Entrepreneurship might seem like a glamorous career choice; and in many ways, it is. However, this independent path can have its downsides. Working alone, or representing your own brand, is a major responsibility, and many entrepreneurs face emotional challenges, from loneliness to fear.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we interviewed experts about common emotional struggles in entrepreneurial journeys to prove that you are not alone. [Battling a chronic illness? Here's how to manage it in the workplace.]
Entrepreneurship is often a solo endeavor. Sometimes, this is ideal for those who don't want to answer to anyone but themselves, or who enjoy working at their own pace. However, all the alone time spent building your brand, the off-hours spent dealing with clients and paperwork, can isolate you from the rest of the world.
"Before we realize it, we can easily spend 18 hours a day, every day … hunched over the computer in whatever workspace we choose," said Samantha Siffring, TBH Business Consultant and Coach. "We can literally even be in public, but mentally feel like we’re in a world of our own online. Because online connections are often not as authentic as in person, it’s easy to not feel seen or understood which leads to isolation."
Saule Atantay, a leadership coach who works with women entrepreneurs, added that loved ones often can't relate to your situation, which breeds a disconnect too deep to fill.
"They probably cannot help you at times [when] you and you alone must make an important business decision," Atantay said. "I've experienced it myself and the weight of responsibility is huge, especially when you have employees that depend on you."
But while you might feel alone, you never are. There are millions of others in your shoes. Sometimes, all it takes is opening up and putting yourself out there.
"I found out that most established successful entrepreneurs are very open for connection and interaction and more so, they enjoy sharing their own stories of growth," said Atantay.
Among the chaos that is your work life, you also need to prioritize your health and happiness. If you're dragging your feet or fighting back tears at the end of the day, your passion and spirit will wear thin. You won't just lose your charm in business, but you might also lose relationships with loved ones. Those connections are more important than a hefty check or lengthy client list.
"I encourage anyone who is busy building a business to take a break at least once a week to connect in person with someone you're able to be completely vulnerable with and experience unconditional acceptance from," said Siffring.
It doesn't have to be the same person each week, either: Siffring says she rotates her weekly connections between her best friend, her husband, her book club and a "mommy friend," planning a get-together with each once a month.
"Sometimes I have more, but these once a week connection points keep me grounded," Siffring added.
Anxiety hits us in the most inconvenient times. It feeds off what matters most to us, so naturally, it will attack your career, too. Siffring notes that this can happen at any stage of business, but it's often before you have a consistent income and aren't sure where that next dollar is coming from, or when you're more established but have a team depending on your business's continued growth.
"If you aren't managing your thoughts on a regular basis, this can become total self-sabotage," she said. "The mental drama you create by thinking 'this isn't going to work' or 'how can I keep this up?' wastes time, energy and resources that could be used to build the business further."
But it's difficult to shut off these thoughts and move on with a positive attitude, especially when it comes to finances. While it certainly shouldn't be the most important aspect of your career or your life, money is an inevitably crucial part of every business.
"If you had anxiety and fears around finances and managing money, including losing it, before starting business, [you] will experience it even stronger," said Atantay. "Especially when business is in the beginning phase and you can't guarantee a certain monthly income level, you still must make purchasing decisions and pay your bills. Often, small business owners don't pay themselves out of this fear, or hide from facing their financials, [and they] create even more stress as result."
But you can decrease this anxiety by establishing money management processes and systems from the start, and consistently making educated financial decisions, maintaining a budget and being flexible with your income, Atantay added.
You should also challenge the root of your anxiety to get a better understanding of why you're worried, and what you can do to lessen the mental discomfort.
"I encourage all of my clients who are experiencing this to really question their thoughts that trigger anxiety and see if they are able to choose a new thought that creates a more productive feeling," said Siffring. "Even a new thought as simple as 'I'm doing this' or 'I'm committed to making this work' can be so empowering."
While fear and anxiety share similarities, they're entirely different emotions. Fear is a shorter-lived yet severe response to a specific stimulus, while anxiety is a more prolonged apprehension.
Fears range from public speaking to the unknown. But one of the most commonly noted fears for entrepreneurs is failure. Atantay stated that it might be both conscious or subconscious, and might even lead to obsessive comparing to others.
"Sometimes out of this fear, entrepreneurs overwork themselves, over-give their time and effort and forget about self-care," she said.
Additionally, many entrepreneurs are afraid of trusting others with their business, preventing them from building a team or growing their brand, said Atantay.
While it's overwhelming to feel that lurch in your stomach and tension in your chest, fear can only control you if you let it. In fact, if you learn to channel it the right way, it can act as a great motivator.
"Fear is often a signal you're on the right track, and embracing it and moving forward with the plan in the face of it, is one of the best ways to fast track your success," said Siffring. "Next time you notice fear, get really curious about why you're feeling it, thank it for trying to keep you alive, but tell it you're going to take this step in your business anyway."
Burnout is common in dead-end positions or stressful companies. But you likely pursued an entrepreneurial path because you wanted to avoid this verdict. This is your career, and you have the power to prevent this from happening.
"We keep getting this message to hustle, hustle, hustle until we drop," said Siffring. "Hustle … [is] a necessary ingredient to success – but I think sometimes people hustle in the wrong areas or to an unhealthy level, and it leads to burnout."
Siffring added that it's important to find a hustle that feels more like a flow, involving tasks that you're most passionate about.
"Of course, there are … things in my business that don't feel like 'flow' – and I still do them, [like] contracts and bookkeeping," she said. "But my daily operations of marketing and getting my message out, plus my direct work with clients, is all flow."
Above all, you need to know when enough is enough, and that might differ for each person. Find out what works best for you and when you're the happiest. Sure, work will still feel like work at times; but it should feel more like a gain than a pain.