To be an entrepreneur is exciting and rewarding, but at the same time it can be a lonely and uncertain existence. In creating new products and services, pushing boundaries and shaping their own lives, entrepreneurs spend much of their time treading the fine balance between safety and stability. Life is lived on the cutting edge where uncertainty and chaos prevail. I don’t share much about my personal life and what goes on behind the scenes of the Disruptive Entrepreneur Podcast, but through this post you’ll learn a little more about me and understand that I frequently suffer the same challenges and feel the same feelings as you do.
It’s unsurprising that so many entrepreneurs share similar experiences, challenges and feelings about life, regardless of what their business model is.
In this article I’ve identified ten of the less-obvious and least talked-about traits of entrepreneurs and the common experiences that we face in our lives. I hope to offer you encouragement and reassurance that you’re going down the right path and that you’re not alone in experiencing what you’re experiencing.
You experience guilt
Guilt has an important purpose. It is to realise what purpose the guilt serves, see it for what it is, and then let go of where it is holding you back and not serving you. The purpose of guilt is to ensure we are focusing on the right things. If we didn’t experience it, we should do all manner of evil and feel numb. It keeps us in check and in balance between the selfish and the selfless. In more modern times, guilt may arise if you are focusing on the wrong tasks or if you perceived you have wronged yourself or someone else. Again, notice it, but evaluate it’s purpose, in the knowledge that it is serving you somehow. Wisdom is discovering that balanced service to you.
You can’t control everything, or everyone. You are not responsible for everything. You can’t be in all places at once. You can’t be great at everything. You can’t live up to people’s expectations they hold of you. All you can control is who you are, what you do, and how you treat yourself and others. Focus on being as good at that as you can, and let go of the rest. Expecting outcomes that you have no power to control will cause you much unnecessary pain. Liberate yourself by accepting what is.
Guilt is an emotion where you live in the past. It is a delusion that past events or the way you were should have been different. Yet you can feel them in the present moment, feeling that you should be doing something else, robbing you of the gift of life to be experienced in the now. If you are going to do something. commit to it, work, rest or play. Then the guilt goes away.
You try and be all things to all people
A sure way to be great at nothing is to try to be great at everything. Demands of parenting, career, management and leadership, friends, social media and being a role model can take their toll. It’s fine to not master them all. It’s even fine to be crap at the ones not important to you. It’s fine to have a handful of true friends. It’s fine to let go of being who someone else wants you to be. It’s easier than ever to outsource your weaknesses. It’s good to say no.
Love & accept yourself for who you are; You are perfect as you are; successes and mistakes. The harder you are on yourself, the more guilt you’ll feel when not living up to that persona. This can be a never ending curse of wanting to be better, more or different. Look at how far you’ve come, not just how far you want to go.
You find it hard to switch off
Entrepreneurs see opportunities to serve and to solve others’ problems wherever they look. Situations that seem routine to the average person, appear rich with opportunity and possibility to the entrepreneur. The pace of technological innovation and the speed with which new trends emerge mean that entrepreneurs are constantly considering new business opportunities. Virtual Reality, 3D printing and voice-activated technology are recent examples where many entrepreneurs are straining to enter into new markets and to serve new customers.
The downside to this is that their efforts and attentions may be spread too thinly as they spin too many plates and try to monetise everything. This instinct to spot opportunity is a blessing but one that must be tempered with pragmatism and patience. I don’t think that burnout is about working hard. But of course, it’s very common in entrepreneurs. Of course, it’s very common in people in careers. But of course, most people who follow me are entrepreneurs or want to be entrepreneurs.
Allow yourself time to rest, time to play, time to be bored and time to heal if required. Be clear on your strengths and weaknesses, and focus your time and energy in areas you can provide value and have skills in, which in turn increases your self worth.
You feel like you’re the only person who sees things from your point of view
With success and growth comes expansion, and with that, responsibility for supporting and leading your team. They must be paid, motivated, praised and nurtured to bring about their best work. Entrepreneurs need similar feedback and support which is often lacking. For all the praise and positive feedback that you give, people only tend to remember when you have to deliver constructive criticism. This prompts further dissatisfaction and despondency about the worth of your efforts.
