Even the luckiest entrepreneurs, whose business trajectories trend mostly upwards, aren't immune to major bumps. Some are internal, like losing several days' worth of work or your number-one team member just before a critical deadline. Others are circumstantial, like getting the best opportunity at the worst time.
Getting from crisis to success requires confidence in your ability to pull off some seemingly impossible feat. Panicking isn't an option, since you're the person in charge and everyone expects you to pull this together. So, where do you look for that confidence when you need it most?
I'm a creative entrepreneur, and my job depends on being inspired. I've learned to look for inspiration everywhere. Creatively applied, it informs every part of my life, including handling my worst professional moments. Over the years, I've grown better and better at pushing through detours and roadblocks by tapping into these four simple sources of encouragement.
1. Look back to your past professional wins -- and misses.
Confidence isn't something we develop overnight. It's the product of many small wins and resolved problems.
Too often, in crisis mode, we fall prey to the expectation that we can provide an entire solution single-handedly, or we fail to recall handling a similar situation before. Mine your own experience for ideas and resources. For me, I look no further than the longevity of my studio. That's nearly 11 years of succeeding, struggling, and succeeding some more, through some extreme circumstances -- and usually there's a parallel situation from my entrepreneurial past I can now apply. If you, too, are a seasoned entrepreneur, surely this isn't your first challenging professional situation. And, if you're just getting started, it's unlikely you haven't hit bumps along the way.
Very few professional crises are truly dire. Most, if not all, can become opportunities for growth, positive change and lessons learned. So remember all the times things turned out OK. Then take a deep breath and recognize that, in retrospect, even things that didn't turn out OK still led you to wherever you are today. Let's be honest. You're an entrepreneur reading this. That's a pretty good place to be.
2. Seek strength from your physical accomplishments.
What does a 5K have to do with handling a career crisis? A lot -- if you let it! Physical activity is a great confidence-booster and it builds up mental resilience. Doesn't matter if you run one mile or 10, the pushing yourself to get out there is a mental effort.
You don't have to be a professional athlete to convert the satisfaction of physical accomplishment into inspiration you can channel towards other challenges. In fact, sometimes throwing in a physical challenge into your messy professional moment can help During a particularly tough patch, I, an avid non-runner, agreed to train and run a half-marathon. While this seemed counterintuitive to some (and let's face it, even a little crazy to others), it was worth it. Training let me burn off steam and stress, and training my mind to endure 13-plus miles did wonders for my endurance at the desk.
Whether you opt to take on an entirely new challenge or simply recall a previous feat -- that long hike last summer, a charity race you walked or the time you made the softball team against all odds in 10th grade -- reach for anything that rekindles your sense of pride in yourself and underscores your ability to just suck it up and do it! Remember what it felt like to accomplish your goal and use it to encourage yourself now: “If I can push myself to climb that mountain, I can certainly do this."
3. Reflect on the emotional challenges you've lived through.
It may seem odd to bring up memories of emotional distress while you're emotionally distressed, but it frames your current situation within your big picture. I don't want to downplay the importance of anyone's career, but very few people genuinely view their work as sitting above all else. Comparing a missed deadline to a divorce or a serious illness is counterintuitive -- they're so completely unrelated.
But that's precisely the reason this helps. It scales your professional problem to a more accurate proportion relative to the whole of your life. I have an ever-growing list of “if it didn't kill you, it must've made you stronger” episodes. Inevitably, recalling these clears my head, making room for productive, solution-seeking thoughts over stress-induced over-reactions.
Thinking about life events truly beyond your control reaffirms your ability to alter course and resolve your current issue. There are few life situations we're powerless to fix. Chances are, your professional problem isn't one of them.
4. Remember: People can remind you of wins you forgot.
While the ability to build up confidence alone is great, no one is immune to bouts of self-doubt and discouragement. Along with your mental list of wins, keep a list of your biggest fans: friends, family members and professional associates who can quickly remind you of your achievements -- or remind you to give them the respect they deserve.
If you're finding it too hard to deal alone, don't wait! Get someone else on the case before you think yourself into panic or hopelessness. Here, I consider myself truly lucky, because I work side-by-side with my greatest fan. I turn to her when I can't rally myself, and she turns to me when she's too down to get back up on her own.
Becoming your own cheerleader takes practice. The more you try, the easier it gets to recall the list of your greatest hits, moments that can inspire you to face a challenge with total confidence. This list could even encourage you to go beyond just meeting professional challenges but to actively seek them out.
And don't forget that having a professional challenge means you've already accomplished something quite difficult -- a career worth fighting for.