Keep Your Head
It can happen in an instant. One moment, you're happily running your business. The next, you're unexpectedly thrust into a personal crisis like the death of a loved one, a divorce or an illness. And everything changes.
"I think, 'How did I do all that?' " says Ellen Cagnassola, 33. Cagnassola was ready to start her Fanwood, New Jersey, soap business, MaryEllen's Sweet Soaps, when her father-in-law was rushed to the hospital after a long fight with prostate cancer. Suddenly, Cagnassola found herself balancing a startup, a 3-year-old daughter and a home-cleaning business-all the while knowing she had to say goodbye to a loved one. "I visited him daily, sometimes two times a day," she recalls. Totally exhausted, she got in a car accident right before Christmas. "I had a $500 deductible on top of it all," she sighs.
Yet with discipline and optimism, Cagnassola successfully survived her personal difficulties and developed a thriving soap business that now exports to Switzerland. Best of all, she learned an important lesson: how strong she really is. "I discovered I'm great under pressure," she says. "I think the struggle I saw my father-in-law go through made a big lightbulb pop over my head. I know I have what it takes to succeed." Should a crisis strike in your home, you, too, can survive by implementing these six steps:
1. Have a positive attitude. Whereas negative thoughts shut down options, positive thoughts can open you up to new ways of resolving your crisis. "The fact is, you can deal with almost anything if you put your mind to it," asserts Kevin L. Polk, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and owner of Hallowell, Maine-based Timedoctor.com. "[Instead of saying] 'I can't handle all this. I'm going to lose my business,' say 'I can handle all this. I may need some help, but I will keep going.' "
2. Define the problem, even if it seems obvious, like "My dad is really ill." It's important to figure out how the problem is affecting your day-to-day life. "Take a look at how the situation is changing your schedule and how your relationships with others are being changed," says Polk.
3. Make a list of all the things you could do to deal with your crisis. This is just brainstorming here--don't overwhelm yourself. Just choose some things you could do to get back on track. Setting aside 30 minutes for quiet time and committing yourself to one hour of marketing a day will keep you organized and sane.
4. Set up your new schedule. Choose two tasks from your list, and figure out how you can fit them into your routine. "Do what you can, when you can," advises Cagnassola. "Don't abuse yourself, because then you'll be useless altogether."
5. Work your new schedule to see how it goes, then, adjust your load until you feel like you've struck a balance. Are you working too much? Is cleaning the house really that important right now? Could you do more? Closely monitor your thoughts.
6. Review your list every day, and ask a trusted friend or advisor for help if you're feeling overwhelmed. "I have a great family and friends," notes Cagnassola. "Often, I'm not looking for others to solve my problem-just to listen."
Cagnassola's stressful startup took its toll, but she refused to let it stop her. "I approach [stress] like a hurdle," she says. "Who knows? I might find a silver lining along the way or learn something about myself. I usually do learn that it makes me stronger and more determined-it's a notch on my life-experience belt."
Originally printed in Entrepreneur's October 2000 Startups magazine.