Q: I started my business about a year ago and everything is going fine. We're growing and making a profit, but the stress of running the business is really starting to get to me. I spend more time worrying than working. Sometimes the pressure is almost more than I can take. I'm starting to think that I'm not cut out to run my own business. Do you have any advice that might help me decide what to do? -- Steven S.
A: I'm full of advice, Steven, and it's totally free. Just remember, you get what you pay for and I can't be held legally or morally responsible if my advice somehow lands you behind the counter at McDonalds. I'm not Dr. Phil, for Pete's sake. I'm shorter and have more hair and less money.
Seriously, the first thing you need to do is take a few deep breaths and take comfort in the fact that you are not the first entrepreneur to feel the weight of the business world on your shoulders. Every business person, including yours truly, has felt the way you do at one time or another. For some, it's a feeling that occurs daily, especially when things aren't going as well as we'd like them to. And don't think the stress will magically disappear if your business takes off. I know people who run multi-million dollar corporations and they will tell you that the stress level goes up in proportion to the size of the business. These same people will also tell you they love what they do and would never consider doing anything else.
The difference between these entrepreneurs and you, Steven, is that they have been in business longer and have learned to not only handle stress, but to take stress and transform it into a driving force. They feed off the stress. It fuels their creativity and innovation. Stress challenges them, it makes them think, makes them better entrepreneurs.
I think the real question isn't whether or not you have what it takes to run a business. The real question is do you have what it takes to handle the stress of running a business. These are two very different questions and the answers depend totally on you.
Even on the best of days running a business can be incredibly stressful, not to mention overwhelming and exhausting. It's only natural that there will be times when you wonder if it's really worth it. Asking yourself the "should I just get a real job" question simply means that your human side is showing. And as a human you have a limited tolerance for things you cannot control.
And that's really where the stress of being an entrepreneur comes from. We worry about things we can't control. Things like finding new customers, paying the bills, making payroll, and a thousand other things. Sure, we can put forth our best efforts to make these things turn out in our favor, but we really can't control the outcome. So we worry. And worry breeds stress and stress breeds doubt and doubt breeds the feeling that an 800 pound gorilla is using your chest for a lawn chair. It's only natural that you begin to wonder, "Is this what I really want to do? Do I have what it takes to run my own business?"
I remember once complaining about the stress of running my business to an elder entrepreneur. He waved at me like he was swatting a fly and said, "Son, if it was easy, everybody would do it. Now suck it up and move on."
Suck it up and move on -- probably the best business advice I've ever gotten. No fortune cookie was ever so on the money.
My mentor's eloquent point was this: running a business is never easy and always stressful, but that's what makes it so dang exciting. Running a business is like walking a tight rope backward with your eyes shut and your pants on fire. Man, sure beats working for a living, huh.
Steven, it sounds to me like you're having what I call a "garbage truck moment." That's when the pressure of running your business starts getting to you and you begin to question whether the entrepreneurial life is right for you. The debts are mounting, your staff is shrinking (or growing), you get that nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach and you find yourself longing for the apparent simplicity of driving a garbage truck.
Note to garbage truck drivers: save your hate mail, boys. I know you work very hard and I respect what you do. Without you the world would be a very different, very smelly place, indeed.
What's happening to you, Steven, has happened to us all. The stress is causing you to doubt not only your decision to start your own business, but your ability to run it, as well. There's no magic bullet for dealing with stress and you certainly can't eliminate it totally, so you must learn to handle it. I believe the key to handling stress is to first identify the source of the stress, then formulate a plan to deal with it.
Here's what I do. Take a pencil and paper and list all the things that are causing you stress. For each item listed ask yourself: Is there anything I can do about this? Is there anything I can do to change this from being a point of stress to a point of accomplishment? In other words, is this something I have control over?
Stressing over things you can't control is a total waste of time. Tell yourself that you're burning brain cells in vain and mark that item off your list. Some people don't have this ability. Some people are just natural born worriers who are not happy unless they have something to worry about. They revel in worry. They work in worry like a great artist works in paint. Even when things are going great they worry that the sky is about to fall. If you are a natural born worrier, Steven, nothing I say will help you handle stress.
Great, now you have something else to worry about.
Next, determine if each point of stress is something that has happened in the past, is currently happening, or has not yet -- or may never -- happen. If the stress point is the past, there's not much you can do but attempt to rectify the situation causing the stress. If it's a current problem, formulate a plan to deal with the problem and eliminate the stress it's causing. And if you're stressing over things that may never happen, remember what Mark Twain said: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."
Finally, Steven, it's important to remember that working for someone else can be just as stressful as working for yourself. Sure, you don't have the stress (and responsibility) associated with running a business, but you will have other stresses that can be far worse; like impossible work deadlines, sales quotas you can't meet, a boss that learned his management skills on a chain gang, coworkers who don't pull their own weight, possible layoffs, etc.
Very few things in life are without stress. Just ask any garbage truck driver.
Here's to your success!
Tim Knox as the president and CEO of two successful technology companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring management software company; and Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company. Tim is also the founder of dropshipwhol sale.net, an ebusiness dedicated to the success of online entrepreneurs. Visit him at: http://www.dropshipwholesale.net and http://www.smallbusinessqa.com.© 2004 Tim Knox
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