An entrepreneur is someone who works 23 hours a day for themselves to avoid working one hour a day for someone else.
If you’re working for yourself, you know that this is one of those jokes that we all laugh at, and shake our heads over, because it’s so (unfortunately) true. Adapting to the workflow and emotional changes that come when you transition to entrepreneurship are difficult for just about everyone.
Why is that the case? Because the stakes are higher working for yourself. You probably got into this because of some kind of personal passion. It’s no longer about someone else’s vision. Everything will bear your name and, ultimately, there is no corporate entity issuing apologies through its legal team if there’s a big mess-up. It’ll be you.
Like many entrepreneurs, I learned the hard way that when I focused solely on making money so I could pay the bills, I was miserable. It felt like I was constantly failing. It took time before I realized adapting to the lifestyle changes of entrepreneurship requires far, far more than keeping track of admin tasks or booking clients. Here are five ways to avoid the common pitfalls that create entrepreneurial stress and burn-out, especially in the earliest years when things are new and uncertain.
1. Base your success metrics on what truly matters in your business. When you ask someone what it takes to create a successful business, they’ll often say things like “money” or “time.” Most entrepreneurs would feel more successful, day-to-day, if they used a different metric of success: fulfillment.
Make your first priority feeling fulfilled by how you're spending your time. Aim for for the feeling of "fulfillment" over metrics that are inevitably going to come and go, such as money. Start by asking yourself, as you’re sitting down to each meal: “Is this fulfilling?” If it’s not, inquire within: “Why not? What do I need to shift?”
2. Make time each week for studying other people’s models, and then adapt to do it your own way. I spent a lot of time doing things the way I thought I “had to” because I thought that someone else’s way would automatically transfer to me. It takes time to figure out that when someone shares a path to business success, they’re really sharing what worked for them. There are bound to be some good takeaways, but you’ve always got to map out your own blueprint.
There are no shortcuts. Study the success stories. Emulate their frameworks. Modify as necessary.
3. Remember that you’re being of service. Working for yourself, it’s easy to quickly get hung up on cash flow. That invites all sorts of comparisons when our bank accounts are stagnant.
We translate the mentality of being paid by the hour to what we do in our day-to-day, thinking more hours worked should translate to more hours of pay. In fact, as you ask your business to take up greater space in your life, and as you take on more responsibilities, you will not necessarily see an immediate boom. In the early years of building your business, keep focused on the service you're providing through your work. That is far less stressful than constantly calculating how many hours you're working .
4. Start asking for help, early, and often. This can be tough for the independently-minded entrepreneur who might have become accustomed to DIY and boot-strapping. Hiring a virtual assistant or finding an app that handles routine tasks is just one part of this lifestyle change.
Ask for the kind of help that enables you to offload some responsibilities. Ask your partner to help with more housework, or hire a once-a-week housecleaner, or just accept that the house will be messier. Start doing this early, and do it often.
5. Practice regular self-care. No excuses. It might seem like there’s “no time” for self-care but burnout is an even harder hole to climb out of. Treat self-care like an appointment with a client. You would not miss that appointment, so raise the bar and treat yourself with the same level of accountability.
In the earliest days of being an entrepreneur, your focus might be on “how” to spend your time. You might find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of suggestions on time managemen. Perhaps you’ve mapped out how you’ll spend each hour of the day on a grid somewhere, only to find that (once again) the week doesn’t happen in quite the way you’ve planned.
With so many unpredictable unknowns, it’s easy to start wondering: Should I be doing this?
Integrate fulfillment, learning other frameworks, being of service, asking for help, and regular self-care into your new entrepreneurial lifestyle. Then you can spend less time on the drama of “figuring it all out” and more time fully in the moment of where your business is, right here and right now. That’s the place where you’ll get the best answers about the next step to take as you navigate new terrain.