Most entrepreneurial CEOs are on the spectrum for bipolar disorder. Also known as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes significant shifts in mood, from elation to extreme depression. Some research indicates people with bipolar disorder may show superior leadership skills early in life, possibly because of the intense energy and focus that comes with the manic phase of the illness. It’s been called “the CEO disease” because so many notable leaders, including Winston Churchill, Ted Turner, and Jane Pauley are known or believed to have experienced bipolar disorder. Do you or your employees get tired of the chaos that you caused with your crazy random ideas? If so, today’s episode is for you.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
- The 11 traits shared by most entrepreneurs.
- Why, for an entrepreneur, bipolar disorder can be a superpower.
- How to navigate the highs and lows of being a CEO, and how to ride the entrepreneurial roller coaster.
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Most entrepreneurial CEOs are on the spectrum for bipolar disorder, and I’m one of them. Do you or your employees get tired of the chaos that you cause with your crazy random ideas? In this episode, I’ll reveal eleven traits of entrepreneurs and their correlations with bipolar. I’ll explain why CEOs are wired differently and there’s nothing wrong with us. I’ll also walk you through how to navigate the highs and lows of being a CEO and how to ride the entrepreneurial rollercoaster. If you’re a COO, you’ll finally learn that your CEO isn’t crazy. You’ll learn how to navigate their rollercoaster as well. Please share this episode for sure.
It’s a pretty good show. I just want to see how truly entrepreneurial you are. I have to read this list and then I’ll put my phone away, I promise. I’m going to read a list of 11 traits of entrepreneurs. I want you to count how many of these 11 describe you. As soon as you hear 5 traits that describe you, I want you to stand up.
Are you often filled with energy? By the way, I will count on my fingers for my 11 as well. Does your mind get flooded with ideas? Are you driven? Are you restless? Are you unable to keep still? If you get to five, you can stand. You’re right there with me. We’re classic f*ck-ups. Do you often stay standing? Do you often work on little sleep? Do you get euphoric? Do you get easily irritated by minor obstacles? Do you burn out periodically? Do you act out sexually, which is like flirting?
People are standing up on their chairs. Do you feel persecuted by those who do not accept your vision? Who here has 11 for 11? You’re right there with me. Ten out of eleven, keep your hand up. If you have 9, 10, or 11 traits, you would be clinically diagnosed as bipolar, for real. If you have more than 5, you’re on the spectrum. You’re complete f*ck-ups just like I am.
What’s interesting though about entrepreneurs is we’re wired very differently and there’s nothing wrong with us. I was sitting on a plane from Chicago to Miami and I got bumped off my prior flight in first class. I’m sitting back in the economy in an exit row sitting beside a guy who’s even taller than I am. We’re both doing work. As we’re talking, I notice that he’s very up and down with his emotions. He’s very scattered and he has this nervous tick. We’re talking and I said, “By the way, you’ve got wicked ADD just like me.” He’s like, “How do you know that?” I’m like, “I know you and you’re bipolar as well.” He’s like, “How do you know I’m bipolar?” I started describing it and he told me he’d been clinically diagnosed as bipolar.
I have 17 of the 18 signs of ADD. My ex-wife said if I was paying attention during testing, it would’ve been 18 for 18, which is probably accurate. I also diagnosed him as having Tourette’s. The nervous tick is something in Tourette’s. We were then talking and I said, “Do you run your business?” He goes, “Yeah, I’ve got a business.” I said, “What are your revenues like?” He’s like, “$700, $800.” I’m like, “Small business, $700,000, $800,000. How many employees have you got?” He’s like, “17 or 18.” I’m like, “That math doesn’t work. You’ve got eighteen employees with $700,000 in revenue?” He goes, “No, $700 million in revenue.” I look at him and his name was Marcelo Claure.
When I met Marcelo, he was running the largest Hispanic-owned company in the United States called Brightstar. Six months later, he sold his company for over $1 billion to SoftBank. Marcelo was then appointed as the CEO of Sprint. He later became the chairman of WeWork to have to turn WeWork around after they threw its founder Adam out. He’s now on the board of SoftBank, Google, WeWork, etc. I diagnosed this classic entrepreneur as having three strong entrepreneurial traits. There’s nothing wrong with being ADD.
