MENA Entrepreneurs, Be Kind To Yourselves: It's Okay Not To Be Okay
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Roughly a year ago, my life came crashing down before me. I found myself in an extremely difficult work situation, while in the middle of a major personal issue I was already trying to work through with professional help.
I’ve been an entrepreneur with varying degrees of success for roughly 10 years or so, meaning that I’m used to change and having to juggle many different, difficult situations at the same time. However, this was different. It felt truly overwhelming.
Living so close to the edge for so long can’t be good for your health, right? I remember contemplating running away from everything. Picking up my bags and going to a country far away, and just roaming the streets, or something. This thought kept creeping up in my head several times a week. When you get smacked in the face, and things start falling down around you, it makes you stop, take a look at what you have become, and analyze your complete body of work up to this point.
People don’t change overnight- they change over extended periods of time, likely due to a mixture of dormant tendencies and circumstances.
Roughly six months ago, for the first time in years, I took the advice of my physiologist, and took the opportunity to stop during a three-day weekend. For those three days, I didn’t work, but used the time to contemplate my life. What do I want to do? What do I need to fix? What are the commonalities in the different situations in work and life I find myself in? How much have I changed, how much of that change is good, and how much is bad?
And that is the scariest thing I have probably ever done. When you decide to become an entrepreneur, you are most likely somewhat delusional to think that whatever your idea may be, it will work. You are also likely overtly optimistic about the outcome, and have little self-doubt. The media often focuses on the positive aspects of entrepreneurship, the success, the money, the fame and so forth, but rarely will you find a piece on the toll entrepreneurship takes on you from a mental and physical standpoint.
For example, how (almost) every investor is completely uninterested if you get way less than market value as compensation for your work, and have no chance to cash out during funding rounds, even though this is your life’s work- to them, you are one of 100. Another example is that to be successful you teach yourself to never get too high with a win, or too low with a loss, but to just keep on trekking. This turned me into someone that is numb, and has difficulty expressing any sort of genuine emotions.
Furthermore, you teach yourself that your capital is time. So, if you have a chance to connect with someone that might turn into a client, it would be pointless to spend your time with anyone else since that person has no potential to benefit you. This has been extremely hazardous to my childhood relationships. Also, you learn to ask for favors without thinking twice because you follow the rule "never to leave a stone unturned," without realizing that this can be interpreted as being opportunistic. To be honest, I am not sure how this has impacted me, but I guess I’ll be finding out soon.
You live in a constant networking mode whenever you are interacting with people on a work basis. In turn, this has led me to become extremely introverted in my personal life, always looking for a chance to sit with myself as often as possible. Lastly, your schedule is in constant flux, which makes it difficult to run a balanced, organized life. I am now extremely aggressive when I am faced with any off-schedule moment in my personal life; however, life doesn’t work that way. Your loved ones don’t choose when to be sick, when to be depressed, when to give birth, or when to die.
In conclusion, I’m still figuring things out all of this, and am by no means an expert on the subject, but here are a couple of things I feel might help some people who find themselves in similar situations.
- Seek professional help- it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
- If you have kids or even nephews and nieces, turn off your phone when spending time with them. Head to a park, and goof around like a kid.
- Try to take back your weekends.
- Find an outlet for your stress. Don’t bottle it up, or it will eat you alive.
- Communicate as much as possible with loved ones and people you work closely with, don’t be afraid to share your feelings and frustrations. You think people know what’s in your head, but no one does. This has been extremely difficult for me to learn.
- Embrace confrontation.
- And lastly, don’t be afraid to show weakness. You are not a superman/woman, it’s ok to admit not having the solution to everything.
The point of writing this up wasn’t to offer concrete solutions, but rather to start a debate around the mental health of entrepreneurs in the region. So I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, and hopefully, together, we can turn this into a mainstream topic that we discuss freely and openly, and share experiences for the benefit of us all.