Who do you talk to?

For you, the entrepreneur, isolation has become a way of life. You need desperately to talk with someone yet you don’t know who to turn to. So, you keep it all inside. You can be alone in the midst of a sea of people. It is the unnatural way of entrepreneurs and it hurts your potential to succeed.

From snowy to sunny at Duncan’s Cove, Nova Scotia

From snowy to sunny at Duncan’s Cove, Nova Scotia

I looked at my watch and smiled. It was 11 pm. I still had some time left but felt tired – exhausted really. After leaning back and stretching I went for coffee. With a few hours to go, a little caffeine would put me over the top. If I finished off the proposal tonight, I would be ready for tomorrow.

I looked around the office. I was alone. Seeing the empty desks with everyone gone I felt both proud of what we were achieving and also an immediate tightness in my shoulders. Thinking about the pressure of paying for all of this every day, every week and every month had become a pain lodged in my lower back. It started in my shoulders and worked its way down. Any little move could end up in a painful wrench of my back. It was crazy.

Maybe I was crazy. All I really wanted to do was to talk to someone who would know exactly what I meant and hear me. But there is no one. I am alone.

Face it: you’re human. You are made to connect with other people. And talk. It’s what we were made to do. But as an entrepreneur, you don’t feel like you can talk. I mean really talk about what’s important. You feel, though, that if you do talk and let your guard down, you will admit you are weak. So, you bottle it up inside.

Being an entrepreneur can be exhilarating and draining, often at the same time. There are so many plates spinning and balls bouncing that it takes all of your day, and more, to try and keep it all together. The pressures you feel from the deadlines, commitments, and demands can be overwhelming.

You need a release. You need, and want, to be able to talk things out with someone and get perspective to keep your positive mindset on track. You just want to hear you are normal and that it’s okay – these things happen to all entrepreneurs.

But like entrepreneurs, you don’t talk to anyone. Not to family, or friends, or team members, or other business owners – not to anyone. It is one of the two paradoxes of being an entrepreneur: the more you want to talk to others about where you are, the less you do. And the second one carries on from there: the more people around you, the more you feel alone.

Entrepreneurs reported in The Mindset Project that the pressures of the business interfered with their life and negatively affected their relationships. Nearly 70% of founders said the stress of their company interfered with their ability to work while 74.3% felt it in their social life. And 74.9% of business owners said the stress hurt their personal relationships. And it all stemmed from keeping it to yourself, by putting on the face that everything was fine.

No matter how pressing the need to talk is you just don’t feel you can reach out to people around you.

But not talking about how you feel is a killer – of your business and your life. Letting it fester inside can result in anxiety, panic disorder and even depression. Yet, one of the most effective coping mechanisms successful entrepreneurs said helped them manage the stress of their work was talking to people. Sharing your concerns was found to be 88 per cent effective as a way to manage your way through the pressures of building your business.

So if it works so well, who do you talk to and how do you do it?

For me, I learned a lot in the past few years about who to talk to. Researchers at the Harvard Business School found that one question above all else needs to be asked before you share your situation with anyone. This question is, "can I trust this person’?"  I would change that to this, "can I trust this person with my feelings?” Those three extra words save a lot of angst.

In the last year, my need to share my story to make sense of it all brought me front line experience in who not to talk to. I made the error of seeing acquaintances as friends. I shared my stress with them and they looked like I hit them with a blast of water from a fire hose. They hugged me, said they understood, and I never heard from them again. After unloading about how I was feeling about my business, some said “well, I always thought it wouldn’t work out and now is a good time for you to call it a day – it’s not worth it!” Great, that helps my confidence knowing that you don’t believe in me. Or I would hear, “I know exactly what you should do – just listen to me.” Yes, I really want to be fixed. Stop trying to fix me! Some people just nodded their heads and didn’t say anything while others actually got angry with me. Like I needed someone else to blame me – I had that covered by me.

My favorite response so far though has to be, “Mike, it’s you – not me – you are just too much to handle”. I thought the movie line was "it’s not you, it’s me” but apparently not. And luckily I had a therapy session the next day.

So, I learned not to talk to anyone because they just didn’t get me or where I was at.

But it was all on the surface for me and I needed to talk. I kept trying to make the connections I needed.

I have found that the first line of defense is to seek out a really good therapist or counselor. They are professional at talking about your stresses and are an amazing support. There are also peer groups to share your story with. They are an audience who will get you. Many entrepreneurs swear by talking each month with a group of other entrepreneurs. A business coach can also be a wonderful support.

With friends and family, I say with caution that you have to answer that big question positively first – "can you trust them with your feelings?" I am lucky that I have several friends that I really could answer yes to the question and they were a tremendous support to me.

Once you feel comfortable about who to talk to then it comes down to your expectations. People naturally want to give advice and that is where you need to be clear up front about your conversation. I think the first step is to say you are not looking for advice but just someone to listen and hear you. Even if they just repeat back what you said so you know they actually did get it. Starting there is great. And I now say I just want a sounding board and can they handle that. If they can’t, then I should talk to someone else.

I think it is critical we share our feelings with others to reduce the impact of the stress of our businesses. We are human, not superhuman, and need to connect with other humans. Not to do so adds to the stress we feel.

When you are ready, consider talking to a professional therapist (there is no stigma in doing so) and looking at who around you can be trusted with your feelings. Find a few people you can share your feelings with and be clear on your expectations, that you need a sounding board more than anything else. And then talk.

There is no shame or weakness in seeking help. Talking to others is a sign of strength. It shows you have the power of mind to know you need to connect with other people and share your story.

Tyler Batten