The proliferation of wellness culture has exploded over the past decade, with my native LA perhaps being the epicenter. But I’m not here to talk about consumable or Instagrammable versions of self-care. Rather, I want to talk about the real stakes behind the wellness content machine and the reason it even exists.
Our culture champions a grit-it-out approach to work. I’m guilty of this—most of us are. And while many modern companies are attempting to change corporate policies and culture, it seems that the grind is winning.
Look no further than the worlds I occupy: venture capital, entrepreneurship, startups, tech. Their enduring mantras? Move fast, break things, disrupt, innovate, “crush” it, sacrifice yourself for a good idea. Mental and physical health and personal relationships take the hit. It’s only recently that some are speaking out about how their work affects their mental health, and often they didn’t realize it until it was almost too late. As an industry, we should strive to find balance—it has the potential to help us be successful humans and start successful businesses, long-term.
Understand where you’re coming from
I spent 32 years of my life doing exactly what I just described, head down, grinding it out. I didn’t realize I needed self-care until I inadvertently received it on a family trip last year. It was just the check-in I needed. It was only a taste of peace but something I wanted to keep exploring. So, I decided to attend a retreat in Maui (I know, I know) where the programming is built around the narrative trope of the hero’s journey. You know it: the protagonist leaves home, faces adversity, meets those challenges, has a breakthrough, and returns home. Think Lord of the Rings but for inner growth.
In Maui, I was grappling with the fact that when I was 13 years old, my father had a heart attack and died in front of me while we were watching Miami Vice. That moment had a major impact on me, my family, and the way my life was to unfold. I tried to turn tragedy into opportunity. I told myself that his death taught me important lessons in life: to love deeply, to work hard, and to understand that life is precious. This coping mechanism served me well in my grief. I put my head down, shut out negative emotions, and worked. When I achieved a goal I set for myself, I moved on to the next, and I’d been in this rinse and repeat cycle since.
This story made me who I am, and I encourage others to look within themselves and reach out to their communities to understand the fabric of who they are.
Find your mountaintop
I understand that most people would say mine is a success story. I overcame a major tragedy and built a wonderful life for myself. But there are questions I never asked until Maui. The most important one? “Why do I not live in a state of joy with the life that I have?”
Of many amazing moments of vulnerability that I shared with my new friends in Hawaii, one stands out as the most powerful, healing experience of my life.
On the last day, we were doing an exercise where we asked others in a small group to carry the energy of a person or experience that we were trying to overcome. The facilitator suggested that I have a conversation with my dad and with my three sons. For 30 long minutes, I revisited the night of his death, I talked about losing him and missing him. I sobbed uncontrollably as I promised my boys that I wouldn’t leave them the way my dad left me. It was an out-of-body experience.
As the session ended, the facilitator asked me if I needed anything else. I said, “The last time I saw my father, I was trying to resuscitate him in his Laz-Z-Boy before the paramedics arrived. My last moment with him was saying goodbye and kissing his cold body on a metal table in the hospital. Would it be too much to ask for a hug?” It was an incredible hug. He held me and told me he loved me and that he was proud of me. It unlocked something deep inside me I didn’t know existed—it unlocked my pain and released a lightness in me that I believe changed me forever.
This was my mountaintop. Do you need to be at a retreat in Maui to find it? No. But look for the spaces and people that allow you to be vulnerable and deal with the things holding you back from contentment and balance.
I returned from Maui wanting to share my experience with my wife, my kids, my mother, and my brother. I shared with my partners at Crosscut and with any of my entrepreneurs who cared to listen. Why? Because I want them to hold me accountable to living my life with an open and vulnerable heart not stuck in a state of frustration, one that’s present and approachable.
My breakthrough was a huge privilege owed in part to the cards I’ve been dealt and to the “achievement orientation” I am working to balance out. I’m not fixed—I still have more work to do. I’m trying therapy for the first time to explore my dad’s death and my mourning in more detail. I am doing coaching work with the group that hosted the retreat. The goal is to make this state of joy and light my new normal. I am the luckiest man in the world to get to do what I do, but maybe the intensity and focus that served me well to get here won’t be the ticket to happiness. Maybe balance can be just as important to success.
Apply what you’ve learned
Like me, many founders don’t address self-care until their ambition or their idea is affecting their health and well-being in real, sometimes irreversible ways. I’ve committed to reshaping how Crosscut behaves from now on.
We say that 80% of our investment bets are based on the founder–their passion, vision, and grit. If outcomes are so heavily dependent on the individual, how can we not put every effort into helping those founders be truly exceptional–not just as leaders and visionaries but as humans who are emotionally healthy, self-aware, and capable of handling the stresses of entrepreneurship? As a fiduciary of our limited partners, how can we not invest in every tool and resource available to increase our collective chances of success?
I’m not telling anyone to stop working hard, to stop believing so passionately in your ideas or yourself that you get worn out. I’m also not suggesting that breakthroughs ought to happen on expensive retreats. Look to yourself, look to others. Sound judgments and business decisions are best made with a balanced, lucid mind. Creating space to think should not be secondary and, in my experience, is critical in building sustainable ventures.
Brian Garrett is an entrepreneur, cofounder of Crosscut Ventures, and a rare native Angeleno. When he’s not at work, you can find him at a sports complex coaching his sons’ volleyball teams and in the water tethered to a surfboard.