What Do You Love?
As a private practice owner and health and fitness writer, I’m no stranger to the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. I somewhat reluctantly took on this role back in 2003, when I first opened my private practice. I had been frustrated for months at my job in a busy rehab hospital, and thought that I could do better on my own. Without any formal business training, I sat down with a yellow legal pad and outlined what I wanted my business to look like.
Now more than 10 years later (with four years in the middle working for someone else), I find myself thinking a lot about the good, the bad, and the ugly of self-employment. A few recent articles have caught my attention, and given me food for thought. The articles cover topics we don’t often discuss as business owners: the risk, the sleepless nights, the stress of an empty schedule or a phone that doesn’t ring. After talking with many business owners over the years, I know that we all share the same joys and frustrations, and I think that we need to talk more openly about our struggles in order to support each other.
It goes against the grain for most business owners to talk about their struggles. After all, we take pride in our image. We want to appear in control and successful at all times. But this often comes at a great cost. This article discusses the psychological price of entrepreneurship in a candid fashion. It discusses the toll taken by lack of a steady paycheck, working long hours, risking security, and loss of time with friends and family. Several prominent business owners openly discuss their struggles with start-ups and failed ventures.
The same article points out that our strengths can also be our weaknesses:
“People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” says Freeman. Those states may include depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking. The same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them.”
In the all-consuming frenzy of daily activities related to owning a business, it is often our own health that suffers the most. Many business owners neglect sleep, exercise, and healthy eating habits, adding fuel to the fire that stress causes to our health. When we refuse to talk openly about our struggles, we are left feeling isolated and alone.
For some entrepreneurs, these feelings come as a total surprise. Several years into owning a business, we may look around and ask ourselves, “How did I get here? I can’t believe that this is what I wanted, and now I’m so unhappy/stressed/apathetic/exhausted.” While I believe it is normal to go through periods where we question our decision to run a business, some people remain disillusioned and have trouble moving forward.
When we identify with our company to the point where it defines us as a person, that’s when we run into trouble. We have all heard sayings like, “When you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” While this is a lovely, romantic idea, I believe it couldn’t be further from the truth. Owning a business is hard work. Period. It is no wonder we experience disillusionment when we open a business expecting every day to involve unicorns and rainbows. There is no way around it: you will work more hours for less pay (initially) and be fully responsible for not only yourself, but also any employees you hire.
This article from Slate Magazine titled “In the Name of Love” discusses the problems with the “Do What You Love” philosophy:
There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work—and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.
The article points out that we should not forget that labor is something we do for compensation, and that most people in the world do not have any choice but to “work” to survive.
The article also makes the point that when we believe that we are “doing what we love” we have difficulty putting appropriate boundaries in place around our work. This is something that most entrepreneurs deal with at some time in their career. If we aren’t careful, our “work” hours extend to 7 or 8pm, and weekends, and holidays, and vacations…you get the idea.
Because we have convinced ourselves that we love our work, we forget to build a LIFE that we love in the process.
In the end, a life which lacks balance is no life at all. When we recognize our work as work, it helps us to re-engage in the business of living.
The closing paragraph of this article says:
If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.
And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.
So, as usual, I have more questions than answers; but, I would love to hear from other entrepreneurs. How do you deal with the stress of running a business? Who do you confide in? What do you truly love, and are you dedicating enough time to it?