There's a lot of press today about people in their prime career years being the sandwich generation--caught between aging parents and growing families. I'm here to tell you that there can be open-faced sandwiches (no kids), as well as club sandwiches, with businesses layered in between family obligations. These can lead to high pressure situations for even the most prepared and organized entrepreneurs.
If you have been blessed with good health and high energy, be grateful every day because you're already far ahead. No college or graduate school class can fully prepare you for juggling your business and life. This year my husband and I each had parents with health setbacks. Luckily because we both own businesses, we were able to take the time needed for extended visits and conference calls with doctors and family members.
The everyday pressures of running our businesses may feel like life and death on a daily basis--closing deals, collecting payment, running payroll and managing various personalities. When crises do happen, they put real life in perspective.
When I knew I would be spending some time away from my business, I quickly alerted my team and clients to prepare for my absence. Open communication is critical during times of stress. Periods of silence can make people nervous. They may jump to the wrong conclusions--Did I do a bad job? Does he care about my business? Is she mad at me?--when in fact, there's a perfectly logical reason why I didn't call them back.
The same focus and attention you need to be successful in your company is applicable when you feel those sandwich situations coming on. Here are a few ways to maintain your sanity when the pressure starts to mount:
- Be kind to yourself. You can only be helpful to others if you are eating and sleeping as needed. These situations require a clear head to make important decisions.
- Build a support team. My siblings and family rallied around the situation, and everyone contributed time, ideas and energy. Your extended network can also be incredibly helpful during these times. Let others help by delegating non-essential tasks to those who care.
- Do your research. Talk to the experts and find out as much as you can about the situation from a variety of sources. As advice converges in certain areas, you'll be able to determine which decisions to trust and which ones may need more input.
- Portion out tasks. Break each situation down into digestible parts so that you don't get overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation. It can seem insurmountable at times when you look at the overall task at hand. Trying to parcel each decision into a step along the continuum helps you better understand the forks and options ahead.
- Don't learn the hard way. Leverage the experience of those who have been down your same path. People are happy to share their lessons learned and what they would do differently today. Many entrepreneurs can seem super human at times but showing your vulnerable side makes you even more interesting, attractive and real.
- When in doubt, over communicate. Checking in via voice or e-mail to update your clients and staff builds confidence in the system and shows that you care. Be honest about what you want and need from them; it may just be to keep your family in their thoughts and prayers.
As careers extend into new chapters and morph as you age, it's important to make sure you have time for the unexpected. Have your crisis plan ready for unpredictable situations. I try to prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but knowing you have thought through the plan of action will make these sandwich situations a little easier to stomach when they do happen.