality is – at some point, you’ll cross the curve and discover harsher realities.

* You don’t want to be doing business planning

* You don’t want to be working on your budget

* You don’t want to be making buying decisions

* You don’t want to be making hiring decisions

* You don’t want to be doing your accounting, or your bookkeeping.

* Anything that requires you to be making financial decisions or planning logical shouldn’t be done when you’re at the manic energy or uninformed optimism stage.

Remember that when you’re at that uninformed optimism stage, anything that’s outward facing — talking about your company, selling the story, raising money — is well-matched. Simultaneously, at that stage, you don’t want to make buying decisions, or hiring decisions, or planning decisions, or budgeting decisions.


Stage 2 – Informed Pessimism

At Stage 2 – Informed Pessimism – you have more information now. You’re not as excited as you once were. Coffee is helpful to get you started. You are worrying at times. You aren’t depressed or scared – but you’re somewhere in between scared and excited. You’re just a little bit pessimistic now. The great aspect of this stage is that it prevents you from making careless mistakes due to overly optimistic thinking.

When you’re at Informed Pessimism you should be doing things like:

* Planning the next phase of your growth

* Intermediate-term strategic planning

* Budgeting, as you’ll be more realistic

* Purchasing things like advertising – you’ll be careful with where you spend your money and will not over-purchase advertising based on exuberant pie-in-the-sky sales forecasts.

When you’re at Informed Pessimism, there are also a few things you should absolutely avoid doing.

Do not:

* make hiring decisions.

* talk to the media or do speaking events.

* work in roles where being excited would help you get a better result – wait until things turn around emotionally for you.

Stage 3 – Crisis of Meaning

This is a scary stage and can feel like you’re standing on the edge of a building needing to jump. It will feel like all the odds are stacked against you and that everything is going wrong. It will be hard to get out of bed in the morning. Sleeping at night will be close to impossible due to worries and fear. You’ll feel like you’re paralyzed and can do little more than clean your filing cabinet drawers successfully.

When you’re at Crisis of Meaning you should be doing things like:

* Cleaning your filing cabinet drawers – seriously. Doing a few little things can often perk people up.

* Reaching out to your support groups like friends, family, your church, groups like the Entrepreneurs Organization etc. to ask them for help, advice or to just lend an ear.

* Trying to set your TOP 5 daily and only work on the most important items each day.

* Taking breaks and going for walks, getting exercise, getting outdoors.

* Writing lists – lists about what you are strong at, lists about what you love – make lists that, when you read them, will help rebuild your confidence.

* Realizing that many others have been in this exact same place and usually turn the corner, just like you will.

* Remembering “The Little Engine That Could” – I think I can, I think I can – it can take time, but things will rebound.

When you’re at Crisis of Meaning there are also some things you should absolutely avoid doing:

* Don’t talk to others who are depressed.

* Don’t talk to others who are “half empty” types

* Don’t take any “all-in” Vegas poker type risks where you put everything on the line hoping for a big win.

* Don’t try to “rally the troops.” Your employees, the media ,etc. will all smell fear. And your fear will lead to making things worse

* Don’t turn to the bottle. Vices during stages of depression will lead to you spiraling out of control.

* Don’t think that you can “handle it” all on your own. You can’t. And when people “need” others, your true friends really will be there to support you.

* Don’t try to learn more. Reading books and magazines about how to be successful or how to grow your company will only make you feel worse about your current situation. They’ll just make you feel even more bogged down. Reading stuff like this is great when you round the corner though.

Stage 4 – Crash & Burn

I don’t really waste any time explaining this stage or what to do here – because if you slide off the curve, here it really is over – the company is done and/or so are you in the role leading it. Usually this is bankruptcy or forced sale, etc..

