Can You Handle the Stress of Running a Business?
Q: I opened my new business two weeks ago, and already the stress of running the business is getting to me. I'm starting to think that I'm not cut out to run my own business. Do you have any advice that might help me decide what to do?
A: The first thing you need to do is take a few deep breaths and take comfort in the fact that you are not the first entrepreneur to feel the weight of the business world on his shoulders. Every businessperson, including yours truly, has felt the way you do at one time or another. For some, it's a feeling that occurs daily, especially when things aren't going as well as we'd like them to. And don't think the stress will magically disappear if your business takes off. I know people who run multimillion-dollar corporations, and they will tell you that the stress level goes up in proportion to the size of the business. These same people will also tell you they love what they do and would never consider doing anything else.
The difference between these entrepreneurs and you is that they have been in business longer and have learned not only to handle stress, but also to take stress and transform it into a driving force. They feed off the stress. It fuels their creativity and innovation. Stress challenges them, it makes them think, and it makes them better entrepreneurs.
I think the real question isn't whether or not you have what it takes to run a business. The real question is: Do you have what it takes to handle the stress of running a business? These are two very different questions, and the answers depend totally on you.
Even on the best of days, running a business can be incredibly stressful, not to mention overwhelming and exhausting. It's only natural that there will be times when you wonder if it's really worth it. Asking yourself the "should I just get a real job" question simply means that your human side is showing. And as a human, you have a limited tolerance for things you cannot control. And that's really where the stress of being an entrepreneur comes from. We worry about things we can't control, like finding new customers, paying the bills, making payroll and a thousand other things. Sure, we can put forth our best efforts to make these things turn out in our favor, but we really can't control the outcome.
So we worry. And worry breeds stress, and stress breeds doubt, and doubt breeds the feeling that an 800-pound gorilla is using your chest for a lawn chair. It's only natural that you being to wonder, "Is this what I really want to do? Do I have what it takes to run my own business?"
What's happening to you has happened to us all. The stress is causing you to doubt not only your decision to start your own business, but also your ability to run it. There's no magic bullet for dealing with stress--and you certainly can't eliminate it totally--so you must learn to handle it.
Here's what I do. Take a pencil and paper and list all the things that are causing you stress. For each item listed, ask yourself: Is there anything I can do about this? Is there anything I can do to change this from being a point of stress to a point of accomplishment? In other words, is this something I have control over?
Stressing over things you can't control is a total waste of time. Tell yourself that you're burning brain cells in vain and mark that item off your list. Some people don't have this ability. Some people are just natural born worriers who are not happy unless they have something to worry about. They revel in worry. They work in worry like a great artist works in paint. Even when things are going great, they worry that the sky is about to fall. If you are a natural born worrier, then nothing I say will help you handle stress. Great, now you have something else to worry about.
Next, determine if each point of stress is something that has happened in the past, is currently happening or has not yet--or may never--happen. If the stress point is the past, there's not much you can do but attempt to rectify the situation causing the stress. If it's a current problem, formulate a plan to deal with the problem and eliminate the stress it's causing.
Finally, it's important to remember that working for someone else can be just as stressful as working for yourself. Sure, you don't have the stress (and responsibility) associated with running a business, but you will have other stresses that can be far worse--like impossible work deadlines, sales quotas you can't meet, a boss that learned his management skills on a chain gang, co-workers who don't pull their own weight, possible layoffs and so on.
So give yourself a little time to adjust, take steps to handle the stress and enjoy your success.
Tim W. Knox is the founder, president and CEO of four successful technology companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring management software company; Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company; and Sidebar Systems, a company that creates cutting edge convergence software for broadcast media outlets; and Online Profits 4U, an e-business dedicated to helping online entrepreneurs start and prosper from an online, wholesale or drop-ship business.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.