There’s somebody here who might even be in the audience who I met at the event who came up to me at the party a couple of nights ago and he said, “You said you got bad ADD. I can help you with that.” Stay away from me. I don’t want help with my ADD. As an entrepreneur, it’s a superpower, the fact that I can see what’s happening with the economy, my customers, my suppliers, and the market, I can see the problems with my website, and I can notice little trends. Because I’m seeing everything, it’s so overwhelming to me. I have to delegate them quickly.
I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t want to be an engineer. I don’t want to be a teacher. The mania of bipolar disorder is why people will follow me. It’s why they’ll invest. It’s why they’ll quit their job. It’s why they will take on a project that we don’t know the end to. It’s why somebody will literally join the company for less money than they were making elsewhere. It’s because we’re on that manic fringe and they love that energy.
Stress and depression are simply us course correcting because we can’t tell our peers and our employees how stressed we are. We can’t admit to our leadership team that we’re scared at times or that we’re screwing things up. We can’t admit to our customers that something is going wrong. We can’t tell our board. Sometimes, we don’t even tell our spouse that we haven’t paid ourselves for six months or six weeks or drawn a paycheck, or paid ourselves back the expenses.
When we were building 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I went three months without a paycheck and without submitting expenses because we didn’t have the money to pay it. I sure didn’t tell my ex-wife that because she would’ve been freaking out. Brian and I lived in this little zone of stress and depression. The reason I bring this up is I know entrepreneurs. It’s all I know. I feel like a bit of a fraud at Mindvalley because I’m not this heart-centered, meditative, or blissed out. The closest I get is I live in Vancouver part-time. I like it and I want to do it. I want to get better at it and I want to explore it, but you guys are miles down the road in that for me, but I do know entrepreneurs.
I’ve been paid to speak to groups of entrepreneurs now in 26 countries on seven continents. All I know is entrepreneurial leaders. What I’m going to give to you today are the lessons that I wish I’d known at a younger age. When I left 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I decided to journal, which is something that we teach you at Mindvalley. I started journaling for twenty minutes every morning for three and a half months. While I was journaling, I came up with a lot of these lessons. These lessons became what I call the letters to my younger self. They’re all in my very first book, Double Double. They’re the last chapter of the book Double Double. I’m going to give you those lessons today and then we’re going to open it up for Q&A.
I know the book Double Double is good. That is not photoshopped, for Christ’s sake. I know the book is good because it was in Richard Branson’s library on Necker Island. Richard doesn’t read because he is massively dyslexic. That is not Photoshopped. A friend of mine put it there and took the picture, but it’s not Photoshopped. People are like, “Oh my god, it’s in his library.” First off, I don’t think he can read. He’s so massively dyslexic. Secondly, Necker Island was obliterated about five years ago in that massive storm so that library doesn’t even exist anymore, but I will keep showing this picture.
All right, so let’s go into the letters to my younger self. Now, I can stand up here and talk to you about all my successes and how big we grew 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I took them from fourteen employees to 3,100 employees in six years. We went from $2 million to $106 million in revenue in six years. We had no debt. We had no outside shareholders. We gave up no equity. We ranked as the number two company in Canada to work for. What I want to talk to you about today more is the failures and the struggles and hopefully, give you some of those lessons from there because that’s where a lot of my real strengths came from.
The first one was I was at a cocktail party one night. This was around 2007 to 2008. I think I just left 1-800-GOT-JUNK? or was in the process of probably leaving. One of the women who worked for me, Jillian, came up to me and she said, “You’re boring.” I was like, “Really?” She goes, “All you talk about is work. You have no other passions, no other hobbies.” She was right.
The weird thing was Brian, my best friend who we’d built the company six and a half years later, I didn’t find out in until two years after I’d left that Brian liked to ski. My best friend and the best man at my wedding, and all we ever talked about was work. I didn’t know he liked to ski. I’ve skied in the Canadian American Championships twice. Skiing was a massive passion of mine. We never talked about skiing for six and a half years. That’s messed up because I was so out of balance. What that taught me was no one gives a shit about what you do for work.