Stage 5 – Informed Optimism (or Hopeful Realization)

This last stage is much like when the little engine that could turned the corner – and realized “he did”. You’ll start feeling excited and energized again. You’ll start rebuilding your confidence. And you’ll start to feel momentum working in your favor again. You’ll also have a lot more insights and experiential learning to draw from. You’ll realize you have more competence and confidence than before and everything will start to go your way again.

When you’re at Informed Optimism you should be doing things like:

· Hiring

· Strategic Planning

· Reorganization of your team – putting the right people in the right seats

· Cutting the wrong people

· Generally getting everything in order to really start growing again.

When you’re at Informed Optimism there are also things you should avoid doing:

· Don’t lose focus.

· Don’t let your confidence slip.

· Don’t get cocky or you’ll fall backwards off the curve.


This cycle repeats itself. Enjoy the ride instead of fighting it.

Guest author Cameron Herold’s training modules are used by CEOs and companies in more than 15 countries.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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272 Replies to “Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You”

  1. I’m always looking for ways to be/stay inspired and I love the 4 Hour Work Week. Quit my job after reading the book. I’m thankful for reading this article. It makes soo much sense especially in these times. I really needed it. Thank you!!!

  2. Great Post — This is a very helpful breakdown of an otherwise wild ride.

    I would suggest that one other task to add under “Stage 1 – Uninformed Optimism” would be brainstorming. This is a great time to think outside of the box and come up with ideas that would be shot down at any other point in the roller coaster.

  3. Dear Mr. Ferriss,

    I’m glad to see someone else recognizing the link between manic depression and entrepreneurial ability, especially someone I look up to as much as you. I come from a severely manic depressive (or more properly “hypomanic”) family where some family members have shut down completely and others are multimillionaire entrepreneurs. I have gone from severe depression to being financially independent at age 21 (with a four hour work week and a virtual architecture similar to yours) and cannot overemphasize how grateful I am for your work.

    To anyone else reading this post who sees themselves or their families in a similar situation to what I have described, I’d like to recommend some books.

    “The Hypomanic Edge” by Dr. John Gartner

    A Princeton psychologist who explores the link between manic depression (or more high functioning “Hypomania”) and the creative zeal that has made america great. He profiles people like Andrew Carnegie, Christopher Columbus, David Selznick (producer of the “Gone with the Wind” movie), and Craig Ventner (The man behind decoding the Human Genome).

    “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Dr. Joseph Cambell

    Not specifically about manic depression, this book is about psychological patterns to bring yourself to maturity, and is a very useful pattern for turning low functioning manic depressives with potential into high functioning hypomanic entrepreneurs, artists and adventurers. You will see patterns here in the lives of many high performing hypomanics and definitely in the people profiled in Gartner’s book.


    Sean West

  4. Hi Cameron,

    Thanks for a great article!

    Vern H. speaks very highly of 1800 Got Junk

    As a young small franchisor in the education sector, I have almost pulled the trigger on a PR firm twice.

    I will give this a shot first:

    1) Know your target, 2) Know your angle and 3) Pick up the phone.

    Thanks Again,

    Matt Barron

    Director of Development

    The Whole Child Learning Company

  5. Having transitioned from a successful hi-tech service based company which I could never sell to devoting all of my time and effort to product development in six months has redefined the boundaries of what I felt I could cope with, so I feel the “do something that scares you every day” rule should be followed mercilessly. Constantly pushing yourself in this way is simply habit forming and you’ll be a hands in the air roller coaster rider before you know it.

  6. This a great piece of the puzzle that I am trying to put together…

    I have always felt diferent than the norm in a good way… I finally gave in to my entreprenurial tendencies five years ago after an unexpected job transition and have been riding the curve ever since… actually I rode it at every company that I worked at as well as they were all startups…

    My wife regularly thinks I have lost touch with reality and I have questioned myself harshly during the different stages….

