What You'll Give Up When You Start a Small Business
Hint: It's just about everything.
“I have never been this tired before," says one of my colleagues, speaking about the birth of his son. "I never understood what ‘this is hard’ meant before.”
Being a father myself, I get what he's saying. But, you don’t need to have a kid to experience that kind of shocking, life-changing responsibility.
Just open a small business.
If you think I’m being facetious, think again. My first two years in small business were the most difficult of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for what was coming.
A small business is a living entity, and like a baby it demands constant care and attention. Except, it doesn’t go down for naps. You can’t hand it off to a babysitter. It consumes everything you feed it and hungrily demands more.
What follows is a small list of things you should prepare to sacrifice if you decide to start a small business of your own. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you at least an inkling of what to expect when you take the plunge.
1. Your job security.
No one loves working the 9 to 5 grind, and entrepreneurial types are especially averse to clocking in and out. But you know what’s great about a clock?
It’s dependable. It just keeps going around and around. There’s no confusion about what it’s telling you. As long as you provide basic maintenance, 2 p.m. means 2 p.m. every single day.
Same with a regular job. You get a paycheck twice a month. You can see a doctor if you need to. You can go on vacation and put your feet up, because you’re part of a smooth-running machine that’ll survive your temporary absence.
Not so with a small business. When I started my first small business, I’d go months without getting a paycheck. I once put off visiting a doctor until I was coughing blood. Vacations of any duration were out of the question.
2. Your social life.
You know those annoying parents who drone on and on about how great or terrible their kids are? Who never stop thinking about them, even during a night out with other adults?
That’s going to be you. You won’t be with your friends even when you’re with them. Your Tinder date will feel like a third wheel. You’ll obsessively discuss your challenges until your spouse finds you obnoxious. Your mom will frequently ask, “What’s wrong, dear?”
3. Your grandma’s respect.
I was one of the only people in my family to abandon the traditional school-family-career path and strike out on my own. I was subjected to a lot of loving criticism over it.
My grandma suggested that I was making a mistake and that I owed it to my wife and baby to get a degree and a proper job. I understood her concern, and it was great motivation to work even harder, but being doubted by others when you’re already doubting yourself makes things twice as tough.
4. Your well-being.
A state of comfort, health and happiness simply cannot coexist with a state of perpetual stress.
Getting your small business off the ground is a Herculean task. Growing it just adds fuel to the fire, the flames of which will take a toll mentally and physically. I remember lying down in my bed at night and having such vivid nightmares of work-related catastrophes that I’d wake up wondering if I slept at all.
5. Your recreation time.
Love playing video games? Binge-watching hours of TV? Bar-hopping all night with your friends? Curling up for hours with a good book?
Small business owners can’t afford to binge anything except their small business. Even after you’re established, you’ll have to schedule playtime as carefully as an operation.
Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People
6. Your control.
It’s a paradox, but being in someone else’s control for eight hours a day gives you loads of control over the remaining 16.
When you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay the heating bill, or cover the cost of that cavity, you can free up your mind about everything else.
But I’m talking about more than just financial control. I mean control of things like dignity and your comfort zone, too. You’re going to be in an intense state of “fake it until you make it” for a significant amount of time.
When you fake something, you feel false. You feel like you’re pulling the wool over the world’s eyes, and you’re going to be revealed for what you really are -- a drooling moron -- at any second.
It’s not an easy state of existence, but you’ll never get to the next level as a business owner without pushing yourself to venture into unknown territory.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
We could talk positives as well. We could discuss the pride you feel as you watch your business take its first tentative steps. Or, the bursts of energy and enthusiasm that accompany every positive development, giving you hope when you need it most.
We could analyze the unparalleled thrill of building something truly valuable from the ground up. Or, the smaller-but-still-legitimate thrill of hearing your grandma finally admit that you’re killing it. (Love you, grandma.)
But, just know: You’re going to have to suffer to get there. In my opinion, it's worth it.
Levi King is CEO and co-founder of Nav.