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Owning a business is thrilling — just like a roller coaster. That new idea, new employee, new client, or new product excites the pants off you, but getting turned down feels like you lost your heartbeat. Some days it feels like you’re on top of the world, others feel like you’ve been buried in the sand.
As an entrepreneur, people will challenge you. They want to know why you started a business, who you are, and why they should trust you. You will constantly be on the hot seat, and in some cases be scrutinized for every detail of your life (not just your business). With that kind of pressure, it can be easy to get pushed around and forget your original goals. Even worse, you can actually lose yourself as you try to meet external demands — demands that may not even fit your original goals!
I’ve been through all of it, and want to help you avoid some of those moments. Here are eight ways to make sure you don’t lose track of yourself to your entrepreneur identity.
1. Write down your raison d’être.
When you started your business, you probably had some lofty ideas and goals. Maybe you wanted to change the world (or your industry). As you began introducing yourself as an entrepreneur, were you asked why or how you got into your work? With each answer you gave, did you have to mold it to your audience? What if your audience was always a little different? What happened to your truth?
I didn’t write out my goals when I started my first business because I didn’t know I should. Years into the business, things looked way different, and the company looked way different than the business I thought I’d started.
If your business is already in full swing, try to think back to who you were the day you decided to start it and write about your motivation. If you are just starting your business, write down why. Write down a one-year vision, and a five-year vision, stretch goals, and anything else you can think of.
Don’t just put it away when you’re done. Post what you wrote somewhere you’ll see it often, or formalize it into a manifesto/mission statement. It will help you know when you should (and shouldn’t) work with someone. When it’s time to hire employees, show them the manifesto so they buy into and help steer what will become your company culture.
2. Ask why when someone says ‘no’.
Yes, this is scary. So is starting a business, and you did that! The work of an entrepreneur so becomes a part of one’s identity that it’s easy to internalize a ‘no’ as a personal hit. While it can be difficult to hear anything negative about your business, sometimes you need to.
Recently I had a client who told me ‘no’ when I thought we had a sure deal. I mean, I had already done a little dance in my head about his positive responses leading up to the decision. But when the decision came, I was shocked to get a no. Instead of allowing my imagination to run wild with all the horrid things he must think of us, I asked why. Turns out I was right — they loved us — but they are a nonprofit and their budget couldn’t quite stretch far enough to hire us for our original proposal. The awesome part is they hired us for some side work instead. Knowing their ‘why’ allowed me to pivot our relationship and meet their needs differently.
I can’t promise that every answer you get will be as nice, so don’t forget to use a filter. Some people are assholes who drop bombs willy nilly. You’ll need to filter through the crap to find the constructive part of their criticism. Most of the time, however, you’ll receive feedback from kind people who have something valuable to offer, and it will make you and your business better.
3. Keep that work/life separation.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop talking about this one. In fact, my partner came home last night and said he and some mates were discussing working from home. They complained that clients often think that you’re available 24/7 when you’re independent, and he told them, “Oh yeah, my partner, Veronica, is militant about cut-off times.”
I wouldn’t quite use that word, but I guess I am…
Without work/life separation, your work identity will bleed into your personal life, and the highs and lows of business will begin to affect what you think of yourself. Imagine getting a ‘no’ from every client call of the day, but not internally separating the fact that they are no’s for your business, not for you. Your self-esteem would tank! Work/life balance helps to delinate what is the business and what is you.
The people in your life will also be thankful for your work/life balance. As entrepreneurs, we tend to disappear into our work, rarely coming up for air. If you’re working from home, your partner probably knows what your ‘do not disturb’ face looks like. I’m sure you don’t want to wear that face all the time (queue the old adage “your face will get stuck that way”). Your friends and family hear about your work enough. You don’t need to be working constantly, too, so make sure you have a cutoff time for work and stick to it.
4. Create a system for following up.
I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but self-sabotage is a tricky beast that weeds its way into the best entrepreneur’s work. Maybe you’re tired on a given day, or the task list isn’t exciting (who wants to follow up on their taxes?), or something has zapped your excitement for your business.