    Luckily my decisions have moved my net worth from $50K to over $1M in the last 5 yrs so I think I am on the right path…

    I still doubt myself occationally but after reading this I see that it is all a natural part of the process…

    I highly recommend reading The Davinci Method for anyone that is struck by this post or even Tim’s book… It could also be titled ” you are ADD and didn’t know it …. use your hyperfocus to your advantage…” They have a test on their site to see if you are a Davinci type.

    I finally understand myself after many years after reading the book and using the music that moves you from state to state…

    thx all…

  7. LOLz! Great article. I have been through the manic highs and lows so many times since the 1980s. The good news is that they level out over time.

  8. Outstanding post! I’ll agree, this applies to a lot more than just being an entrepreneur.

    Thanks for this.


  9. Thanks so much for this post.

    As an entrepreneur who has been on the journey for 20 years, I’ve experienced each of these phases many times over. It is refreshing to see this so well illustrated and to know others go through similar experiences. This post is a great reminder that we all have much more in common than we realize.

  10. Two cents worth:

    Terry Bradshaw, Winston Churchill, Ted Turner, Abraham Lincoln, Jim Cramer, Sidney Sheldon, George Patton, Dolly Parton, Donny Osborn, Ozzy Osborn, Marie Osborn…me.


    Most people take a moment to watch the business man/woman accept the award for the endowment they have provided to build the new wing on the hospital, or the new college in their honor at their alma mater. Few see the sleepless nights, the heartache, or can come close to the emotional pain endured as these people push forward.

    The challenge for the entrepreneur, just like that of a person living with M/D is to trust one’s judgement. A diagnosis changes the framework from which he/she sees both the past, and the future.

    As it is with a new business venture, never knowing what’s around the next corner, yet knowing that regardless of the challenge, strength will rise up to meet it, is a necessary skill that comes only with experience.

    Some here have noted that this message was timely. For those who fight the fight with this condition, remain strong. You are twice as smart, have double the energy, and 10 times the magnetism…when you’re on your A-game. Be gentle with yourself, watch the self-talk, and, find support here, or near you.

    I coined a motto: When all else fails, train, and now live by the Body-for-Life exercise and nutrition guidlines…never happier or more balanced. Give it a look. That and martial arts and meditation have been life-savers. Diet has a profound affect on the brain..

    Had to pipe in here…first post on the site.

    Think good thoughts,


  11. I always thought about this, but never really seen or heard about it explained. Thank you for sharing this information.



  12. Great insights Cameron! I was almost at stage 4 but reached out to people that I respect and now am back in stage 5… Good to know we are not alone…

  13. So helpful, everything I was thinking and went through he wrote about. It gave me such a nice boost of confidence knowing I am not the only one going through this! and the tools to get through it better.

  14. Awesome article! I’ve found myself at all these stages, in both my personal and entrepreneurial life. What keeps me from crashing and burning is making a conscious effort to surround myself with positive people. When I’m having negative thoughts about my business or my life, I have two choices: I can either rant to other people in my life who don’t “get” my business and they can commiserate with me, or I can reach out to my mentors who can give me a dose of optimism coupled with practical advice.

    Here are four characteristics that distinguish positive people:

    1. Honesty. There are those people who will tell budding entrepreneurs what they want to hear. Then there are truly positive people who are brave enough to be honest with you, while still being supportive and having a positive attitude.

    2. Impractically practical. Positive people will listen to a your wacky improbable dream to, say, direct and distribute his own documentary films. They’ll respond with, “Why not?” They have a can-do attitude about even the seemingly most difficult things. But a truly helpful positive person will encourage you to look at the practical steps you must take in order to realize the most grandiose dream. Even if s/he doesn’t know what those steps are, s/he will encourage you to surround yourself with people who do.

    3. Generous. Positive people are entitled to a bad day once in a while. They are even allowed to occasionally curse their decision to get out of bed in the morning. But if a you have some exciting news to share, positive people can put their complaints aside long enough to share in your happiness for a while. They do this because they care about others. But they also realize that another person’s positive energy may actually rub off on them, bringing sunshine to their otherwise gray day.

