“In 2017 I realized I was not okay. I needed to change the way I think about things and get myself out of the hole I had dug myself into,” Andy Chan said, as he reflected on hitting rock bottom. It was then he finally talked openly to his parents about his tendencies, and he considered seeing a psychiatrist. Chan chose to forego the psychiatrist route.
Somewhat surprised he decided to essentially go it alone, we asked him how he turned his life around. “It was my commitment to myself that I needed to get out of this place,” Chan answered. “I just told myself I needed to do it. I didn’t necessarily know how to do it, but I just started seeking more balance.” More balance meant a holistic approach and getting back to what was important to him. It was not hitting a reset button – it is an ongoing effort that has been underway for eight months. “It was slow but steady, this commitment,” he said, and then added, “I feel like I know my body now.” It has meant not only listening to his body but also managing relationships better; being honest about his emotions; communicating better; yoga; and diving into music.
Listening to Your Body
“For me I think it was really actually learning that my own health both physically and mentally mattered whereas before I just kind of threw my body and mental state to the wayside. I just became smarter. For example, I’d rather have eight super productive hours rather than working 12 hours just to fulfill some obligation to work 12 hours even if I’m not super productive. I became smarter with how I listened to my body. ‘Oh hey, Andy, you should sleep more, you should get eight hours of sleep today or on the weekend,’ or ‘Hey, you’re feeling tired, take a nap’; whereas before I didn’t do that. I’d be just like, Oh yeah I can work through with five or six hours of sleep, continuously, nonstop. It wasn’t sustainable.”
“I had this preconceived notion that oh my god I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a young entrepreneur, I’ve got to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week. I started breaking myself of these preconceived notions I had of life to just saying if you need rest you need rest, you should eat well, you should workout. If you’re sad it’s okay to be sad. I think that’s another thing, if I happened to be upset I would just bury it. I just kept burying everything, burying the burden. It’s just part of growing up, like if you feel sad just feel sad, talk to someone about it. I think that’s helped a lot.”
Opening Up Emotionally and Communicating
Chan became more open with his best friend and co-founder, team members, and other friends. “Yeah, yeah, that’s when I started opening up more,” he recalled. “I started realizing I had this support network of friends that I have made over the years and other entrepreneurs, but for some reason I was just mentally isolating myself. As I mentioned before, I have this thought that I was somehow protecting them by not admitting how I really feel. They don’t want to hear my problems. I don’t want to burden them. They’re dealing with their own problems. I think I just kind of shook myself out of that. Not to say that I was more selfish, but I thought to myself, kind of be selfish and talk about it even if it burdens them. I think I’ve opened up so that the last one or two times we almost went through bankruptcy I was very transparent with both the team and my co-founder. I think that’s helped, just being more transparent and not thinking that I personally have to carry all the burden myself.”
Am I a Sociopath?
As our conversation dug deeper into Chan’s internal workings, it became clear that he had become more self-aware, and in conjunction with becoming more attuned to himself had bolstered his emotional intelligence. We asked him if he was cognizant of this, did he think about how his emotions impacted those around him? “I would say yes 100%,” he answered. “I would say one of the hardest things when I was starting as the CEO was learning how to manipulate my emotions to have some sort of affect either on the team, the investors, sales whatever. Rarely would you find me really mad or sad or something like that, at least in front of people. It was interesting to learn this skill of when to be mad or when to be sad, at least externally. Also, it’s a discombobulating experience because you’re basically becoming an actor. You come to work and it’s who you are, but at the same time you’re acting to a certain extent, like you display certain emotions that you think will have a specific cause and effect. It was interesting because there was a time when I asked myself, Am I a sociopath? I feel like this is what sociopaths do but I don’t feel like a sociopath. I feel like I empathize with you. It’s just weird when you alter your own emotions.”
As he talked through this explanation, what was curious was how he trained himself to be an actor to achieve certain outcomes; and how at the same time this acting may have been a disservice to himself as it may have helped to bury those negative emotions that would eat away at him. We were curious if he had learned these acting tools in a class or from someone. “No, it was actually just a lot of observation,” answered Chan. “Oh, if I do this, this happens. It was very touch and go. Quite frankly I didn’t talk to anyone about this because of the taboo nature. I wasn’t afraid that I was a sociopath but I didn’t want other people to think that. I think what I’ve learned is overtime as I talk to more and more entrepreneurs and young entrepreneurs, unfortunately the nature of the job requires a level of that internal emotion manipulation.”
