A Mental Health Month Conversation
At Ascender, we believe in hustle, but we also believe in a healthy approach to entrepreneurship that prioritizes finding a sense of wellness and balance that works for you.
For Mental Health Month 2021, we want to take a look at the concept of “impression management” — the pressure to manage how others perceive you. While everyone engages in this behavior from time to time, researchers have pointed out that entrepreneurs, in particular, really feel the pressure to be perceived as successful and “having it all.”
We invited two Pittsburgh entrepreneurs, Brian Gaudio, Co-Founder and CEO at Module, and Kathryn Stabile, Founder and Principal Photographer at Kathryn Stabile Photography, to give their perspectives on the concept.
Please note: We are not mental health professionals, and the opinions in this blog post should be taken as personal viewpoints, not professional advice. Some answers have been edited slightly for brevity.
As an entrepreneur or business owner, have you ever felt pressure to manage how others are viewing you? What was that like? What made you feel that pressure? How did you feel as a result?
Brian: “Yes, all the time. Impression management is a huge problem in the startup community. Much of the advice my peers and I were given in various startup programs was that as a CEO of a startup, you should be constantly projecting confidence that ‘you’re the shit,’ and your product is the greatest thing ever. . . . Running a startup means that you’re in a constant state of uncertainty, which can weigh on you and your team. Managing that uncertainty while inspiring your team that we’re going to succeed can be incredibly challenging.”
Kathryn: “I absolutely feel the pressure every day to manage how others see me, I am the face of my brand and business. . . . The pressure comes from myself wanting to succeed, but also the pressure of social media and the constant feeling of needing to put myself out into the world digitally. Marketing is a huge part of how I gain clients, and in today’s digital age, it’s a constant battle to be seen.”
Do you think that entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to feeling like they have to manage their image? Why do you think that is?
Brian: “Yes, because many people think being an entrepreneur is sexy and glamorous; It’s really not! Entrepreneurs have to make significant sacrifices (monetary, family, friends, time) to pursue building a company. The startup media (TechCrunch, TV & movies) perpetuate the idea of startups as glamour.”
Kathryn: “I do think entrepreneurs, especially creatives, are pressured to manage an image. I cannot speak for others, but as a photographer, my entire business IS helping clients feel empowered and motivated by their image, whether a small business or a boudoir client, my goal is for my clients to fall in love with themselves in their image. The pressure to do the same for myself is a struggle sometimes, but I find for my business, in particular, it helps me to put myself in the vulnerable position of my clients. Being in front of the camera is vulnerable and can be scary!”
Have your feelings about managing your image changed over time? If so, what changed? Do you have advice for other small business owners/entrepreneurs who might be feeling this way?
Brian: “At the very beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, I didn’t feel the need to manage my image. Upon immersing myself in ‘startup life’ and getting deep into fundraising and accelerators, I found myself managing my image more and more. I was guilty of the very behavior that I didn’t like! Over time, I’ve managed to care less about what ‘other people’ think about my company or me, and try to focus on what’s best for our team and our company.
My advice for founders is to talk to other founders — they’re dealing with the same problems you are, and most of them will be open and honest with you. The other advice I have is to seek out the help of a mental health professional. Our company is a member of the GAN accelerator network, which offers discounted counseling from licensed therapists. Enrolling in that program and working with a licensed therapist has been really helpful to managing my mental health.”
Kathryn: “It definitely has gotten easier with time and practice. I try to be as authentic and vulnerable with myself and my clients as possible, and it has helped me to gain trust in ways I never imagined. I recently booked my own portrait session with another amazing photographer because I wanted to put myself fully in my clients' shoes. It was an amazing experience (shout out to Kaela Speicher!) and reminded me not only how amazing it can be to feel good about yourself in images, but how hard it can be to feel that vulnerable in front of the lens.
My biggest takeaway and piece of advice is to not be afraid to be candid and vulnerable with your audience. We are all human beings that are perfectly imperfect. Empathy goes a long way with understanding how to better serve clients.”
Want to keep the conversation going?
We encourage you to reach out to those in your professional network to discuss these issues. If you find that you need extra support, please seek help from a mental health professional in your area. If you’re looking to connect with other Pittsburgh-area entrepreneurs, feel free to reach out to the team at Ascender.
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