G30: Lindsay Karas Stencel

Finding Success Without Burnout | Lindsay Karas Stencel

Content Warning: Suicide

Lindsay Stencel has been in venture capital for nearly 15 years. She is a partner at Thompson Hine running the VC and merging companies group in Columbus, Ohio, where she focuses on growing venture capital and increasing capital access, generally for entrepreneurs across the midwest. She worked her way up the ranks to become one of the first female venture capital partners in the state of Ohio. After a traumatic experience in her childhood, Lindsay leaned into overachievement to distract herself from her discomfort. But she later learned, after reaching a deep level of depression, that she needed to find a balance between achievement and personal fulfillment.

Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Lindsay engaged with Launch New York, a Buffalo-based 501C3 venture development organization that works to provide mentorship and funding to seed-stage businesses, industry-agnostic, in the 27 westernmost counties of the state of New York. She’s also a co-founder of the W Fund, a women-led, women-focused investment group, and as an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

When Lindsay was just five years old, two older boys in the neighborhood assaulted her and possibly tried to kill her. Luckily a mother in the neighborhood saw what was happening and stopped it, but the entire event left a lasting impression on her to this day. Because of what happened she is protective of herself, but she also realized that she could be okay through situations with other people who are bigger, tougher, stronger, or have more money.

Her family moved to Georgia for a period of time in the early ’90s and it was a challenging time for their whole family. Lindsay took on a motherly role with her family at just 11 years old and thought that taking care of everyone else was what would create a safe environment for her. When a kid moves to a new city and doesn’t know anyone, they generally go in one of two directions: they either try to get attention by being a troublemaker or they lean into becoming an overachiever—and Lindsay leaned into the latter. Neither are particularly healthy though.

Lindsay became obsessed with being the best at everything she did. She became a world champion baton twirler, compulsively practicing six or seven hours a day. She started to think about how if she were the best at something, people would love her—knowing now that that’s not real. Nobody loves you because of a trophy but because of who you are.

It wasn’t until she entered law school that she really started to see the problem with that mindset come to the surface. She developed an extreme eating disorder by trying to exert control over herself through food. She transferred to law school in Columbus and found herself in the depths of despair. She questioned what she was doing with her life, but instead of confronting that she threw herself into school even more and ended up getting a law degree as well as an MBA. She graduated, got a great job, and everything looked great—but in reality, Lindsay felt moments away from taking her own life.

Lindsay had to completely reinvent her relationship with work and achievement. She set micro-goals for herself: stop working at 9 PM, be more assertive with others in the workplace. Some people didn’t love those changes because they were used to her taking care of everything, but realizing that this was about them and not her made her feel okay with that change.

Today, Lindsay is channeling her energy of achievement not just into career growth, but into mentoring and speaking and having an impact beyond her. She is a co-founder of The W Fund, an organization working to fund “the female Jeff Bezos.” The amount of females who get venture capital is abysmal and gets even worse for women of color. Knowing that diversity is a positive benefit to companies, Lindsay is hoping to change that someday.

What Brett asks:

  • [02:43] Can you tell me about your early life?
  • [09:13] How did being an overachiever run your life for the next period of your life?
  • [13:37] Did you have a sense at a young age that there were unique challenges about being a woman?
  • [16:42] What do you do with that overachieving time of your life and how does it propel you forward?
  • [26:05] How did you start moving forward from your depression?
  • [31:21] What has your experience been in the male-dominated venture world?
  • [35:11] How are you taking the energy to achieve into things that are really important for the world?
  • [41:27] What does the future look like for you going forward?

Lessons for intentional living:

  • There is a fine line between “hustle” and “happiness.” We put so much emphasis on working long, grueling hours when many times people would be able to put out better work—and have a better life—with fewer hours of work. Don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve by pouring yourself too deep into your work, because you may be sabotaging yourself and your happiness.