Keeping Your Mind Clear

Like so many other entrepreneurs, Steve has found himself overwhelmed — unsure of his future and that of his business. He feels in the dark as to how he ended up here. It all started so great but sitting here now, he feels his business sucks, his life sucks, and he sucks!

He thought of the things that if they had just happened as hoped would have turned everything around. But he was cautious to think about one part of the equation: his own role. Had he just been able to put his attention to the right things, Steve might have been able to overcome this most notorious obstacle, himself.

Spring at Crowbar Wilderness Park

Spring at Crowbar Wilderness Park

The common experience

When Steve opened his business everyone applauded him, he imagined how great the business could be, how people would respect him and how people would spread the word about his work.

He knew deep down he had the right thing and everyone was going to see that too. After two months he realized not everyone saw his vision. They didn't fully understand what he was saying. People took longer to become customers than he thought they would. It took more time to get decisions made from banks and suppliers — they wanted things faster than he could supply.

He started getting busier and busier trying to make it all work. Steve felt stressed most days and just kept his head down and made it through each day. But soon he was working 12- to 14-hour days all week long. He just felt perpetually tired.

Steve’s time with his family wasn’t relaxing. Although he was there, Steve just wasn’t fully engaged in the conversation which often lead to arguments and disagreements. It left Steve feeling guilty and dissatisfied after.

Trying to find more time for his business, Steve stopped exercising. "Who has time for that," he thought. "It gets in the way and I’m young. I’ll bounce back later." And he couldn’t remember the last healthy meal he had eaten. But caffeine kept him going.

He had to turn down invitations from friends — he didn't have time for that anymore. And they didn’t understand what he was trying to do. Eventually, it really hurt that they no longer asked. Steve felt more and more alone.

Weekends were great for Steve because no one was around him — he could work without interruption. He didn't talk to anyone because they didn't understand anyway. They always talked about what he could do and not what he had to do. It was easier to just not talk about it in order to avoid argument.

Steve knew there was light at the end of the tunnel if he could just hire someone, so he did.

The fatigue started settling in for Steve. He just felt … heavy. He began going to bed later at night as his new home became the office. After a long day at work, he just wanted to fall into bed but he couldn't sleep. He could only think about what he had to do and what people might want from him. "When was it all going to get done," he thought.

Then there was the money.

For the last four months Steve hadn't taken a salary. There just wasn't enough money. The concept, "Pay yourself first" sounds great in theory, Steve thought. Regardless, Steve knew that at some point it would all work out. He just didn't know when that point was anymore.

Steve was stuck and wondered where he went wrong.


The fork in the road

Steve is facing the great paradox of being an entrepreneur: the more we want to achieve something meaningful, the more we work in ways that keep us from achieving that very goal.

We get distracted and put our attention on the daily burn of things rather than staying focused on what is most important for building a business and, most importantly, keeping healthy. There is a social pressure to keep busy. We feel we have to look busy and not let the cracks show. We chase everything no matter if it fits our vision or not. We just need to make the business work. As it starts to weigh us down, we suck it up because it would be weak to say otherwise. Or so we think.

Our approach to building and growing a business is not working. A study from Industry Canada reports that on average entrepreneurs achieve 35% of their potential with their business. And then 68% of entrepreneurs we studied said they faced mental health challenges that interfered with their business, their relationships, and their lives. This way is not working.

My life as was very much like Steve’s experience except I was a slower learner. Steve can turn this dive around with a few quick, but tough, decisions.

Steve needs to set clear and informed expectations for his business and life. He needs to know where he wants the business to be at a set future point and what needs to be done, realistically, to get there. Focus on the work and opportunities that fit where he wants to be and not just fills up his time. Rather than an emergency ward, Steve needs to have a sense of focused urgency.

He needs to look at the associated costs to him and to the people around him to determine if the benefits of building the business are worth it. If it is, Steve needs to set clear boundaries. What will he say yes to and, the big one, what will he say no to. Saying no is okay!

And then there is time. Rather than starting with what does the business need from him – everything – Steve should look at what he needs to be at his best for the business. He needs to set time aside first to have a healthy life. Working long hours has been proven to actually detract from success rather than supporting it. Not working weekends and scheduling enough time for rest and exercise, putting time first for the people they care, and taking time for themselves are boundaries most entrepreneurs ignore to their great cost. If entrepreneurs don't install clear boundaries they won't have time for anything. In the same way that without goals, nothing can be achieved.

Had Steve set these conditions up before opening his business — boundaries: expectations and allocation of time to spend with people he cares about — he would have been on a better, more healthier path. But instead, Steve is feeling burned out. But he can turn it around. The great thing about our minds is that we can change them and train them to think differently. It just takes focused and deliberate attention.

Putting time aside for his life, sticking with clear boundaries, and setting realistic expectations would have provided Steve with the energy, perspective and judgment he needed to be in a better position to make higher quality decisions. Instead, Steve is now making decisions under stress and duress. The way Steve is working is not scalable.


The first three years

Everyone says you have to throw away the first three years of your life for your business, but I don't agree. Building a business in a way that you can live and enjoy it is key to maximizing success both on a personal and business level.

For me, the decisions I made were lacking because they were clouded by stress and duress. I used to think these decisions were bad because of the depression I had, but really they were poor because I wasn't practicing good judgment. I could tell other people how to make good decisions but didn't exercise them myself.

My guess is that Steve, like many other entrepreneurs, feels overwhelmed constantly, feels like he's always behind and feels like he's maintaining a steady state of underachievement.

Steve is stuck and what he needs is to get unstuck. For Steve, my advice is this, stop for a minute and take a look around and get perspective. The first line of rational decision making is a clear mind. 

Tyler Batten