    4. Internally driven. Positive people recognize that “positivity” is a personal choice. They realize that when they choose to see the gems life has to offer instead of the grime, they will be happier, healthier and more satisfied entrepreneurs and human beings. Positive people choose to be resilient and then learn how to craft the tools that will allow them to live the life they desire.

  15. I woke up this morning to the news that a two year old deal is likely falling apart due to forces beyond my control. It felt like life was kicking me in the n**ts. Thanks for another timely article. Hopefully I can pick myself up and work toward “informed optimism”.

  16. Great post! The transition curve very accurately describes the different emotional phases entrepreneurs go through. These different stages all represent how entrepreneurs go through this ebb and flow of bursts of mania when we get new ideas (but haven’t researched them yet), to “depressive” points when we begin to experience the true environment we face when starting a venture.

  17. I thought this was a great post when someone sent it to me last year and I keep coming back to it as the rollercoaster continues. It is a big help to know that others have been through this ….

  18. This post came along at just the right time, we are now on the upswing back up in the informed optimism. It’s been a VERY tough ride but we feel we are going to weather this storm and be a much more capable and stronger company going forward.

  19. hmmm, what happens if you read excellent articles like this if you are at the “crisis of meaning” stage when you shouldn´t be reading stuff like this? Seriously though I feel that I keep swinging back and forward between the crisis of meaning and informed optimism phases I miss the power and drive of uninformed optimism…

  20. I am at the stage of informed pessimism. It feels terrible. The mere fact that this is a cycle kinda gives me a small reassurance that life does go on. I wish you could give me some ideas of things to do during this stage. It would help instead of dont’s. (i just wait out the period?). I admire the article and thanks.

  21. I disagree that the time for media interviews is during the stage of uninformed optimism. When you’re uninformed, any well-informed, critical question can turn a great media hit into a rout. Wait until you’ve reached the point of informed optimism, if possible (though I’m aware that most businesses need media during the launch, which usually corresponds with the point of uninformed optimism).

  22. Brilliant! Thanks for making the madness make sense and for normalizing these incredible highs and lows with useful action do’s and don’ts. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

    1. @TheZov,

      Thanks for the comment. What seems to be the color problem? The black background around the exterior?



  23. This post put a smile on my face.

    Possibly an acrid smile…

    Going through the coaster motions

    myself there’s a strange comfort in

    seeing the “tracks” laid out in this


    Can you make this post a PDF


    thank you.

    Justin Z

  24. Hi Tim,

    Two things:

    1. I also have problems reading the text on some posts. In Chrome the text shows up as gray on a black background. In Firefox it shows up as black on a white background.

    2. I’m starting a company with a friend right now and this post has been a great road map of what is to come. We are transitioning from Stage1 to Stage 2 right now. I’ll put a reminder on my calendar for July: “Nightmares start now.” =) Keep up the good content!

  25. Thanks for the tips Cameron.

    I already discovered some time ago that buying stuff when you’re exited is a bad idea. In general, big decision making in a non-stable emotional state is not a good idea. Dan Reilly discusses that too in his book Predictably Irrational [0] .

    Andy Beeching already mentioned the similarity to the hype cycle. I think there’s a lot of patterns in “nature” like this: up, a little bit down, very down, crash / up again.

    Culture Shock [1] is a great example, and I think it’s related:

    * Honeymoon Phase : similar to phase 1

    * Negotiation Phase : 2 and 3 (where it leads to depression)

    * Adjustment Phase : phase 5

    Phase 4 (crash and burn) would have the culture shock equivalent of just leaving the country. As with quitting a business, that’s not necessarily a bad choice.

    In terms of timing: from what Ive heard, culture shock tends to vary greatly in length too; from months to years.

    Other striking similarity: in phase 2/3 people in culture shock tend to become obsessed with cleaning.

