Entrepreneurial Anxiety. The Elephant in the Room
When you read articles about entrepreneurship and startups, most of them spin around success stories, successful people, recipes to become successful, tools to build a successful business… It is all about the glam side of entrepreneurship and very little about the struggle and the setbacks.
Surely, people need to be motivated, attracted by the shining star of building your own business, so more would dare to make the step. No one wants to hear about the sweat, sorrows, anguishes, failures unless it also speaks of a successful outcome. But there’s a big elephant wandering about Entrepreneur Lane and people just turn their eyes around, pretending it’s not there: entrepreneurs’ anxiety. It is somewhat of a taboo subject of which very few speak openly.
You are not the only one
Would you have imagined that the successful CEO of a California-based financial services company that made it in the Inc 500 top has actually faced severe anxiety problems for eight months? It is the true story of Bradley Smith, CEO of Rescue One Financial who had to counsel other anxious entrepreneurs while hiding his own dreary worries.
What do you think of an entrepreneur who managed to raise millions in several rounds of investments, does a lot of public speaking and TV interviews and mentors, other entrepreneurs? Not willing to bet our money on it, but high odds are that you’d be perceiving him as a very confident person, in control of his every step, knowing very well what to do and when. In this case, you wouldn’t be further from the truth. Jason Saltzman is the perfect example of such an entrepreneur and he admits that he suffers from general anxiety disorder. Jess Ekstrom is CEO and Founder of HeadbandsOfHope.com, Speaker, and Author. At a first glance, she has every reason to feel confident about her business and professional career in general. Yet, she candidly speaks about her own fight with anxiety.
According to a 2012 Gallup report, 34 % entrepreneurs in the States experienced worry and 45 % experienced stress. The economic environment hasn’t become much safer or more comfortable in the past five years, while the number of entrepreneurs has risen. You do the math and imagine how many people experience anxiety just as you read this article.
Is it a problem you need to hide?
Certainly not! We cannot emphasize enough how these feelings of anxiety that accompany probably every single entrepreneur at some point are a normal consequence of the path you chose. Once you bear a responsibility towards your employees, investors, clients, not to mention family… it suddenly makes more sense, doesn’t it? A lot of weight leans on your shoulders. Having troubles generating income, being overwhelmed by recurrent expenses and no clear view of revenue, strong competitors who enter the market, sudden changes in the economic and political environment, affecting your business – all these are part of a company’s reality and small businesses are the ones taking it the hardest. While it’s true they are more flexible and can adapt to change quicker, the lack of solid financial reserves expose them more to risk. The sword of bankruptcy hangs over the heads of many entrepreneurs and anxiety is a natural reaction of a normal human being. Oh, yes. We tend to forget that business owners are also human beings. Driven by the multitude of success stories out there in the great online, we tend to think of these people as some sort of superheroes with the powers to escape any difficulty, no matter how great.
You may feel that you are the only one, but you’re not. We’re all in the same boat. Is it a reason to be ashamed? Definitely not. As said before, it is a normal consequence. Anxiety doesn’t make you weak, just human. And believe it or not, humanity is a strong premise for success. Why? Because it involves empathy and care. When you’re building something to support other people’s lives (or just other beings), in any aspect of it, those two qualities are indispensable. They do come along with a darker side, like the worries and the fears, but that’s how everything works in this world: darkness and light, good and bad, yin and yang. It’s the balance between the sides that makes it all right.
How to deal with entrepreneurial anxiety?
There is no universal recipe. There are techniques, ways to fight and improve, but it is up to each entrepreneur to find his own triggers and buttons that work. What really works for everyone is talking about it; with friends, family, fellow entrepreneurs, even a psychologist. Doesn’t matter who you chose to talk to, go ahead and speak openly. It releases the burden and clears the mind, opening it to solutions.
Exercising has also been proved to reduce anxiety and fight depression. Meditation works well if you are open to the practice. Jess Ekstrom does it and recommends the Insight Timer app as support. Or you can choose a more complex technique like the one used by Jason Saltzman. He does what actors do – develop a character he would like to become in certain stressful situations. He chose to “act” as the best version of himself whenever he felt anxious.
Also, take down-to-earth measures. Make sure you don’t get too close to the edge. Plan ahead operations, don’t overspend or rush into unsustainable growth. Do a lot of forecasts and track the cash flow. Money is the most common source of anxiety for entrepreneurs. Take our word for it and do cash flow management. This is actually how ThinkOut was born: to fight the anxiety of running out of cash, not knowing when the next client will show up, doubled by the payroll pressure. Now we see the difference. The anxiety is still there, but its fangs are blunt; building and using a cash flow management platform helps us anticipate trouble and act in due time.
Whatever it is that you’re anxious about, there is no reason in this entire world to handle it by yourself. Talk to people, do your favorite things, take more time for yourself, pause and breathe. Be brave and seek professional help if you feel you’re losing it. No matter what, don’t give up and fight your way back. Those successful entrepreneurs that we keep reading about have been there too; maybe they still are. But they found the mechanisms to help them cope with anxiety and move forward. The elephant shouldn’t be walking about anymore; nor chased away. Notice him, pet him, talk to him and continue walking on your path, leaving the elephant behind.