Imagine this for a second. Let’s say you’re in a fun industry. You teach sex, that’s cool. If you’re at a cocktail party and you want to keep talking about that, it starts getting a little awkward for everybody at some point unless you’re at some of the fun parties like Burning Man. If you’re at the party, you don’t want to hear what the accountant does for an hour. You don’t want to hear what the lawyer does for an hour. You don’t want to hear the doctor talking about surgery. Many of these jobs and professions are so boring, we don’t want to hear about them. What makes you think they want to hear about your business? What made me think that they wanted to hear about mine? I had to learn that.
That’s why now, people will come up to me and say, “What do you do?” I’m like, “I go to Burning Man. I like skiing. I travel all over the world.” “No, what do you do to make money?” “I don’t talk about that. Have you been to Burning Man?” I mess with them a little bit because I don’t like talking about what I do for work. When I’m working, I’m on. When I’m off, I’m off. I want to talk about my passions, my fears, my insecurities, and my bucket list. That’s what I want to know about you. I don’t care what you do to make money, but I want to know what your passions are. I want to know what your bucket list is.
There’s somebody in this audience that I’m completely fascinated with because I met him on the first day. Itâ€™s Nate? Dude, you blew my mind. You’re a good dude and your smile is your superpower. I’m going to get to know you because I want to know who you are. I don’t give a shit what you do to make money. I don’t even care what your old business was that your partner pushed you out of and lost money on whatever or took your money. I want to know you because when everybody else knows you, that’s when everything grows.
I learned that balance is key, but there’s no way to be balanced. You can’t keep your friends, family, faith, fitness, spirituality, and everything perfectly in balance all the time. It’s impossible, especially if you’re a woman who’s trying to be a spouse, a lover, a best friend, a mom, and you’re running a company. Are you kidding? Of course, you’re not going to get that perfect every single day.
I think balance is a bunch of this. What I try to do is find the eight areas of my life that I’m working on and I pick two areas. I go deep into those two areas for about a month or so. For the next month, I pick two other areas and I go deep on those. When I was at Mindvalley, I only came to two sessions because I was focused on two things, my business, and my wife. This week, I’ve been spending more time at Mindvalley, coming here, working here, networking here, going for lunches with people, going for coffee, showing up first thing in the morning, going to parties at night, and ignoring my wife a little bit. This is Mindvalley week for me. Next week, when we go to Sweden, I’ll recalibrate a little bit.
I would feel too stressed out trying to be everything to everybody all the time. I give myself a little bit of a break when I’m not quite in balance because I realize the balance is more of a teeter-totter or a balance board. That’s what balance is for me. I also learned that when I show up at the end of the day, my ex-wife used to say that she was getting leftovers. Not for dinner, I was leftovers. I was coming back with no energy because I’d given everything at the office. I showed up back at home and I didn’t have any good energy to bring into the relationships with my kids and my spouse. I had to learn some ways to keep my business in a box and close it.
When I used to work at a physical office, I would shut my laptop and I would leave. I realized when I was doing that, that I couldn’t take my laptop home with me at night because I wasn’t going to catch up anyway. You’re not going to get your list done. Who here works at night to catch up? Have you ever caught up? No, so stop doing it. All you’re doing is lying to yourself, “I’m going to catch up so I’ll work this weekend.” No, you’re working this weekend and you’re avoiding the pain or relationships or something else that isn’t going well in your life. You’re using work as the dopamine rush to fill the voids of everything else.
What I learned is close the laptop and go home. I’ve worked from home for the last fifteen and a half years. Now, what I do is I never work nights. I will allow myself to work one night per month maximum, but every other day of the week I’m done at 5:30. I haven’t worked a Saturday or Sunday in probably a decade. I’ve said no to speaking events that want me to travel now because I don’t want to. I get paid $40,000 for a keynote plus business class travel. I say no to that all the time because I’d rather do it over Zoom so I have no commute. You can’t get me to do the wrong things anymore because it allows me to keep my problems at work.
