Getting Help

I’m on vacation this week, and we have some old friends and their family staying with us.  Last night we got to talking about therapy (like psychotherapy) and how valuable it has been for me over the past few years.

Maybe four years ago I started seeing a therapist on a bi-weekly basis.  There were a few specific things that were stressing me, and also a more generalized sense of anxiety that I wanted to work on.  And then, over the next few years a few specific difficult situations came up that we worked through.  My guy comes from a Zen / mindfulness background, which really works well for me.

When I think about what I’ve been working on and dealing with over the last few years, I can point to this first step of finding a therapist (I refer to him my “shrink”) as the single most important thing I’ve done.   It’s really amazing how much just having someone there to help makes a difference — whether there’s something specific going on, or nothing at all — having someone there to help just unlocks a lot of stuff.

At around the same time, I got a new primary care doctor, and also a new accountant.  Both of whom are amazing and have helped get things in better order, in terms of health and finances.

I remember thinking, back then, “wow, it’s OK to get help with things”.  That may be so obvious to people, but for some reason it really hit me as profound.  For the first time, I felt like I had a great team backing me up, helping me improve on all the things I wanted to improve on.

There is a lot of stigma around getting help, in particular around getting psychological help.  Like, what’s wrong with me that I need this, or why can’t I just deal with this on my own, or with my friends, or with diet and exercise.   It took me a while to take the plunge and get help for the things I needed help with, and I got stuck on all of those questions before I did.

But I can say without hesitation that getting actual dedicated help was the best thing I’ve ever done, and it has really unlocked a whole lot for me.  And if you think about it, it would be ridiculous to expect anyone who wants to excel at anything to do it all alone — the Patriots don’t coach themselves, and Roger Federer doesn’t go it alone either.  In those cases, it’s so obvious that help is good and necessary, and that’s true for your mind, your health, your finances, etc.

At USV, many if not most of our CEOs have an executive coach, and I can’t recommend it more.  A good executive coach can play the role of therapist in a lot of ways, but a dedicated, non-work therapist is a great thing too.

If it’s available, and if you can find it, I’d encourage anyone out there dealing with anything hard to get help from someone good.

18 comments on “Getting Help”

Wonderful lesson to learn, thanks for sharing.

I believe that one of the best skills to cultivate is the ability and willingness to say “I don’t know” in any situation. It’s freeing. It’s disarming. It makes it easy(ier) to ask for help.

I was a CEO for 33 years before I got into the CEO coaching racket to keep my hand in. Whenever I take on a new client, I always ask them, “What percentage of your decisions are good?”

The really good CEOs say, “Forty percent.”

Others say, “Ninety percent.”

Six months after working with someone who answers “ninety percent” I ask the same question, “What percentage of your decisions now are good?”

They answer, “Forty percent.”

There is a continuum to doing things which is based on the following:

We all know what we know.
Some of us know what we don’t know.
All of us don’t know what we don’t know.

The job of a CEO (and by extension a CEO coach) is to work in the world of discovering what they don’t know they don’t know. They can rent that experience, but they can’t buy it on Amazon.


And from time to time, we come to know that what we thought we knew ain’t so.
As Hawkins said, what kills people is not ignorance so much as the illusion of knowledge. Especially so for CEOs.

The decision to seek help with anything is the smart decision. When I sold a business and was on the bench/beach for a few years, I took golf lessons. In less than two years, I was able to break par. Before the lessons, I was the typical reasonably athletic 80s shooter who had a good time and a sunburn.

Seeking professional instruction in anything is a way to accelerate learning and to approach mastery.

You describe therapy as a “reactive” or “defensive” action. In fact, therapy can be a positive and forward thinking exercise. Same time period, I worked with a therapist for 3 years and learned some remarkable things about my favorite subject — myself.

There were things which were so fundamental to my happiness as to be impediments and therapy allowed me to identify and evaluate them. Even if I did not do them, I made informed decisions as I now knew about them.

This can be very important to entrepreneurs (an untreatable condiction) who may learn they get paid in self-esteem nourishment and ego enrichment in addition to financial rewards. Those are real currencies, not cryptocurrencies.

I do suggest a bit of caution. I think you are on very thin ice suggesting that a CEO coach can play the role of a therapist. As a CEO coach, I am aghast at that suggestion. I recognize it was a well-intentioned throw away line, but it is dangerous.

The world is overflowing with bad CEO coaches and even worse advice.

CEOs need to retain people who have actually been CEOs. One can ask a customer in first class in an airplane with millions of frequent flyer miles how to fly a plane, but he has never taken off, cruised, or landed a plane from the cockpit.

Get people who have been CEOs to advise CEOs and stay out of the therapy business.

A therapist is a trained professional and everybody should approach it with a high expectation of receiving expert assistance whether proactive or reactive.


When you have this deep conviction that you will never surrender, the outcome is irrelevant my friend. Rest assured, everything will be just fine. :-)

Strange. You might have teared that page off to make a cigar.. and then smoke it?

Check “surrendah”..

Totally agree re reactive vs proactive framing — my point here, to start, is not to be afraid of it in reactive scenarios. But agree that proactive is even better

And yes, not suggesting that a CEO coach should be your therapist — just that sometimes they kind of play that role, especially if that’s all you’ve got. Just like your wife or husband should not be your therapist.

I was the person my family and friends used to tap into for therapy, pretty much up until my dad passed away unexpectedly. Then it hit me several of my friends weren’t there for me in the same way I was there for them.

So I went through a couple of years where I withdrew from being “the life and soul of the party” and the “dependable one people tell their problems to.” That took a lot of adjustment because I’m an ENTP/ENTJ so very sociable and extraverted.

I found that the “calling a time-out” social withdrawal helped me to focus and center myself. Subsequently, I’ve made other friends who are a lot healthier for me. And, of course, I discovered AVC community which is full of awesome folks I learn lots from and can have great conversations with.

Therapists can be really helpful if they are aware of how the mind works. But most are not and using the mind to overcome the mind can be really bad advice.

The best advice I have heard for psychological help is to distance yourself from the mind, watch the thoughts and question its source every time. Go the very beginning of the thought and its root cause.

When you see everything, the fix is in on its own. When you do not see the thoughts clearly and are too identified with it, therapy can exacerbate the situation, especially with the wrong practitioner.

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