You need a system to get around self-sabotage so, down the road, you don’t find you’ve missed a huge opportunity. I love writing things down, and I love my Bullet Journal (I’ve created an entire course to show you how to use the paper Bullet Journal with your digital calendar and task system), so I do my best to write down everything. When I leave a potential client a phone message, I write down a reminder to call them back in a couple of days. It seems overly simplistic, but over and over I have forgotten to return a call or email because something distracted me.
As an entrepreneur, you will be juggling many aspects of your business, and this will happen to you. Do whatever it takes to create a system that captures everything happening in your business so you don’t stay up at night wondering what it was you forgot.
5. Reassess regularly.
I don’t just mean for your business. Since entrepreneurship means that your work is very closely tied to your personal identity, you’ll want to reassess your personal life as well. In fact, conduct a regular assessment for how your business is affecting your personal life, and vice versa. You may discover an imbalance in friendships is burning you out at work, or that work is obliterating family dinner time. Find a frequency that feels right to you, and mark reassessment days on your calendar. I do so monthly, but you may find your business better fits a quarterly model. Don’t set a frequency any less than bi-yearly, or things will get away from you.
Assess each aspect of your life at once so you can draw parallels. Write, draw, or type out how you think things are going. I personally love using the Level 10 Life model, but there are any number of questionnaires on the internet that can help, or you make up your own. I like that my system keeps them all so I can flip back to see my progress or make comparisons. In doing this exercise, you’ll catch problems quickly and can ritualize what works well.
6. Take a vacation!!!
So often do I hear of entrepreneurs who don’t take a vacation. Listen when I say that there is no award for working yourself to death. Sorry, folks.
I have found that when I take a vacation — an actual vacation without a computer — I gain some serious clarity about my work and my personal life. I realize where things have been failing, what goals I’ve forgotten about due to stress, and often return with a new sense of direction and energy.
If you find it hard to go on vacation, put it in your calendar way ahead of time. Actually, put it in your calendar for the same month of each year. Now you have a task/event that is both in your way and something you can plan for. If you don’t have a partner, plan something with friends, or go alone. Vacation doesn’t have to be a resort in Jamaica — if you like stimulation, go to a music festival or explore a new city; if you like nature, plan a hike; if you like culture, go abroad. Take at least one week per year to get out of your entrepreneur-head. Your mind, business, and the people around you will thank you.
7. Start using affirmations.
Affirmations have kept me sane in more ways than one. Affirmations are phrases that you repeat to yourself to either reach a goal, reshape your thinking, or reinforce your good habits. This is a great way to reinforce your mindset and your goals when things get busy, since affirmations should be phrases that you identify with. Some people make them up, some pull quotes from movies or thought leaders, and some are written by someone else. I do a blend of all three. My favorite affirmations book is written by one of the elders I interviewed for my book, called Ribbons of Love. It is divided into sections covering many topics and the pages are perforated so you can tear them out and put them where you’ll see them and read them often. If you prefer journaling, however, the Happier Mind Journal may be the best way for you to do this. It helps you track how well you slept, your moods, your goals for the day, and more. This is a great way to stay mindful ad not lose yourself when you feel like you have eight heads and twenty arms trying to accomplish everything at the same time (or is that just me)?
8. Practice self-care.
Self-care is a hot topic these days, but it’s usually the first to go for busy entrepreneurs like ourselves. That is one of the worst things you can let happen, as the trickle-down effect will influence every aspect of your life.
At one point I realized that my self-care had pretty much disappeared. Had you asked me what I did for self-care, I would have looked at you with a blank stare. This led to some bad times and a giant stress ball named Veronica. I don’t think I was very pleasant to be around, let alone the physical consequences of constant stress. So I started thinking about what makes me feel good — things like tea, herbal baths, and yoga. If you had told me then that I would soon be waking up two hours early so I would have time for yoga and a real breakfast before I start work (at home or at the coworking space) I would have laughed. I didn’t feel like I had the time. The truth was, I was in a stress cycle, and that level of stress will always convince you there is a tiger headed straight for you so there is no time to do some pre-run-for-your-life stretching.
There are a ton of resources that discuss self-care online, but this post by The Mighty was really good at demonstrating how important self-care is. Self-care isn’t just about aromatherapy and meditation, it also includes doctor’s appointments and family. Do some work to decide what will most benefit you, then stick to it.
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