Terri Finney completed her doctorate in psychology at the University of Denver. After many years running a clinical practice, she took a step back and made a career change: she took her undergraduate degree in business and psychology, got training in executive coaching, and she began coaching founders and entrepreneurs.
We sat down with Dr. Finney to discuss mental health in entrepreneurship, as well as the innovative nature of her own career path.
Q: How did you become interested in starting your own consulting group?
A: I come from a very entrepreneurial family culture. In my family, nobody has ever worked for anybody else. It was easy to lean into that when I made the pivot into coaching. I have watched and experienced firsthand the benefits of entrepreneurship, as well as the toll it takes on people. I love the energy I get when working with founders and entrepreneurs. It is rewarding to watch founders grow individually and see that growth impacting their business and their happiness.
Q: On your website, you say you help people, families and businesses achieve mastery over the business of life. What does “the business of life” mean to you, in your own words?
A: I work in the intersection of business and personal life. When you start a business, you bring all of yourself into that business. Your history, and your personal experiences, the way you see the world all impact how you create a business. My work supports people in bringing forth strengths they may not know they have, and sometimes helping them, “get out of their own way.” We all get in our own way at times. The work helps founders figure out who they are, maximize their strengths, understand what makes them happy, and identify the places where they may be getting in the way of their own success.
Business and life are so intertwined. Life is a business. You have goals in life. If your goal is to be happy, what are you going to do to get there? What is your strategy? So, that is what my work explores.
Q: Can you think of a success story you have had while coaching founders?
A: There is one founder I have been working with for a few years. When he came to me, he was overwhelmed and struggling with depression. Starting a business is a lot of emotional lift. It is an emotional rollercoaster. Getting stable internally helps when the external world is chaotic. We looked at the habits in his life, his personal strengths, the ways in which he sees the world and how his way of thinking might be getting in his own way. He managed to turn himself around in about six months or so, in terms of managing emotions and continuing to reassess his perspective on the world. He is working much more efficiently and effectively. His relationships with his team and spouse have improved. His mental health has improved dramatically.
Another founder in New York City came to me about a year ago. He had always worked in organizations, so starting his own business was very new and challenging for him. He needed support not just with the emotional rollercoaster, but also the mindset needed to found a startup: how to create a culture, how to hire people, how to resolve disagreements with a co-founder. We did a lot of work around managing his time and energy so that he could do more focused work and spend less of his work time putting out fires. His work with me has had a noticeable impact on the financial success of the business.
That is a primary goal of mine in this work: not only should you see a difference in mental health, but there should be a return on investment. Happy and healthy entrepreneurs lead successful businesses. Mental health is a competitive advantage.
Q: What challenges come with coaching founders and entrepreneurs?
A: The tricky thing with founders and startups is that they often see themselves as superheroes. To start a business from the ground up, they must see themselves that way. And superheroes can handle the world on their own. They have a hard time knowing when they need help, and a hard time reaching out for help. There are things entrepreneurs anticipate, like the struggles of acquiring funding, conflicts with co-founders, and so on. But many don’t anticipate what will be coming at them in terms of the challenges to their mental and emotional wellbeing.
It can be hard to get entrepreneurs talking about how they are actually doing as people. When they are able to talk openly and honestly they find it incredibly helpful. We all have struggles and pain points. When you start a business, all of that gets amplified.
Q: What tips would you give budding entrepreneurs who may be experiencing those hardships?
A: Community is important. There is a large entrepreneurial community in Colorado. Case in point, what DU is doing to create and support an entrepreneurial ecosystem. It is important to have friends and colleagues who understand what you are going through, and who can think about things like you do. Entrepreneurs do think differently and sometimes they aren’t understood by the people around them. There is often a sense of loneliness when you are creating a business
Physical wellbeing is huge, too. Sleep, exercise and eat healthy meals. Take care of yourself. Those are important habits to learn. It is essential to play and to have a robust life outside of business. When I talk to my clients about how important it is to get away from the computer to go play, you would think I was speaking Chinese. Starting a business is a lot of work, but your brain can’t do the work it needs if it doesn’t get the breaks that it needs.
Family and friends are like the base camp when you climb a mountain. Lean into those relationships. Don’t let them slide because you think it is more important to log a certain number of hours in front of a computer.
Having mentors and coaches is invaluable. Business mentors can help when you reach challenges on the journey of your startup and personal mentors can help when you face personal struggles along the way.