Kate Spade: Suicide and the Emotional Struggles of the Entrepreneur

Kate Spade: Suicide and the Emotional Struggles of the Entrepreneur

I remember my first Kate Spade bag. Well, I’ll be honest. My first one was a knock off because as a startup entrepreneur I couldn’t yet afford the real thing.

But it seemed consistent with my “fake it till you make it” strategy back then, before I knew any better.

In a world with so few female entrepreneur role models, Kate was a true “supershero” of mine.

From the outside looking in, she “had it all” – fame, fortune, beauty, a loving marriage and motherhood.

Some women may have looked at Kate Spade and thought, “if she can do it, so can I!” Perhaps they might have thought, “it’s easy for her (but not me)”.

Or, “there must be something wrong, somewhere. It looks too perfect.”

Whatever it is we feel when we look at someone who appears to “have everything” says everything about us…and not much about her or him.

We project our own experiences and feelings, and the truth of course is, we know little about the struggles of anyone else, let alone the inner demons of a successful entrepreneur.

I’ve been reflecting on the tragedy of Kate Spade’s suicide all week – how silently so many entrepreneurs suffer the ups and downs, how so many of us believe we must always project outer success no matter the inner turmoil.

“What will my clients, investors, team members, [fill in the blank here] think if I don’t have it all together?”

Some reports in the media suggested Kate, who had in turns out battled depression most of her life, was afraid to make her struggle public because she thought it might negatively impact her brand – acquired recently by Coach for $2.4 billion.

But is that really true?

I honestly believe that if I knew of her struggles, I would have found a way to buy a second real Kate Spade bag, and perhaps also a dress (or three) and more…because I would have wanted to support her cause.

I would have wanted to use my purchase as a daily statement that we must all de-stigmatize and step up to help people suffering from any sort of mental or emotional challenge or illness.

I would have wanted to use my purchase to highlight in particular the unseen struggles of so many entrepreneurs – not only in the unpredictably predictable day-to-day ups and downs … but also because often the very “gene” or character trait that makes us entrepreneurial can often also make us more susceptible to mood swings.

“Call it the downside of being up”, says a must-read Inc Magazine article on the psychological price of entrepreneurship.

There are traumatic events all along the way, any before any entrepreneur becomes an “overnight success” we all struggle through times of near-debilitating anxiety and despair – feelings of unworthiness, feelings of imposter syndrome, worries about letting people down, our families, our team members, our investors.

We learn with varying degrees of success how to manage those ups and downs, regulate them if you will, strengthen our muscles of resilience and radical acceptance of change… learn how not to make everything that happens externally mean something about ourselves…how to let go…

Only some of us don’t.

It’s relatively easy to understand the genesis of someone’s depression or trauma when things are going badly for them.

It’s much harder to understand when someone looks like they “have it all”.

Brad Feld, a prominent VC and managing director of Foundry Group, blogs about his own depression. And when he first started, his inbox filled fast with entrepreneurs sharing their own struggles with depression. “If you saw the list of names, it would surprise you a great deal,” says Feld. “They are very successful people, very visible, very charismatic–yet they've struggled with this silently. There's a sense that they can't talk about it, that it's a weakness or a shame or something. They feel like they're hiding, which makes the whole thing worse.”

The problem is exacerbated by the self-imposed isolation we add to the unworthiness and imposter syndrome feelings that get sparked even for relatively “happy” people.

It all comes back to sharing our vulnerability – as people, and as people building brands – because when we do share our vulnerability we can truly connect as individuals with others who will help us – and also with customers who will value that trusted and emotional connection that comes when we dare to share.

This Wednesday I am a guest on serial entrepreneur Allison Maslan’s podcast Allie & You: The Business Success & Lifestyle Show and when we taped last week, news of Kate Spade’s suicide had just broken.

We talked about what entrepreneurs can do to find happiness in this often-turbulent journey.

The key word here is … journey.

We all need to remember it’s a journey…not a destination.

You see, the problem with destinations is that if you haven’t done the challenging (even painful) inner work to delete and clear old wounds and beliefs … you can easily confuse reaching the destination, the external triumph, with happiness, e.g. “I’ll be happy when I …get to $1m in revenue, get the app built, when I close my Series A round, when I find my COO, when I …[fill in the blank]”.

Nope, doesn’t work that way.

You arrive at the destination…and it can feel empty.

You harness the manic energy of the innovator, the creative, and the enterprising…only to feel numb or despairing when the goal is achieved.

This week on Wings of Inspired Business we go deep into the entrepreneurial mindset – with some amazing guests, including Christy Whitman, who talks of being depressed the moment her first book hit the New York Times bestseller list. She talks of how reaching that personal “peak” of hers, depressed, helped catalyze a healing process that has changed the game for her in her life and business.

It is impossible for me to know whether it was all about the destination for Kate Spade, who battled ‘depression demons’ all her life: Perhaps she thought her success would bring her happiness and when it didn’t, well…

My point is that if material or external things like money or fame are the only way you think you can find value in yourself, then it’s losing battle because there will never be enough.

The value is inside of you.

Happiness comes from inside of us … in our ability to be present in the here and now, fully in the moment, grateful for the abundance around us.

When we can be truly disciplined about practicing gratitude and solace in just being and experiencing we can better weather the ups and downs of life.

Please – if or when you feel despair, sadness, numbness, anxiety or hopelessness – remember to reach out and ask for help.

People WANT to help.

They will not think less of you.

Because you are NOT “less than”… you are NOT an imposter…people don’t love you only for your highlight reel.

You are enough.

My sincere condolences all the families who have lost dear loved ones to suicide and my message to all entrepreneurs: Not only are you enough but you are not alone. Please don’t suffer in silence or isolation.

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