If you follow my posts, you’ll know that as well as SaaS sales, I’m massively interested in mental health. I have bipolar disorder, which I manage on a day-to-day basis. For the next in my occasional series of stories about my mental health, I’d like to talk about how my bipolar disorder affects my ambitions.
The next Branson
In my early 20s, even before I was diagnosed, I knew I wanted to make it big in business. And by big, I mean big. After reading Richard Branson’s autobiography I became obsessed with emulating the great man, with lots of varied businesses under one Virgin brand.
I started designing my own clothing line, planning to open a chain of nightclubs, even opening a bank. I was going to do all of this within a year and really make a name for myself. I 100% believed this was possible. I wrote business plans and researched all the industries I wanted to operate in. I also trademarked a name for this all-encompassing, world-beating company.
Uber. It's probably best at this point to mention my trademark doesn't cover taxi services or logistics.
OK, maybe I was on to something with the name. But the rest was a mess. After I had been committed to a mental health hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I learned what was happening.
This was part of the hyper-manic stage of my bipolar. Multiple new projects, flights of ideas, unflappable self-belief. All classic signs.
Part of my bipolar makes me wildly ambitious in everything I do, even stretching the bounds of what’s possible. When my mental health was in that state, I would bet you £500 that I could run 100m in 5 seconds. The concept of what I could and couldn’t do simply didn’t exist! It’s led me into trouble a number of times.
I’ve never been afraid of hard work. I’ve had tons of really odd jobs over the years. I did door-to-door sales trying to persuade people to have their milk delivered. I had a job giving out massages at festivals. That was fun. I even had a job working on a P&O cruise line, before I got fired for falling asleep on the top deck.
The problem is, I take it too far. I’m so ambitious and determined to be the best, whether it’s possible or not, that I don’t know when to stop. When I started in recruitment I wanted to be the best in my team, so I’d make sure I was first in the office at 7 am and the last to leave at 9 pm. I’d come in on Saturdays. I’d never take holidays.
A few years back, I started a side project which I planned to develop into a massively successful business. Again, I set myself wildly unrealistic goals, leading me to give this project literally everything I had. I was working 5 am to 11 pm most days. When I drove, I would speed everywhere to try and create more time.
Of course, I couldn’t sustain these levels. Every time I pushed myself like this, eventually came the inevitable burnout.
My mind raced with thoughts of work all the time. I couldn’t be present when I was with my family.
I displayed personality traits that aren’t exactly desirable. I was arrogant, unbalanced, unwilling to hear anyone’s opinion if it clashed with my own. Only I could be right. I pushed away everyone who tried to help me.
Eventually, something had to give. There was an episode which led to me having to ask for time off work due to stress, but maybe that’s another story.
I find it difficult to comprehend as I write this. But that’s how it was.
Today, things are different. I have a better understanding of my mental health. I can feel these feelings of wild ambition coming on and I can temper them. I’m blessed to have a wonderful partner and 3 beautiful children. They keep my feet on the ground, that’s for sure.
As I start my latest ventures I’m still determined. I have goals. I want to grow fast and be successful, but there’s a bit more realism there now. I don’t overdo it. I work hard, but not every single second of the day. I’m building a great team to help me.
As I usually say in my mental health stories, it’s all about checking in with yourself. I analyse what I’m doing and how it’s affecting me all the time. This time, I will identify any little problems before they become big ones.