August 16, 2017

Self-employment, stress, and you!

<start sarcasm>Working for yourself is everything it is cracked up to be. Long walks on the beach, extended vacations, and tons of free time. In fact, self-employment is almost the same as unemployment, except for the copious amounts of money and incredible health insurance plans. </end sarcasm>

In all seriousness, being self-employed can be awesome. Focusing on what you’re passionate about, flexibility in your schedule, and potential for wealth are just a few reasons to love being an entrepreneur. However, it’s not easy or for the faint of heart.

According to a CNN article back in 2016 — only 452,835 new businesses started up in 2014, which is well below the average of 500,000 to 600,000 new firms annually between 1970 and mid-2000s. Additionally, according to the US Small Business Administration (SBA) there are a total of 28.8 million small businesses in the US that employ roughly 48% of the private workforce in America. This means there is roughly 1 small business to every 11 Americans. The SBA also provides information about the survival rates of these Small Businesses. According to their study:

“About two-thirds of businesses with employees survive at least 2 years and about half survive at least 5 years. As one would expect, after the first few relatively volatile years, survival rates flatten out.”

This means that if an average of 500,000 businesses start each year that roughly 250,000 of those businesses are gone within 5 years. There are dozens of reasons why businesses fail. Check out this list from Success Harbor

If you spend just a few minutes searching the internet for reasons why businesses fail, you could create a huge list. However, I don’t want to address the reasons why businesses fail. I want to address how to cope with the enormous overload of “to-do’s” and “remember me’s”. Dealing with stress is critical to being successful, both the short-term and long-term in your business.

Life comes at you fast. Make time for the most important things

Time management of your tasks is one thing, but making time for recreation, hobbies, family, or other non-business activities is critical. I’m sure Bill Gates is incredibly busy but if you read through his AMA (Ask me Anything) on Reddit from 2014 you’ll notice he plays Bridge, watches his daughter ride horses, does the dishes every night, and occasionally plays video games with his family. Even the most successful, driven people need to disconnect from their passions to stay mentally stable.

Bill & Warren — From NY Times Article

Keep the problems in perspective. Focus on solutions and not on the worst possible outcome.

I’ve seen it hundreds of times — in business clients, schoolmates, my wife, my children, and occasionally in the mirror — the sheer look of panic and anxiety caused by fear over an event which hasn’t happened yet. Fear over the unknown or worst possible outcome is a huge issue for a business owner. I find a common thread in some of the most successful people on the planet (regardless of occupation); that is, there appears they have a certain disregard and contempt for their fears.

Rather than allowing your fears and anxieties to paralyze you and impact your decision making, it is important to face your fears. Additionally, it is important to recognize your fears and not just pretend they don’t exist. It’s ok to be tired, afraid, and have self-doubt, but use those feelings to help you focus on solutions.

For example: If you’re afraid of losing a major client — use that fear to motivate you to diversify and expand your client base.

Remember to focus on the solution.

Understand your limitations

Hot off the heels of implying that you can do anything, I will caution you to understand your limitations.

The Sky is the Limit. Sorta — Picture by Jonathan Romain

For some people, stress can exhibit in strange ways. One of those ways is over-exertion. For an athlete, it is easy to understand when a muscle is over-used or a tendon is strained. For a business-owner is can be difficult to identify when the mind is overstretched or when thoughts become irrational. It is good to have a partner or other trusted advisor in business to help you identify when your ideas have become illogical or unreasonable on yourself. Believing that you can work all day and night at breakneck speeds, or that you can resolve all the company problems without outside assistance borders on insane. While the rare few can operate at that level alone, most of us need a coach, just like an athlete does, to bounce our decision making off.

Know your limitations. Realize that your business requires more than just you to become successful. You need good mentors, good coaches, good advisors, good partners, good employees, good vendors, and good customers. Do what you’re good at and work with the best where you need help.

It’s mostly in your head

Managing your mental health is 90% of being successful (NOTE: I just made that statistic up and have no basis for it — but it sounds about right in my own life). Keep your head clear and in the game for as long as you have capacity, then take the breaks you need. Go for a run or bike ride, watch that new movie release, grab a delicious soup & sandwich, and then get back to it. Working with a clear mind will make a tremendous impact in your business.