Entrepreneurs live lives that are devoid of sleep, high-stress and generally exhausting. Aside from the physical side effects this lifestyle can have, it can (and at some point will) take a psychological toll if you don’t face your bad habits head-on.
The great thing about being an entrepreneur, though? You’re not alone, even when it feels like you are.
We asked 15 entrepreneurs from the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) how they deal with particularly dark moments. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Find Your Anchor
The life of an entrepreneur is a constant up and down. You need to find your life anchors. These are people or activities that keep you grounded, remind you who you are and will always be there. Keep them on speed dial, set up monthly dinners, and do email check-ins. These people will give you strength during the hard times and celebrate with you during the highs.
2. Help Others
Forget yourself and your woes, and go serve others. Look for somewhere to go donate your time and your talents, and it will help you put things back into a more proper perspective and also help you forget about your difficulties. As entrepreneurs, we often get so wrapped up in our own little world that we start to feel sorry for ourselves. Nothing can lift you out of it better than helping other people.
3. Reach out to Someone
It can be quite lonely as an entrepreneur, especially early on. Don’t let your own ego get in the way of letting people (or even a professional) in your life listen when you’re having down moments. You have to vent them and move on. Be cautious in sharing these down times with people who are nervous for you to be an entrepreneur (family members perhaps) unless you’re looking for a reason to get out!
4. Stop Asking for Opinions
In a world where everyone tells you to find a mentor, solicit opinions and share on social media, it’s easy to get caught up in everyone’s opinion of what you are doing. When you open the door to constructive criticism, you often let in a lot of useless chatter. And when you are going through a difficult time, the useless chatter can take a very deep toll.
Take control of the situation, and stop soliciting everyone’s opinion. Refocus your attention on why you are an entrepreneur in the first place. Once you regain that mental footing — and you will — you can move forward and do what you do best.
5. Seek Professional Help
If things get really bad, you can always seek professional help. There are many complicated aspects to entrepreneurial stress, which can make it difficult to confide in other individuals. A trained physiologist or business coach can provide advice on complex issues by getting to know an entrepreneur’s business. Their discretion ensures confidentiality, allowing them to explore all aspects of a problem.
6. Keep Moving
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s a marathon, and you need to just keep moving. When you run, sometimes it feels really hard, and other times you forget you are moving your feet at all. Building a company is the same way. Entrepreneurs earn their keep in the hard times — those times when it feels like you have a stitch in your side. You just have to push through.
7. Zoom Out
Sometimes being an entrepreneur can consume your world. Help battle your “poor me” woes by watching a documentary, reading a CNN article or flipping through a BBC channel about what is happening in the world beyond your four walls. Wars, famine and debt crises are all around us, not only abroad but here in North America, as well. Being able to gain perspective is always eye-opening.
On my hardest days at ‘ZinePak, I think about what it would be like if I grew up in the Middle East, where women cannot hold jobs, drive cars or even leave their homes without an escort in some cases! Even having the opportunity to worry about my business is a blessing many women will never have. Gaining perspective about the world won’t solve your dark times, but it will help put them in a new light.
8. Take a Break
Take a break and step away from what you are doing, even if it’s for a long weekend, but ideally longer (trust me, you always have more time to make decisions than you think). Turn off all technology, pick up a book, take a cooking class, go on a hiking trip, or do something else that engages you in a different way.
9. Don’t Love the Business
When I first set out to build a tech startup, I got the best advice from one of our investors — friend and now CEO, Bernard Perrine. He told me, “Don’t love the business because it won’t love you back. Instead, love the people that you built the business with.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to that advice, at least not initially. The business consumed me. I wasn’t in love; I was infatuated with the business. It caused severe damage in my personal life and almost caused the business to go under.
Choose your words carefully, and remember that everyone around you took a huge risk to work with you. Your team believes in you. Be the person they believe you to be, and they will reward you with more than you can imagine.
10. Read to Stay Motivated
EVERYONE goes through tough times. If you were to read about every successful entrepreneur, not one of them just had an easy road all the way through.
The key is to stay motivated by reading others’ stories, and seek these stories out. You’ll find motivation from reading quotes from some of the people you idolize in business (or other things). You’re almost sure to go through hard times. Everyone does. Reading can really help get you out of a funk.
11. Create a Mastermind
Having people to lean on who “get it” is a must! Find fellow entrepreneurs and create a “mastermind.” Meet in-person or set up phone calls to discuss the issues you’re all likely facing. You’ll learn from each other’s mistakes and have people to vent with.
12. Ask What You Can Learn From It
An incredible opportunity we have during challenging times is to ask ourselves, “What can I learn from this?” In every challenging situation, there’s a key lesson to be learned. Additionally, asking ourselves the question, “What role did I play in this?” helps us accept 100 percent responsibility for our actions and will help us avoid similar pitfalls in the future. It’s imperative to embrace our challenges and not run away from them. If we’re willing to learn from dark times, it sets us up for even more success in the future.
13. Take A Step Back
Anxiety. Panic attacks. Depression. Extreme self doubt. Obsession. We’ve all faced at least one of those problems. It’s easy to lose your solid footing and forget your self-worth when times are hard. Each negative thought feeds the next negative thought and it becomes a vicious cycle that potentially takes a toll on your mental state, relationships, and efficiency.
It’s important to take a step back and gain some perspective. It’s not an easy task but neither is entrepreneurship. It’s important to appreciate yourself, your loved ones, and the small things in life. Be sure to have a strong support system to be there for you. And don’t forget, your work is not you. It’s your passion. Don’t let your dream become your nightmare.
14. Sleep and Briefly Return to Normalcy
During tough times, what helps me the most is sleeping and spending some time with family and friends. It’s simple, but helpful.
Sleep a full night or two as best you can. Do something you love to do with family and/or friends. Remember how much you enjoy the people around you and doing the things you often don’t get to do.
This won’t solve the problems, but I find it helps regain your balance, focus and perspective.
15. Look at the Bigger Picture
Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster: One day you’re on top of the world, and the next, you can’t imagine why you’re doing this to yourself. Luckily, you’re not alone!
Get away from what you’re doing, call a friend, hang with your family, or do something you love. Then come back to your problem later. Never make decisions based on emotion or impulse, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re not the smartest person in the room, you’re doing something right.