Starting your own business is not, and I cannot stress this enough, ever easy. It’s a grueling endeavor that involves long hours, sleepless nights, poring over finances, and constant–and I mean constant–worry. The stress can be immense, and it breaks people. But it doesn’t have to.
Keeping your head together isn’t easy, but it’s necessary if you want your business to succeed.
PHOTO BY CAMILA QUINTERO FRANCO || UNSPLASH
Let’s start with a reminder: mental health is something everyone (not just entrepreneurs) needs to be mindful of. It impacts our lives every single day, and it’s easy to ignore it because there’s still a ton of stigma around “mental illness” that makes therapy and medication feel borderline taboo, like you’re admitting defeat. If we applied that same attitude to our physical health, we’d have people limping around on broken legs while people tell them to just try harder to walk normally. We don’t get mad at people for having the flu the way we get mad at them for mental health problems, and so much of that is because mental health is so much harder to see.
That’s doubly the case for the up-and-coming entrepreneur; so much of what you’re embarking on is tied up in confidence and ambition and pride, and if you have a family, you certainly need their buy-in and faith. That can mean new business owners throw up a dedicated façade of upbeat, can-do attitude–in the face of stressors that would level anyone else. That isn’t healthy, and you deserve to treat yourself better. But how?
Manage Your Stress
This one is the big one, and the hardest to pin down. I know from experience how it can feel like everything and everyone is depending on you to work yourself as hard as you can. But the fact is exhaustion helps no one, and if you’re constantly expending mental energy with worry, there’s less time for actual problem-solving and rational decision-making. That’s right; all that stress you’re putting yourself through to ensure your business’ future is also making it harder to achieve. Not only can stress lead to cardiac and breathing problems, but it can exacerbate cognitive decline, contribute to Alzheimer’s, and even in the short term, actually decrease your ability to solve complicated problems.
Manage Your Workload and Give Yourself Time Off
When I was starting my company, I fell into the same trap: if I oversaw everything, I would be able to make sure it was all running smoothly. And that was true, as far as it went; but as the company grew, it became more and more necessary to recognize that I couldn’t know every employee and their responsibilities or every manager and every project and keep them all straight in my head. And it was surprising how quickly we got to a point where delegation stopped being a luxury and became a necessity.
The fact is that nobody’s brain can manage anything as complicated as a growing company–and the few brains that can, like former AIG Chairman and CEO Maurice Greenberg, find themselves with institutional problems caused by lack of communication. “Grasping the whole web” is actually not a good way to run an organization; it’s just a good way to drive yourself mad.
Take stock of what needs to be done, put the tasks require more cognitive labor first; you’ll be preserving more of your energy and focusing on the essential tasks only you can do. The ones you can’t do–you can delegate those to someone else. Respect yourself, your capabilities, and your limitations.
That also means it’s critical to give yourself downtime to recharge. The temptation to push yourself past a point-of-no-return as though that little bit of elbow grease is going to make all the difference in the world is utterly self-defeating. I’m not telling you not to work hard, but to remember that work is only one part of a life well-lived. Figure out a way to balance your work and home lives so that one doesn’t intrude upon the other–or worse, the two blending into an indistinguishable and unmanageable mess.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Okay. Breathe for a second. Here’s the most important point.
You don’t have to be perfect at this.
Imposter syndrome is super real, and I know we all look at Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos and all these other titans and think that they must have been visionaries and geniuses, but at the end of the day, they were people who knew what they wanted and sat down and did the work but–along the way–also got lucky. It’s true! Nobody knows everything, and I sometimes suspect all of us are just faking our way through to the best of our ability. But I want you to remember that the reason you embarked on this quest is because you had an idea and the wherewithal to follow through with it. Most people never even get that far.
You are allowed to make mistakes, take time off, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and even change direction. There is no perfect way to run a business, and while you could drive yourself to distraction in the pursuit, you’d be better off playing to your strengths while giving yourself the time and space to preserve them.
It’s for the benefit of your own health and that of your business.
Credits:: Liz Elting