Starting and running a business is hard. Until you’ve been through it, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how formidable this challenge can become.
It involves long hours, serious commitment, determination and probably some of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make, because everything is riding on your shoulders.
It’s also incredibly stressful, not only in terms of the business itself, but also directly on you as a person. In reality, this is not something business people talk about a huge amount, particularly as part of successfully managing a company is keeping up appearances, making sure people feel confident in your business, and in you as a person. Talking about your stress could be seen as a sign of weakness or potential trouble, so understandably people don’t.
Running a business is not for everyone and even for those of us who thrive on it there is still a lot of stress, pressure and emotional turmoil.
It’s your baby
Your business is your baby. There is no escape from it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week you are surrounded by it. It is your life and your primary focus. You sacrifice other things for it, because you have to prioritise your time, and more importantly, your energy.
To a lesser or greater extent, it consumes you and if you’re not careful it's hard to keep a handle on this when things are going well, let alone when things are tough. The natural tendency is to work harder and longer and just focus more and more on the business, leaving little room for anything else.
Remaining unemotional is hard
You have invested your life and probably your money into your business. Remaining emotionally detached is practically impossible. Rising above your emotions whilst being forced to make difficult decisions and even just remaining emotionally detached about the business becomes a challenge, particularly in times of difficulty.
Your effort is irrelevant
When it’s your own business, the effort on your part is in many ways irrelevant, all that really matters are the results. No one is going to reward you, or recognise the effort you put in. Obviously all jobs require results in one form or another; some are more demanding in this respect than others but nowhere is this more apparent than managing your own company.
In business, there are no points for second place, if you or your business is not able to produce enough positive results, you might not get another chance to do better next time.
You can look heartless
You cannot always explain to members of your staff or people you work closely with why you have to do certain things or make certain choices. Sometimes you have no option but to make decisions and act. In situations like this, there is a good chance you are going to upset someone in the process. Outwardly, there is a fair chance you will come across as uncaring but in reality, you probably care a lot more than they will ever realise.
Your feelings are irrelevant
Running a business is a lot of responsibility. You have people relying on you in every aspect of your day-to-day working life. Staff, some of whom may have families who need to get paid, be looked after, be supported. Clients, partners and customers who you need to support. Those responsibilities don’t change no matter your situation, if you’re having a tough time, whether its business related or in your personal life, you carry on.
If a staff member has problems in their personal life or is forced off work temporarily for whatever reason, they look to you to provide the support they are entitled to. As a business owner, there isn’t really anyone who is going to support you, or frankly who is going to care. Your responsibilities as an employer or a supplier overrule that. However bad things get, you have to meet those responsibilities no matter what, because other people solely depend upon you doing so.
Talking about this can make you sound arrogant
It can be very difficult to talk about things like this to people who have never been in your situation, without saying something like ‘running a business is more stressful than anything else’, or ‘if you haven’t been through it, I know you can’t understand how it feels’.
Talking to anyone who hasn’t been through it is therefore a daunting prospect and by nature we tend to try and avoid it. Talking to others who have been in your position can be just as tricky or even dangerous to your business persona; they might be competitors, or peers, whose respect you can’t afford to lose. Even being able to talk to your spouse or partner is hard, especially if the news is bad and you don’t want to worry them. Being lucky enough to find someone who you can talk to is very rare.
All these things build up to a scenario where however good your business is, however good at your job you are, you are going to be under huge stress for the vast majority the time. You may feel you don’t have anyone to talk to.
That’s not to say all stress is bad, some people can reach their best under varied degrees of pressure. Stress can help motivate you to fix a problem, find that much needed solution or even force you to make changes in your life or business for the better.
There are many options to explore that may start to mitigate some stress and many more to help deal with it. When I talked about this during a lecture last year, I was amazed how other business owners approached me afterwards and told me about how they deal with stress. Buddhism, yoga, meditation, sport… people have their ways of dealing with it, but often it takes years of stress to get to the point where you realise you need that.
For example, finding a mentor to help with your start-up is advisable anyway and they will understand what you’re going through. Don’t overlook the support of friends who run businesses, even those outside of your industry, which may be a more comfortable option when it comes to finding someone who empathises with you whilst avoiding any conflict of interests.
Everybody is unique so there is no off the shelf solution for beating stress, but founders talking about these issues more openly would help others in business see that they are not alone and possibly even to find a way to balance their stress. Talking is often the first stage in starting to combat high stress levels and finding ways to deal with stress in the manner that bests suits you is paramount.
Ella Romanos is a game developer & consultant on commercial development, design and production for games. www.ellaromanos.com, @ella_romanos