To invest ourselves fully in the pursuit of entrepreneurship can be all-consuming. It requires dedication, commitment and many hours of time invested in personal development and growth of our businesses. This can make it a lonely place to be, and it can place a strain on relationships and make new ones hard to form.
Those around us can be quick to share (with the best of intentions) that we’re crazy, deluded, stubborn or lacking perspective. They don’t understand our priorities and the commitment we have to achieving our goals. Our attitude to risk and desire for control of our own destiny can be challenging to understand for those who are happy with the 9-to-5 existence of an employee (probably 95% of other people).
The problem-solving imperative weighs heavily on us as entrepreneurs and when we’re the figurehead of the business, responsible for the livelihoods of our team and employees, the responsibility is a lot to bear. When these feelings strike it’s important to spend time and compare notes with other entrepreneurs who are going through the same as you. You’re not alone! Entrepreneurs have to become skilled at being self-sufficient when it comes to praise and motivation.
You regularly feel overwhelmed
There’s a fine line between overwhelm and burning-out or going into meltdown and it’s a line that most entrepreneurs tread on a daily basis. We feel compelled to blaze a trail, to grow as individuals and to create innovative products and services that help solve meaningful problems. We’re constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
Entrepreneurs regularly suffer from overwhelm, but exist with this reality and accept the feeling as a sign that they are pushing in the right direction.
If you’re not overwhelmed, you’re not doing enough to challenge yourself and you’re probably sticking with what is safe and comfortable, favouring stability, predictability and structure. If you have all your ducks lined-up, your task-list is ordered and manageable and everything is calm and collected in your life then you’re not operating in the same space as most entrepreneurs.
Renowned entrepreneurs and the titans of business such as Donald Trump (love him or hate him) are famed for maximising their efficiency and the productive use of their time. Their daily regime and working methods would be uncomfortable for most. Entrepreneurs recognise the delicate balance between having enough to do versus having too much to do; their sweet-spot is towards too much.
You are your own worst critic
When the feeling of ‘not good enough’ strikes, remember that you are different and unique, valued and appreciated, but overall remember that you are good enough. It’s admirable to strive for more and be better, but it’s essential to acknowledge who you are, and that you’re good enough now, today. Entrepreneurs are their own harshest critics. Unhelpful comparisons with others lead us to question constantly whether we’re good enough, why things aren’t working out, why everyone else seems to be doing better than we are and finding it easier. Imposter syndrome sets in as a result.
Entrepreneurs tread another fine line, between selflessness and selfishness. They’re driven to obtain the material goods equating to success, the big houses, luxury cars, watches, private education for their kids and education and mentoring for themselves. This doesn’t come at the expense of others though, and for genuine entrepreneurs it has to come alongside helping, giving and serving others in a fair-exchange environment that allows a sustainable profit margin.
When the service of self and the service of others are in balance, growth and success will follow organically.
In trying to fulfil every role to the best of our abilities (business owner, partner, parent, friend) entrepreneurs often end up feeling like failures or sub-standard in every area of life. Frustration, overwhelm and despondency prevail.
How do you stay positive and productive when the world isn’t?
Well, you have to shut out the noise. It’s as simple as that. You have to cultivate your social media feeds very carefully, you have to curate your friendships very carefully and you have to be very careful about the media and influences you put into your head.
So, I’ve made a commitment through the lockdown that I’m only going to have one conversation per day about the government, about Boris, about Trump, about the lockdown, one conversation a day only, and that’s it. Why? because I have to protect my energy, people say time is money. I’d say time is energy and you must protect your energy.
Now, when you go down your feed and you see something that you don’t like and triggers, you block it, unfollow it unfriended, ban it and report it. You’ve got to because if you’re getting triggered by social media, triggered by politics, triggered by the divisive nature of opinion and the whole world is scared. On a mass humanitarian level, we’ve not had a pandemic of fear like this on a global humanitarian level, probably since the Second World War, and I wasn’t there to experience it.
So, the next thing is the books you read and the podcasts and audio programs you listen to you need to curate them very carefully. Now, the problem you have here is good news is not that exciting when you compare it to a good old debate, argument or discussion. We are programmed to be more linked to negativity. So you have to take control and not deal in drama, aim to deal in dollars.