Sasha Raskin is the Founder of A BEAUTIFUL MESS (ABM), a mental health organization that runs corporate talks and events to combat loneliness, depression, and mental health stigma. Before that, she was a Hollywood literary agent representing dozens of bestsellers across the globe and even briefly ran a tech company, all the while struggling with debilitating depression, which eventually led to her hospitalization. Read more about that here. She started ABM to be the resource she wished she had when she was struggling the most.
Where did the idea for A Beautiful Mess come from?
My company is called A BEAUTIFUL MESS and it’s a mental health organization that runs corporate talks and events to combat loneliness, depression, and mental health stigma.
I founded it for deeply personal reasons. For most of my life, I was a high-functioning, high-achieving suicidal depressive. You’d probably never have guessed because, like many others who suffer from mental illness, my life “seemed” great. I began college at 16, graduated with Honors from a top university (UC Berkeley), and became a literary agent at one of the biggest agencies in the globe, working with celebrities and bestselling authors. I even briefly ran a tech company.
But I was miserable & in 2018, I checked myself into a mental hospital. I thought my life was over; that no one would want to date me, love me, marry me or even be my friend. I thought if I wanted a chance at a decent life, I’d have to keep this secret. That’s when I decided to tell everyone because I didn’t want to leave a life of secrecy and shame, nor perpetuate the stigma that kept these issues hidden.
Sharing my story led to many people sharing theirs, and all-too-often, I was heartbroken to find I was the only person they told because of the pressure & shame they felt. Essentially, I created A BEAUTIFUL MESS to be the resource I wish I had when I was struggling the most—a place where we could go to be open, honest, & authentic about what’s really going on for us.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I practice Transcendental Meditation, which involves a morning and afternoon session. After my morning meditation, I exercise (usually something rigorous like HIIT, followed by some yoga). After that, I have 10-20 minutes of reading time and I always try to include some poetry. I spend some time journaling some gratitude and some meaningful mantras.
I created an altar that holds items that are meaningful to me. I hold them and say Prayers for everything and everyone represented on it, and that’s been really transformative. It’s also a time of day when I say a gratitude for myself, because we often overlook our relationship with ourselves. Finally, I do a morning review and go over what I want to accomplish for the day. I use Focusmate to keep me on track.
These activities help keep me productive by centering myself amongst the constant turmoil and nonstop distraction cycle of normal days. Pomodoro techniques are also helpful and having a whiteboard where I can easily write things down and remove them. I’m a visual person so I need to see what I’m doing and when.
How do you bring ideas to life?
The upside of running my own small operation is that I can have an idea for something I like and just go ahead and do it. For instance, I met someone who was a white supremacist turned BIPOC activist and thought his experience was fascinating and important, so I just reached out, asked him to do an event, and we set it up for 2 weeks later. A lot of my workshops are ideas that come to me randomly out of the blue and weeks later, I’ve got a course on the subject. It’s great!
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend that most excites me is the one I’m working on, though it’s much more than a “trend”, thankfully! It’s the fact that our society is moving towards being more tolerant and open about our struggles and mental health. Even staunch conservative Amy Coney Barrett discussed how the Supreme Court nomination hearings affected her mental health, which gives you an idea of how much has changed in our larger cultural landscape. It’s thrilling!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Every day I say things I love about myself. It’s helped immeasurably rewrite toxic scripts from when I was younger and that kept me in cycles of panic, doubt, and being too frozen to do anything.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The most important thing you will ever learn is how to love yourself. Without that foundation, nothing can take hold. Stop doubting yourself and get out of your own way.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think positivity culture is killing us. We denigrate emotions that aren’t happy-go-lucky, to the point that people don’t know how to deal with the full range of emotions that come with being a human being and alive. It also causes people to feel too ashamed to admit when they are struggling or in pain, and that suppression is what makes mental health problems spiral out of control. We are in the dark ages when it comes to mental health. I think that’s a controversial statement because we’ve made such great strides. To me though, the strides are an indication of just how backwards we’ve been, not that we are doing great.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask for help—to the point that you’re super annoying about it. There is just no way you can build something all on your own so you need to be able to ask, ask, and ask again.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Weirdly, making up games to flip my normal scripts. For instance, rejection is a hard thing to overcome. But it’s also inevitable in life. So I started to tell myself that I loved rejection. I would literally dance and yell woohoo when it happened. Over time, I started to believe it and the rejection stung less. In essence, I built up my reslience muscle!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had so many, it’s challenging to pick just one! But I’d say the biggest is I used to be a literary agent at a major Hollywood Talent Agency. After that, I thought I wanted to start my own boutique agency, but instead I ended up on a long, slow depressive spiral that culminated in my psychiatric hospitalization. Ironically, my hospitalization is the reason I founded A BEAUTIFUL MESS (You can read more about that here: https://bit.ly/2I8QGty). So in that sense, it oddly worked out, even though it was one of—if not the—worst period of my life.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I had an idea for an app that I’m still convinced is genius and gold! The name would be Ghostbusters and it’s an app that tracks down people who’ve ghosted you and they have to explain themselves and make amends for doing it. Haha…goldmine there for anyone who can make that a reality!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I love getting gifts for people. Not just any gifts; I like being thoughtful and picking up on small cues, remembering them and then surprising people with them later. This was a while ago (and it was more than $100) but what comes to mind is renting my dad a Lamborghini for the weekend for his 60th birthday. He drives a work truck and hasn’t had a nice car of his own so it brought me a lot of joy. I had the car delivered to the house and recorded his response—it still gives me a good chuckle watching how confused he was.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Focusmate is great. It allows you to book 50-minute working sessions with a partner. You set a goal for your session in the beginning and check on it in the end. I use it for everything, from speeding up my morning routine, to having an accountability for getting work done, and more.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’m going to provide an off the beaten path recommendation. I think there is an expectation of recommendations about how to be more productive or do marketing better, but I’d like to recommend a piece of fiction that has really touched me and brought me closer to our collective humanity. It’s Flowers for Algernon and it’s about a boy who is mentally challenged and chosen to undergo an experimental treatment to boost his IQ, thinking it will help him have a better life. But instead, his heightened IQ helps him see more clearly the cruelty of the world around him. I think this book helps us reconnect with our empathy and humanity, and that it’s a good antidote to a time when we value thinking, intellect, and success, over being a decent human, treating others well, and having a good heart. Mind you, these qualities do not have to be mutually exclusive at all, but in our society, we greatly overvalue one set of values, often at the expense of the other.
What is your favorite quote?
Hands down it is: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
It’s a quote by Mother Theresa, who I was surprised to learn said a lot about how spiritual poverty is much worse than material poverty. I don’t think we really get that as a society, and if we did we would treat one another a LOT better than we do.
- Learn how to be your own best friend, cheerleader, and supporter. We’re taught to memorize the Pythagorean theorem in school, but not basic skills like manage our emotions and build confidence and self-esteem. Times will inevitably get rough so learning how to nurture and support yourself is invaluable.
- Be willing to ask for help—way more often than you want to or will feel comfortable asking for.
- The perfect really is the enemy of the good! You’ll probably never feel ready so just do it anyway. The more you try to get it done right or well, the more likely you’ll never get it done at all so just be willing to start somewhere.
- Developing a growth vs. a fixed mindset is a game changer. Just because you can’t do something today, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to tomorrow, or the next day.
- You are not your resume! Or your accomplishments, successes, or failures. You are more than any of that. Your life has value no matter what you do or don’t accomplish. Not taking yourself too seriously and having fun along the way is critical!
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.