    [0] http://bit.ly/gTc3V

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock

  26. A great post, accurate in all ways in my opinion..

    Being a lifetime entrepreneur and restaurateur for a long time, it is so true..

    Seeing that bleak place at the bottom needs to kick you in the head, and kick you into action, remembering your ‘best of times” can help to remind you that life is not over, it’s only money, and that you DID have the good busy times, that tend to be result of positive actions that can be repeated.

    Also, always be analyzing your business and adjusting, keeping your business in the sweet spot can make life much easier.

    Good luck everyone!!

    1. Hi Holly,

      Thanks for the suggestion. The last time my developer and I tried this, the retweet plugin caused the site to hang and overloaded the server as it needed to ping Twitter. Any suggestions for alternatives?



  27. Tim — GREAT THREAD

    I posted some of the following on the “Entrepreneur …Myth” thread and meant to put it here.

    I think a lot of folks are missing the point here and tell me what you think of my re-cap.

    1) Un-informed Optimism

    —2) Crash-Burn Escape Velocity

    3) Informed Optimism

    Burn-Out Escape Velocity has two roots: 1) Humility (an “ability” or “skill,” in terms of speed, at recognizing truth and submitting to it) and 2) Forward Moving Will-Power.

    Will and Humility (given the above definition) can we ever move-forward and submitt to self-realized genius.

    Thanks for Shining the Light Brother,


  28. I’ve been an entrepreneur since the tender age of 20 & been through the highs and lows of the transition curve countless times.

    I’ve celebrated extreme success by drinking so much that I woke up the next morning with raspberry jam on my toes. And vice versa, I’ve been so down that my diet consisted of French Vanilla ice cream and Lucky Charms for 14 days straight. (Believe it or not, I am quite fit!)

    My point: With experience and time, the curve gets less extreme and your emotions more level. You’ll begin to notice where you are on the curve and instinctively know how to manage yourself.

    So, celebrate your successes and then stay in your pj’s in the bad times, but know that the stages of the curve happen all through your life over and over.


  29. Sounds just like the roller coaster of life, haha.

    My friend & I are in Phase I right now and I am so happy I came across this right now. As always, thanks Tim and thanks Cameron.

  30. Wow – great reading all the comments here again – just came back on to see the thread. Glad it’s made such an impact.

    Let’s all have fun riding it again in 2010 too.


  31. Hey @casey – keep focused and you’ll ride it out – this roller coaster is one we never get off of though – so enjoy the ride….

  32. @Michelle Ayres you’re bang one – the ride totally does get flatter over time as we gain the emotional intelligence to handle it all. Great point.

  33. @Adguru hope your year since this post has had you riding the ups and downs a few more times – and getting used to it also…..

  34. Paraphrasing Mattel, “manic depression is hard!”

    But seriously, most of us with actual brain cooties will not be ticked by the misuses of the idea of “manic depression”, but the hyphenation in “bi-polar” is the 2% that wil cheese 80% of them off.

    It’s called “bipolar disorder” because someone thought “manic depression” was too harsh, but it’s hardly about two poles.

    *time to move the complaint bracelet*

  35. Great article Cameron. You are definintely on your A game here. I would like to add that when you are at the bottom of your roller coaster, this is the time to take personal time to do things outside of business. Go skiing, ride motorcycles, climb a mountain, take a trip visiting friends, or anything else that can alter your mood in a positive way. By shifting your focus away, it can bring in positive emotions and get you back in the right frame of mind.

  36. Firstly, I’ll say kudos to both TIm and Cameron for following this post up for two years. That is serious dedication. Not too many people give a shit for two years.

    I think the stages illustrated are very good guidelines for new entrepreneurs. As you go through more and more “opportunities” and businesses, it starts to flatten out and that rollercoaster gets leveled out with patience, knowledge, and experience. There is one element that is not illustrated in the picture though, and that is the input of family/ spouse in your ear.

