Brent McCrossen, founder/CEO of Audiosocket outside of his office in the Central Business District of New Orleans
This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is a festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans. See it all happen this year March 19-24, 2017.
In February 2016, Brent McCrossen was driving to the office after dropping his son off at school when he suddenly felt a distinctive pain in his chest. In that moment, he knew he had two choices. He could either drive directly to the hospital, or go to the office and continue his day as usual.
He decided to go to the office.
Two weeks later, when he experienced another health scare, he went to the doctor immediately, at the nudging of his wife.
There, his doctor asked him two questions: Do you know the effects of prolonged stress? You die! How are you going to do this and live?
Something had to give.
McCrossen, founder of Audiosocket, a music rights company that provides clients with curated music, had been leading the enterprise for months after his co-founder had stepped down. Simultaneously, he was in the process of spinning out the LicenseID technology invented by Audiosocket into a new company, called LIDCORE. He was doing it all while striving to be an attentive husband and father to his two young children.
“I was essentially pulling two businesses apart and running them both as a solo founder. I was struggling to stay on top of that wave while balancing my family duties,” McCrossen says.
It was an extraordinarily stressful time in his life.
“I was in the survival, plow through hell mindset. And it was affecting my health tremendously,” McCrossen says. I knew I wasn’t willing to walk away from my two companies, but I also wasn’t willing to sacrifice my well-being. So I said, okay, what do I need to do?” McCrossen says.
He knew it was time to reset.
High Stakes, High Stress
Perhaps it was an experience that is not uncommon to many founders. Often less highlighted among the seemingly rapid successes of startups, is the impact that it has on the mental and physical health of entrepreneurs.
A study conducted by the University of California and Stanford last March found that 30 percent of entrepreneurs report suffering from depression in their lifetime.
“As founders, we are so used to handling large amounts of stress, that sometimes we don’t realize we are handling any stress at all.” McCrossen says. “It was the compounded effects of stress that I was burying and wasn’t even acknowledging it. It didn’t dawn on me until my body said you need to take care of me, or I will leave you,” McCrossen says.
McCrossen, who has kept a long-time dedicated meditation practice, says it was the first thing that slipped away during that time.
“I looked back at the past eight months and my meditation practice had suffered. So, I said, let’s fix that first and then we can refine from there. I got more diligent in the physical act of exercise also, and releasing those chemicals that build up in your body from stress,” McCrossen says.
That reinvigorated him to return to the practice that he had begun at the age of 16.
“The irony of stress and meditation is that when you’re under acute stress for an extended period of time, you feel that you have to work, work, work, to get out of that situation, and make whatever it is better. One inclination is say that I don’t have time for it. I need to get up, survive and kick my way through this problem to end the suffering and make things better. Therefore, giving up the meditation practice will allow me more time to fix shit. It’s a fallacy,” McCrossen says.
Licensed provisional therapist Nikole Dominique-Maikell has worked closely with entrepreneurs and is aware of the impact that starting and growing a business can have on mental health. Maikell says maintaining routines during those challenging times can help sustain positive mental health.
“As much as you are going around, buzzing and doing different things, a routine and a ritual is something you’re aware of. You don’t just do it mindlessly you do it mindfully. And by identifying those places in your day, we become more connected with ourselves, with our energy, and with what’s that’s going on around us,” Maikell says.
She also points out that having candid conversations about it empowers entrepreneurs to become aware and take action.
“It’s being connected, mindful, aware of what you’re doing. By having that conversation with people, it gives you some level of awareness. I have to put words to it, I have to put language to it, so I realize where I am in that moment,” Maikell says.
And that’s a first step.
Now, meditation and exercise are a non-negotiable part of McCrossen’s day.
“When I start my day with meditation, it provides a gentle perspective and calm that I’m able to leverage throughout the rest of my otherwise stressful day. I find when I do those things, my day is typically better, and I find when I give up the practice, or get really distracted from it for a month or two, which has happened in my history of practicing, things don’t flow as well,” McCrossen says.
This past summer, McCrossen took to swimming 4-5 times a week along with weight training. That means he’s waking up with the sunrise for twenty minutes of meditation before he gets the kids to school. Then, it’s off to the gym before he heads downtown to get the workday started.
A Holistic Approach to Entrepreneurship
With the high pressure and demands that the entrepreneur lifestyle brings, it may seem that it is at odds with the basic principles of meditation. But McCrossen argues that the practice helps him execute and lead his company successfully.
“The meditation side is observation, trying to detach yourself from forcing outcomes, and the entrepreneurial objective is have a vision, create a plan, drive to that and control it. They seem to be very much in opposition, and in the face of them they are,” McCrossen says.
But McCrossen takes a different approach.
“What I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that you can have a vision, and a strategy and plan, and you can push to implement that strategy and plan, and measure against it, and hustle [is the popular word people like to use], but you can do it from a state where you’re not trying to force outcomes,” McCrossen says.
While McCrossen admits that the balance of the two is daunting, he says the practice helps him stay grounded and lead with clarity.
“There’s this incredible fear of not doing enough. It’s always, I have to push harder, if only I push harder, I’d get there faster. It’s just not always the case. Sometimes giving yourself a little bit of extra room to have the space and strength to observe how outcomes are manifesting based on your actions is more beneficial than just pushing so hard that you don’t have the clarity to see how the universe is responding to your will power. Sometimes pushing too hard can be a detriment to progress,” McCrossen says.
“When I cut myself off from it, I either miss opportunities, or misinterpret intuitions, or I’m not optimized to bring things into my life that were destined to happen in the first place,” McCrossen says.
Health coach and owner of Raw Republic, Sheena Mannina says it’s important for entrepreneurs to create a space of joy even when they are in the thick of starting and growing their businesses.
“Joy is doing something that seemingly has no purpose. It could be spending time walking, painting, or spending time with a friend and not looking for an outcome. Checking in and taking time for you every day assists with situations and problems that are related to social anxiety for entrepreneurs and alleviates some of that isolation,” Mannina says.
So far, McCrossen’s holistic approach has served him well as an entrepreneur.
Audiosocket, which now has employees in New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and Colorado, was founded in 2009, and has since paid out more than six million dollars in royalties to the artists it serves.
In early 2017, he has plans to scale up the team to grow Lidcore.
While he’s still operating both businesses as a solo founder, and the challenges still remain, he says he is better equipped to handle them.
“I am not a master of it. There are days when I still have an incredibly high amount of stress. There are days when I am pushing too hard as opposed to letting go, and trusting that what I’ve done has gotten us on the right path,” McCrossen says. And if it hasn’t, knowing that the data will come back and I’ll understand that we need to tweak whatever approach we are taking to arrive at the right outcome. Sometimes there are setbacks and failures, and that’s okay too,” McCrossen says.
In the midst of those setbacks and failures, McCrossen says staying rooted in the present can help push through even the most difficult times.
“Just take a deep breath, Om for a minute, and observe the now. It’s the only moment that ever exists, so live in it fully,” McCrossen says.