I also had something that happened in October 2000. We were running a big internet company. If everyone remembers March 2000, we’d just sold our company for $64 million. That was a lot of money to sell for. On March 15th, we went public. The company that was acquiring us was public. I think we sold on March 10th. On March 15th, Steve Ballmer stood up from Microsoft and said there was an internet bubble. We’re like, “No, don’t tell people.”
The stock market started to crash. Our stock needed three months for the transaction to close. By the time it closed, our $64 million valuation was worth $3.8 million. Our stock went from $24.65 down to about $3. It was called network commerce. I’d gotten married and I realized on the wedding day I wasn’t in love. A month after the wedding, my wife conceived. I was stressed.
A friend of mine tapped me on the shoulder in the elevator one day and he said, “Are you okay?” I collapsed on the floor of the elevator sobbing and shaking. I was having a nervous breakdown. Three weeks later, I went to the doctor to get a routine medical for a physical that I needed to get insurance for a house that we were buying. The doctor said, “How are you feeling?” I’m like, “Pretty good. I’ve got this weird metallic taste at the back of my neck.” Does anybody ever have that? I call it a taste, but it’s not so much a taste. It’s a feeling. It’s like your neck is tight at the back. Who’s had that feeling? Put your hand up. A bunch of you.
I’m describing what this feels like, this weird thing that tastes something. He goes, “What’s going on in your life?” “First of all, my wife is pregnant and I just quit my job and we lost $64 million. My $3 million is worth about $140. I’m moving from Seattle back to Canada. My mom is terminal with Stage III-B colon cancer. My wife is quitting her job, but we just bought a house so that’s cool. I’m getting my first mortgage.” The doctor is looking at me and he goes, “That taste at the back of your neck is actually a chemical secretion being caused by stress.”
We did this test that they give you and you have to fill out all these questions and they give you points. If you get 150 points, you have a 50% chance of a heart attack. If you get 250 points, you have a 90% chance of a heart attack. I had 435 points. It’s the only test I’ve ever scored high in. I was clinically redlining. I could show you a photo. I should put this photo into my slides.
I carry a scale in my backpack. We’ve sold everything and we literally travel with a backpack. In my backpack, I travel with this little flat scale because I weigh myself every morning. When I woke up that morning back in October 2000, I weighed 222 pounds. This morning, I weighed 180 pounds. Some of that’s because you didn’t serve me food last night. You don’t lose 42 pounds because of a dinner, you lose 42 pounds because life all of a sudden gets better and you learn how to reduce stress.
I started running. I started doing yoga. I started doing some meditation. I started talking to people honestly. When somebody said, “How are you?” I didn’t say, “I’m good.” I don’t actually say I’m good unless I’m good. Sometimes I’ll be like, “Actually, I’m having a crappy day. You’ll probably not want to hear about it, but you ask so I’m going to tell you.” I like getting the stress out of my body that way.
I had to learn to reduce stress in healthy ways. I learned that having a drink is okay, but starting every meal, because this was at the height of the internet. We were successful and we were all stressed. I lived across the street from the office. We would get to the office at 7:00 AM. I’d worked until 7:00 PM. We had 900 employees at the time. The CEO and I would go for dinner. I would start my dinner with two Manhattans. He would start his with two Dirty Martinis. We then would have a bottle of wine, maybe two bottles of wine because we could each put down a bottle, no problem. We’d finish our dinner with Grand Marnier. That was five days a week.
I would drive home to Vancouver on the weekend, I was living two and a half hours away, and I’d spend two days with my wife. I’d wake up at 4:00 in the morning on Monday and drive back to Seattle and do it again. I thought I was managing stress perfectly. I realized that having one drink is okay, but having dinners like that is not okay. Smoking a joint is okay, especially now if you’re in Vancouver. Smoking seven of them a day is probably not a good idea. Doing yoga once in a while is good. Doing yoga seven days a week for two hours and avoiding your friends and family is probably not so good. It’s all things in moderation except McDonald’s.