    If I could BOLD this statement, I would:

    If you do not have the support of your spouse/ partner/ family, multiply the illustration x2. You spend your time trying to convince not only investors, but your own family that what you are doing is worthwhile and will work.

    God / Mohammed / Ghandi help you if it doesn’t.

    Entrepreneurs have two jobs; first convince the wife that it’s a good idea, and if that goes well enough, you know you can get investors. Put the wife on that rollercoaster for the 5th, 6th, 7th, time, and if you can do it the 8th, you’ve both got the vetting process down pat and you’ll probably succeed.

    Regards and best of luck,


  37. I work in the design and creative community. I am a business coach who deals with this cycle day to day with clients and their teams. I ran across this post while creating a new blog post for my site. I will be linking to this as I just love the diagram…I use your book with many of my clients…keep up the good work… F

  38. If there was a way I can “clip to brain” instead of evernote that would be stellar. As always thanks for the great on target and relevant post.

  39. Excellent post. I recently crashed ‘n’ burned and this article really helped motivate me, as well as, regain my confidence. Thank you.

    Now, back to it, eh? 😉


    I really like how you’ve phrased your “Comment Rules.” May I use it on my sites as well?

  40. WOW!!

    ive never read anything on ths topic before. this is me!! i do this in so many areas of my life. ill be coming back to this post many times during each stage 🙂

    currently at informed optimism

    1. Love it – if you think you’re at IO for too long, you might be back at UO again


      Enjoy the ride… sure beats working for the man.


    1. Thank you for your comment, Mark. Just remember: we all face the demons. It’s easy to feel alone, but there are thousands of people — in the exact same instant — feeling the same doubts and overwhelm. Looking at is as part of a ride that inevitably turns upward is a healthy mental model that has helped me a lot. Hopefully it does the same for you.

      All the best,


  41. Thank you so much for posting this. I’m sure I had read this awhile ago, but perhaps I’d forgotten. Reading it again just now really made my day!

    Thanks again, cheers, and congratulations on the new book!


  42. Sometimes it’s better to give up while in the crisis of meaning instead of go back to informed optimism if the benefits are good but not great.

  43. Very insightful post. Just as I feel so worthless and hopeless, I am just only in the Crisis of Meaning, not yet (but very close) to the crash and burn stage.. Thanks for posting this article.

  44. Thank u! Both self-employed and social-entrepeneur for a zillion years – – so that includes my past lives (a joke!) – – so the article is very helpful 2 me. And I luv that it gives specific practical suggestions!

  45. 2 years and 6 months later, this article is still as valuable as the day you sat down and wrote it.

    This is so true of any kind of objective you’re approaching. It’s true of creativity. It seems to me like a natural human function called learning, and fear.

    Certainly this is the reason why psychologists have clearly identified a relationship between manic depression and creativity… how many creative people are bi-polar. That’s kind of the reason I came to read this. I definitely experience this entire cycle. It’s fun to know the process, and embrace it the entire time!

    Word. Thanks for posting this my reality scrutinizing, life negotiating friend.

  46. Oh… how this article speaks to me as I go through the first roller coaster trip. I wanted to start a business ever since I was an 8 year old selling brownies and lemonade in front of my house. Now, almost exactly 20 years later I feel like I’m ready, that I’ve gathered all the information I need to go from the beginning to … I guess… the up and downs of the roller coaster. Thanks for writing this and giving me hope when things were getting dark and scary!

  47. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thank you!

  48. Very helpful, specially the tasks you have listed what to do and not to do when going thro bad times. Its really encouraging to hear that I am not the only one to pass thro bad times. Really helpful.

  49. Cameron/Tim,

    awesome post. If I had read this a few years ago, I would have saved myself a few hundred thousand dollars learning things the long way around with “experience”.

