In 2009, Jay Shifman reached a point of no return. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder over half a decade prior, his condition continued to worsen until he lost hope of ever being happy. That summer, he attempted suicide twice, and the 2nd night successfully overdosed.
Luckily for him, he survived and spent the next three weeks in a lock down unit, but it was while spending the following three months in a long-term care facility that it finally dawned on him. He’d been misdiagnosed and now was mentally and physically addicted to his prescriptions, pills he didn’t need. After that realization, Jay spent over three months going through step-down detox and finally, in the spring of 2010, found himself free of all medications.
Now, eleven years later, Jay has spent the last five years telling his story and advocating for honest and healthy conversations around Mental Health, Substance Misuse & Recovery, and Drug Use & Policy under the banner of his company Choose Your Struggle. In 2019, Jay launched the Choose Your Struggle podcast, which has been wildly successful, seeing downloads in over 35 countries and spending time on Apple’s Top 200 Health and Wellness list.
CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP — What meaning do you give this term?
I am immensely priviledged to come from means. Which allows me to focus on my passions instead of being motivated by simply making money. What this means for me is I can prioritize making decisions that benefit the goals of my company, educating and advocating around the issues I care about, instead of focusing only on the bottom line. It’s a longer-term strategy that takes a lot of trust. But it also means I can have a MUCH larger impact because my goal is to do as much good as possible for my community instead of the balance sheet.
MENTORS — We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been an invaluable mentor for you? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have to give a shout out here to my career coach Kristen Zavo. She and I met in 2018 when I was still working my last career, in politics. I loved my job but I wasn’t fulfilled. Kristen helped me recognize I was doing what I wanted already in my spare time, and that I could make the leap to doing it full time. We worked together over a few months, during which I launched my business, Choose Your Struggle, and planned its growth. She had a huge impact on my life and I wouldn’t be where I am without her.
TO THRIVE — When you see yourself thriving: Do you see yourself opening up opportunities for others along the way to participate in your success, and how?
This is exactly why I do what I do. Telling my story is only interesting to me because of the conversations it can start, and the opportunities it can open for people to have deeper connections in their own lives. I say no to probably half the opportunities I get approached for, again, back to making sure I’m following my own definition of success, but I never simply dismiss it. Instead, I ask if they’d be ok with me recommending someone I think would be a better fit. My listeners know that I will always say no to a speaking opportunity if I don’t think the bill is diverse enough. More, I turn down a lot of the people who pitch themselves for my show because I don’t want the same voices that are everywhere. I want people who don’t always get the opportunity. That’s my motivator. And it’s lead to a few truly incredible partnerships being developed because those, like me, with lived experience, we’re a tight-knit group. We want to see each other succeed. This community is incredibly strong.
ADVICE — What kind of advice would you like to give to an aspiring entrepreneur who feels limited due to their background or lack of resources?
This is where my mantra, Choose Your Struggle, can motivate. It boils down to spending some time doing a full inventory of your life. Whose definition of success are you following? What changes can you make today? We get caught up in thinking big picture too often and falling back on rules that aren’t grounded in a lot of basis. What I’ve found is the truly successful entrepreneurs are the ones who don’t spend time too much time thinking about those things. Yes, they want the millions valuation, but more important is the definition of success that’s their own: solving a problem, adding value to their community, creating something that changes the world. And you only get there by challenging convention. What are the little things we can do today to chip away at some of these beliefs holding us back? In my work, it’s stigma. “We don’t talk about Substance Misuse,” or “Someone who uses Drugs is a criminal.” The sad thing is we’re doing the same thing that’s never worked and it’s not working. Shocker. We need people willing to flip the script, try new things. That’s how we save lives. That’s why I’m not too concerned with people who tell me to stop, or any other measure of success. When I get that email from someone telling me hearing me interviewed influenced them, or that my guest discussing their suicide attempts helped reassure them they can fight on, it’s all MORE than worth it.
DRIVE — Do you sometimes feel bad for “wanting more out of life”, and if so, why? What is your personal motivation that leads you through the hardships of entrepreneurship?
I don’t feel bad in the least! This goes back to my Choose Your Struggle mantra. Who gets to say how much we get out of life? We’re the one’s living this life. I tend to think there’s more to this existence than one and your done living, call it reincarnation call it whatever you want. But the fact is no one truly knows. So why would we waste this life living someone else’s expectations? What do you want? What will leave you, in your twilight, feeling fulfilled. One thing I can promise you is it won’t be money. No one goes to hospice saying they wish they spent more time with Bill from accounting. Live the life you want. Focus on your why. Ignore everything else.
YOU — Is there anything you would like to share that we have not asked you here?
I never miss an opportunity to say reach out. Whether you’re the one struggling, or you’re worried someone in your life is struggling, reach out. If you’re struggling, someone will be there. Someone in your life wants you to pick up the phone. I promise. And you truly think no one does, reach out to me. During Covid, I’ve spent a lot of time on zoom chatting with people who simply needed someone to listen. And I love doing it. As we say in this business, we’d rather spend two hours talking to you today than two hours attending your funeral tomorrow. Please, PLEASE, reach out.
Demee Koch about the MEDIUM interview series on CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP:
Conscious entrepreneurship for me is about building a sustainable business that values and respects the resources used and makes an effort of giving back to society.
I believe we need entrepreneurs to really get involved in the causes close to their heart.
This is why I reach out to entrepreneurs that aim for more than generating profit. With this interview, I aim to share entrepreneurial purpose-led passion to inspire others.
Looking forward to learn from you. Reach out to me via LinkedIn.