Yoga and Music, Hyper-cathartic
As far as a holistic approach to getting out of the hole, we turned the conversation back to what else Chan does, such as diet and exercise. “I typically lift weights but now I do more yoga,” he said. “I’ll do yoga once a week. Yoga has definitely helped because it’s a meditative type of exercise. And since I sit around all day, it helps me stretch out. The one thing I think that has been my grace and savior is music actually. Everyday I try to take at least an hour to play some music. I was classically trained on the piano growing up, but when I came to college I stopped playing music altogether. I felt something was terribly wrong and missing in my life. When I started playing music again, it made me feel better. It is hyper-cathartic. So on the side, on the weekends, and one hour every night I’ll do some kind of music.”
There’s also no more burning the candle at both ends to keep up with friends. “So now after my second year I like to think I’ve struck a balance. And I think another thing that helped a lot is all of my friends started to graduate. Now they’re in the workplace and we can speak about work stuff. I think that made it tremendously better.” Their social scene was built around college and parties; they now have common ground to connect on. Chan puts get-togethers on his calendar so he sticks to them. “If anything I think I’ve just made it more of a priority,” he said of managing personal relationships, “like every single week I’ll hang out with friends a minimum of once. It’s just a commitment to myself. I obviously have to work, have to sleep, but I also need to maintain relationships.”
Drawing Upon Perspective
Though only two and a half years into VIT, Chan now has some rich perspective to draw upon. For example, it’s illustrated in how he talks about being their salesman and dealing with hearing “no” from potential customers or investors. “I think when you first start off every ‘no’ feels like a bullet to the chest. Overtime, as we got more ‘noes’ I just told myself, or I had this realization, from talking to other entrepreneurs too, you don’t need a hundred yesses, you just need one yes. You just need that one opportunity to start the ball rolling. The other thing I told myself, we have a notion that there’s this overnight success, that success can be hacked or short-cutted. And I think the realization was that success can take like decades to hone. That realization has made me set expectations better. The reason it was so stressful initially was the misalignment of expectation.”
Now a mentor to others, Chan uses that perspective, whether as an entrepreneur in residence, a guest speaker or advising friends. “You think to yourself, I am not qualified to do any of this!” he laughed. Of the entrepreneurs he’s met, we wondered if many have that gunslinger, high-octane approach. “Yes, I would definitely say every young entrepreneur has had that high-octane mindset,” he confirmed. “I think it manifests differently in personalities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be like being an extrovert, like a Steve Jobs persona. There are some very quiet, thoughtful people but from a mindset perspective they are hyper driven. I think it’s a little bit of self-delusion. The odds are not in your favor but in your mind the reality is this is definitely going to work.”
What If Potential Investors Read This?
Chan had been so honest, we were blown away, but before we said thank you and good-bye, there was something we wanted to know. It was a little bit prickly so we just threw it on the table: “You’re out there trying to sell your company, sell your product, sell yourself, do you ever worry about sharing your experiences? What if I was thinking of giving you a million dollars but then I read this blog? Do you ever think about that?”
“Yes, definitely,” Chan answered, understanding our implication immediately. “Quite frankly, why I think I fell into that hole, or dug myself that hole, was that I believed I had this image to keep up, I can’t be shown as weak, like it was more masculine to hide my feelings. There is more awareness about mental health issues, and I think the identity of masculinity has changed over the last few years. It takes greater strength to be open about these things.
“Quite frankly for me, the thing I realized, I asked myself, what is one of my biggest strengths? Why do people follow me, in terms of joining our company? This is just my take on it but I am a genuine guy, and for me I think it would be a disservice to myself and those around me if I am not genuine about how I feel about these things too. And quite frankly, in talking to other entrepreneurs, it’s a thing, it’s real, not just this one off incident. I feel like we do need to come out clean about some of these topics because in the past decade there’ve been multiple suicides by young entrepreneurs who were perceived to be doing very well. For me I would love to see that not happen. I think that outweighs perceived risk of losing an investor.”