Written by EWI Special Contributors
“What are the biggest misconceptions about mental health related to women and entrepreneurship?”
The question gives neurophysiologist Luisa Torres pause. “There are so many,” she laughs, “Seriously, I’m trying to think! There are so many that come to mind.”
Luisa is an entrepreneur herself. Her business, Happiher, empowers women through training programs that are informed by neuroscience and positive psychology to build self-confidence and emotional resilience. Luisa is also a 2019 graduate of EWI’s Entrepreneur Training for Success program and continues working with EWI as a volunteer mentor and guest speaker for the program. Mental health is often overlooked in entrepreneurship. We met with Luisa to discuss what she sees as the biggest misconceptions and challenges women entrepreneurs face and how to overcome them.
One of the biggest misconceptions people have is that entrepreneurship is only about offering a product of service. Instead, an entrepreneur must be a jack-of-all-trades. Business owners must be confident in their area of expertise while juggling the other aspects of business, from marketing to finances to regulation compliance. Many women micro- and small- business owners are solopreneurs, and it is hard to do it all. Luisa illustrates, “I know about my area, about neuroscience and psychology, but I had to learn about marketing, social media, logistics, PR. It’s so much that it is overwhelming.”
Entrepreneurs in all industries regularly hear the word ‘no’. They face rejection when approaching potential partners, applying for grants and conferences, and seeking new opportunities. Solopreneurs bear the burden of rejection alone and can become discouraged. We often think about access to the market or capital when we think of barriers to successful entrepreneurship. A related barrier is the frustration entrepreneurs feel from repeated rejection. This frustration can increase stress and become exhausting.
Some obvious barriers to women pursuing entrepreneurship are social, economic, and financial factors. Such barriers exist, but according to Luisa, studies show that one of the biggest barriers to women entrepreneurship is the psychological barrier. She says, “It’s fear. It’s the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, the fear of success or ‘imposter syndrome’. It’s these fears come from the insecurities we have that begin when we are young and are socially reinforced. This is the biggest barrier for women entrepreneurs.” Women might choose to not apply for certain opportunities because they are afraid that they are not qualified or will fail. This insecurity is reinforced from childhood. Girls are more often raised to be cautious, careful, and polite than boys. Fear holds women back from pursuing entrepreneurship or other opportunities.
Overcoming Mental Health Challenges and Psychological Barriers
Identifying the mental health challenges and psychological barriers entrepreneurs face is one step of the process. Addressing the issues comes with another set of misconceptions. Luisa says, “It’s a misconception that healthy living or working out is going to fix all of your problems.” The discussion surrounding mental health and self-care often comes back to the benefits of drinking water, healthy eating, and exercise. While it is true that a healthy lifestyle is beneficial, it’s not a simple one step solution. Luisa explains that stress and frustration can affect a person’s physical health through their sleep, energy levels, and motivation. Entrepreneurs can struggle to find the energy to go for a walk or prepare healthy meals. “Another misconception is that we have to change our thoughts first. That’s not true. We don’t have to change our thoughts at all.” Luisa explains that it is almost impossible to change our thoughts and much easier to use strategies to change our behaviors. Entrepreneurs can have self-doubt, insecurity, fear, and other possibly negative thoughts while acting positively towards their goals. For Luisa, overcoming psychological barriers is always about small strategic behavioral changes. Making big changes all at once overwhelms the brain. “If you change your behavior, the thoughts will follow.” Luisa teaches women to make small changes in their actions that work with the brain, not against it. People often give up on lifestyle changes because they make too many big changes at once and it overwhelms the brain. Many of the misconceptions relate to how women pursue entrepreneurship and what barriers they face. Ultimately, there is no quick and easy way to overcome these psychological barriers. It takes time to implement small strategies that work with our brains to get the outcomes we desire. You can learn more about how to the psychological barriers women entrepreneurs face and how to overcome them on Instagram @happiher
Empowered Women International (EWI) is a program of the Latino Economic Development Center. Our mission is to provide entrepreneurship training, mentoring, market access and support services to help talented and high-potential women monetize their creative or cultural assets, artistic abilities, knowledge, and skills, and become change-makers in their families, communities and the world for immigrant, refugee, low-income, and at-risk women in the Greater Washington DC Metro Area.