Chris Federspiel is CEO and co-founder of Blackthorn Payments. He also co-founded Plative as a Salesforce (SI) systems integrator, followed by Brainiac.
I started Blackthorn in 2015, and if I’ve learned anything in the past seven years, nothing stays the same, which can make things both fun (new projects) and depressing (loss of some responsibilities which I liked for the benefit of scaling), often at once. Always in the background – and sometimes at the forefront – of my journey as an entrepreneur and CEO, I live with Bipolar 2.
As I manage my bipolar disorder with medication and therapy 4x/week (myself, a group of men, a group of couples, and with my wife), I still experience cycles of peaks and troughs. The trick is to avoid extremes. My disorder forced me to modify and change my approach to certain things, including the evolution of my role as CEO.
How bipolar affects my work
Unlike bipolar 1, where people experience episodes in a more exaggerated state, people with bipolar 2 mood don’t typically spend all their money in one day or end up in hospitals from suicide attempts. . At work, my patience and filter were thin when communicating with teammates, especially those I had worked with for a long time. My colleagues saw me at my worst – unwilling to be patient, restless, short, quick to anger and jumping over people’s roles. Although it has improved over the years, I still work on it daily.
When I’m in a low or a high, I:
- Move quickly from one idea to another
- Experience increased energy and hyperactivity
- Finding myself increasingly negative, angry, and running out of patience regardless of the scenario
- Misses my usual filter, which tends to have the worst impact on asynchronous and fast communications like Slack or SMS
There is a hidden benefit to my ongoing battle against self-control, racing thoughts, and a tendency to over-commit. I can deal with many initiatives mentally, but at the cost of poor memory, lack of depth, and sometimes ego exhaustion. Because I’m motivated to take more initiatives, add more features, hire more people, and push our product to more sales channels, it also overloads my teams and myself.
Hiring to handle bipolar 2 traits
In building my business, I had to increase my self-awareness and knowledge of my strengths and weaknesses, applying my strengths. How does this translate into running a successful business? Knowing my strengths and weaknesses and hiring the right people to improve my impact complements me and helps me.
A few years ago, I realized I needed to update my hiring strategy. My existing team told me that we needed more processes and needed to slow down a bit. So we hired people with at least 10 years of experience for various leadership roles. Our new team took a linear approach to help Blackthorn grow through defined processes and scale, defined quality assurance functions and roadmaps.
5 strategies to manage your mental health and perform at work
The personality traits embodied by bp2 and entrepreneurs often overlap, so the trick is to embrace your strengths and weaknesses to avoid burnout, sleep deprivation, and other health issues. I consider my disorder not as a handicap but as a boost.
I run my business the same way I run my life. I recognized the importance of identifying triggers that could lead to an emotional cycle and the value of support systems.
Here are some other strategies I’ve used to operate with stability in my role as CEO:
- I hire people to build systems. I like systems not because I like them, but because other people do, and you can’t evolve without them. Routines bring order and eliminate chaos. Systems don’t stifle creativity, as many people fear. They do the exact opposite. They provide space to be creative.
- Creative outlets. Discovery creative outlets can help break through procrastination and increase resolve. I read science fiction and hope to one day write the book I described, paint and play drums. This passion shines through in the company.
- Take the time to move. I train regularly for triathlons. Tiring the body without overdoing it helps me feel good, but there is a good balance between overloading the endorphins with injuries and doing too little. Finding my sweet spot means I can spend time moving daily.
- I listen to my body and I know what it needs. For me, that includes abstaining from drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs. I started out only having 1-2 drinks when I went out, then down to one, then zero. Now I’m a booze-free guy!
- Prioritize sleep. I learned that getting enough sleep reduces future manic episodes. I go to bed at 9:45 every night (including weekends) because a regular sleep schedule helps me function and meet the demands of my job.
A paper from Syracuse University’s Entrepreneurship and Mental Health Workshop identified persistence as a common characteristic of entrepreneurs and those with bp2. This has certainly been the case on my trip which is Blackthorn : from flirting with bankruptcy in 2018 to grow from a handful of employees to 100 employees, it’s this perseverance that has allowed me to push my business (and push myself) to grow.
I continue to adapt to my role as it evolves to meet the growing needs of our business. Which includes setting quarterly and annual goals for the team, then walking away from everyone, letting go of control, trusting them and not micro-managing. In the meantime, I turned my attention to brand building, including writing content, podcast appearances, and speaking at events. But, overall, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, in the United States, you can call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for confidential assistance at 1-800-273-8255. For hotlines in other countries, Click here.
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