Understanding mental health in Silicon Valley, with professional coach and former investor Jerry Colonna

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos recently sat down with VC-turned-professional coach Jerry Colonna for a chat about founder mental health, his less than predictable career path and his new book Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up.

After years as a successful venture investor, Colonna found himself confronting his own personal struggles with mental health. As a result, Colonna shifted his focus towards coaching founders and executives through the tensions that exist between personal happiness, mental health and traditional leadership practices.

In his book and in his conversation with Connie, Jerry discusses how one’s previously developed standards of success can impact their ability to lead and realize fulfillment from their work. Jerry elaborates on why many Valley executives encounter mental health pressures as their careers evolve, and details advice he gives to his own clients to help them re-engage with themselves.

“First, to unpack that ambition itself, is not a negative. It’s just ambition. But when we don’t understand the context of that ambition, what is it that’s driving us forward? Is it fear? Or is it excitement and enthusiasm about what’s possible?

Generally, it’s about both, right? When our ambition is primarily unconsciously driven be our fear, the likelihood is high that we’re going to drive the people who work for us crazy. Because nothing that they do, is ever going to make the fear go away. No matter how successful our ambition makes us.

Because the underlying motivation is fear. I am looking to become safe by what I’m driving towards. Now, if we were to flip it and say the thing that is really driving the ambition, is dreaming of a world that is possible. “I can’t imagine how cool it would be if this company were X.” Well, I may still act in a way that’s driven, but I don’t necessarily have to drive the people around me crazy.

And so by understanding the complicated nature of that word ambition, we get to, as I say, dial up the positive aspect of it and release a little bit from the less healthy more negative aspects of it.”

Jerry and Connie dive deeper into how media coverage impacts founder psyches and how it has evolved amidst an increased awareness around mental health. The two also discuss how external pressures are changing for younger generations of founders, as well as how society as a whole can truly tackle widespread mental health issues.

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Connie Loizos: Jerry, it’s a pleasure to be talking to you. We’ve been talking for many, many years. I’m afraid to say how many years…

Jerry Colonna: It’ll reveal how old we are.

Loizos: I know exactly. But I do remember you starting Flatiron, with Fred Wilson, many, many years ago and then going on to JP Morgan and I know that many of the listeners on the phone right now probably have traced your story because you are one of those characters of great interest in Silicon Valley. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided to leave venture capital and become a full-time coach?