    I was even told to see shrinks – I eventually realized that the people that thought I was crazy were all living a different life to what I wanted (retiring at 60, living an “okay” life etc…), so I simply scaled back on telling them what I really was thinking and thus saved myself from taking meds for ADD or Bipolar. I also started to read and hang out with more entrepreneurs so thus felt more “normal”.

    I have a strategy that I pre-warn employees/partners etc about my tendency to get over-excited about ideas/concepts – so to scale back the vision a little and extend the timeline a few years and we will get there (I used to think it would happen within a week).

    I found that talking to “non-dreamers”/pessimists/”normal thinking” people drove me crazy. So I stopped discussing my “big ideas” with most family members, normal employee friends and people who are generally not likely to be believers or take any action towards the vision.

    If you start by spending a lot of time in “youology: studying what you want/what you are like and general mastery of self” or as Steven Covey calls it “with the end in mind”, the roller coaster becomes smoother.

    The way I figure it if Nelson Mandella can spend 27 years in prison to eventually get what he wants, whats a few years of highs and lows to achieve the bigger dream. The “crash and burn” is just an option if you want to take it, it is never a crash unless you want it to be (in hindsight it is easier to say this).

    Thanks for posting – rare to find such insights from true entrepreneurs!


  50. Very helpful, specially the tasks you have listed what to do and not to do when going thro bad times. Its really encouraging to hear that I am not the only one to pass thro bad times. Really helpful.

  51. Thank you TIm,

    Great read! I sent you an email! Would you be available to answer a couple questions? Great Site BTW!

  52. Wish i had read this 3 months ago – spot on, very few people talk about the emotional struggle when doing a startup.

  53. My god, the accuracy of this article is astounding.

    It’s been a few months since I’ve launched my company, and the mental roller coaster has already started in ridiculous ways. It’s both disheartening and exciting to know that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what will come.

    …but at least my bipolar mood swings with respect to business isn’t solely genetic. I guess I can stop being mad at my parents for a bit.

    1. Hey Rob – Glad you liked it –

      Drop me an email Cameron at BackPocketCOO dot com and I’ll email you the chapter of my new book Double Double which dives even deeper into the emotional roller coaster now.

      Enjoy the ride…


  54. This is a fantastic post. I’ve been through all the stages 100x of times and I am still not used to Crisis of Meaning… it’s actually the stage that’s usually taking the longest. I love your cycle drawing.. I’ll print it to remember that good things are around the corner:) Thanks!

  55. Hey Tim, can you please explain why you recommend not to read books (to learn more) when in phase 3?

    I asked myself the question:

    “How to solve an inner conflict what seems to exist in phase 3 without external input?”

    The answer I came up on this was: “The results of output, is input for you too. It let’s you know: I still have the power to make things better myself”

    Would you say reading in phase 3 leads to work procastrination?

      1. Actually – I was the author 😉

        My comments about not reading biz books – are tied to that stage of crisis of meaning – people need a break when they are at that stage. Biz books tend to add more to our plates, and often create stress when we feel like we aren’t doing enough.

        At this stage – CEOs really need a break – complete disconnect. Read books for fun, and lie out in the sun while you’re doing it 😉

      2. How long do you recommend such a break to be at least, if you have not found yet the freedom to take it as long as it makes you feel happy & good.

  56. A beneficial tip for anyone facing depression is to intentionally take a break from feelings of anger or sadness in order to stop and consider all of the positive things in your life. By taking stock of the good things with which you have been blessed, you can shift the focus away from your troubles and lift yourself out of your depression – at least temporarily.

  57. OMG this is so me! Starting up an iPad magazine with absolutely zero experience and limited budget has been one hell of a learning curve and I’ve certainly been through/still going through all of the stages!

    Nice to know that I’m perfectly ‘normal’ – there’s been a lot of questioning of sanity along the way, days when getting out of bed seemed too hard and crash and burn loomed large, but I look back at just how far I have come, how much I have achieved and grown along the way.

    Cautious Optimism is the current phase… 🙂