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Dying to Reach the Top? Research Shows Most CEOs Face

Exhaustion, Burnout, and Even Early Death--But Not Small Business Owners. Studies also show the average small business owner is happier than the average employee.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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EXPERT OPINION BY JEFF HADEN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, INC.@JEFF_HADEN

Maybe it's not such a good thing when the buck stops here. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 1,900 CEOs left their jobs last year, and a record 19 died in office.

Among those who stayed on the job, a Deloitte study found that 82 percent have experienced exhaustion indicative of burnout, and 96 percent feel their mental health has declined.

Unfortunately, those short-term findings align with longer-term research. A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that CEOs who weren't protected by state laws from hostile takeovers lived an average of two years less than those who were. CEOs whose companies suffered significant downturns tended to live about two years less than their counterparts. They even look older; CEOs whose industries experienced steep declines in share prices appeared to age a year or more compared to executives whose companies fared better. (Call it the Obama Effect.)

Why? The usual suspects. Long hours, stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits that typically result. The job you strived for may not be good for you. (Or may not, at least in my case, turn out to be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.)

Now contrast that with the CEOs of their own companies, small business owners. A Baylor University study found, on average, that business owners are happier than employees. Entrepreneurs have a significantly lower incidence of physical and mental illnesses, visit the hospital less often, and report higher levels of life satisfaction. 

Those findings indicate that -- again, on average -- small business owner CEOs are not just healthier than their corporate counterparts, they're also likely to be happier.

Why? Imagine you're GM CEO Mary Barra. The buck stops with you; you're in charge of over 160,000 employees. But you're not really in charge. You work for the board. You work for investors and shareholders. You deal with labor unions. Local and national governments. Regulatory agencies. People who want your take on current events. You're constantly under a microscope.

well-paid microscope, sure -- but a microscope nonetheless. Sure, it's good to be you... but sometimes -- or much of the time -- it also sucks to be you.

Contrast that with a small business CEO. Even if you put in considerable hours, still: you control your time. Even if you work incredibly hard, still: you control your effort.

Sure, you're still under a microscope -- but the only person peering into that microscope is you. 

Take me, a considerably lesser version of Barra. I worked for a Fortune 500 company for nearly 20 years. I was dedicated. Over the years, I worked hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime. I was committed. I agreed to take on assignments I knew might derail opportunities for advancement. But I never felt as dedicated, committed, or engaged as when I started doing freelance writing jobs at night and on weekends -- or when I decided to turn my side hustle (even though that term hadn't been coined yet) into my occupation. I learned a lot more -- about business, about people, about life, and about myself -- in the past 20 years than I did in the 20 years I spent working for someone else.

And I'm much more fulfilled, and happy. 

And, because I better control my time, I'm a lot healthier, too.

Want to be a CEO? That's an admirable goal.

But an even better goal, especially if you want to live a longer, healthier life, might be to become the CEO of your own business.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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