A 2003 article by the journalist Jessica Bruder, “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship”, describes the phenomenon of the pressure to perform and succeed that so many entrepreneurs face without talking about it.
The Weight of the Fear of Failure…for Women
While entrepreneurs may be ready to take on the risks associated with their forays into business, they can rarely predict all of the resources they will need to use along the way.
When you need to keep a business afloat during difficult times, there will be challenges that seem insurmountable at times. This feeling is only exacerbated in a time of great growth or during the slowing down of business associated with a pandemic, for instance.
We hear the mantra “Fake it till you make it” a little too often in today’s world. As a result, there is little room for authenticity, for vulnerability, and, especially, for failure. It is still important, though, that the entrepreneur has the space to express their feelings freely, without fear of judgement or at the risk of losing their credibility. This especially applies to entrepreneurs who are young women, who have to work twice as hard to prove their competence.
Anxiety, sleepless nights and…motherhood
The idea of losing everything is a massive source of anxiety and hopelessness for an entrepreneur, as I know all too well. This has inspired me to make choices in terms of how much risk I wanted to expose myself to. I have myself been confronted with feelings of severe anxiety, chronic insomnia and discouragement. I have often faced the fear of watching everything disappear, particularly in the first years of my business.
The same thing happened during my pregnancies and after the birth of my babies. When my children arrived, I felt a real loss of control and overall vulnerability, especially when the first baby was born. Even if I still have sleepless nights sometimes, which are, these days, more often due to my children rather than to any current professional worries, I understand now that no one is sheltered from a dip in self-confidence or from the cynical point of view that can develop after having encountered countless obstacles.
No entrepreneur is safe from problems associated with staffing, a shortfall of cash, the loss of a client, conflicts between shareholders, etc. Imagine if, in addition to all these issues, you were experiencing financial instability, a difficult pregnancy, or a long pandemic…You, too, would end up with heightened risk factors for mental health issues.
The help that makes us more resilient
Of course, success in overcoming obstacles can make us feel more self-confident and like we are able to face challenges effectively. However, that doesn’t mean we’re happy to experience these problems. After all, no one says “Yay! A new problem! I can’t wait to see how good I’m going to be at solving it!”
Each person is unique and their past experiences will often influence their first reaction to adversity, as well as the mechanisms that will activate when a problematic situation arises.
Like most people, I often need to vent about my worries, my fears, and my frustrations, before I can start the work of solving my problems.
Whether I’m talking with a trusted colleague, a mentor, a business coach, an accountant or even a psychologist, any occasion where I can express my feelings so that I can then focus on the actions to take are valuable to me. You can’t be scared of being vulnerable, or of letting someone know that you feel incompetent or desperate – on the contrary, expressing these feelings can lead to a constructive dialogue that will help you elevate yourself beyond the emotional state to find a solution.
By the way, research has found that entrepreneurs may be moodier by nature, which further underlines the importance of talking about the issues they face:
According to researchers, many entrepreneurs share innate character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings. “People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states,” says Freeman. Those states may include depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking. – Source: The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship | Inc.com
Someone who understands when nobody else does…
So, it’s important to confide in someone, but not just anyone…The truth is that few people are really capable of understanding the daily life of an entrepreneur, particularly if they have not been entrepreneurs themselves.
Many people may claim that they can help, but few of them will understand the mental load that comes with the choice to become an entrepreneur. We might choose to talk to family members or friends, but few of them will truly understand or be able to offer constructive ideas.
Indeed, often people will suggest that the entrepreneur abandon their project, because these people feel that the entrepreneur should be able to find an easier career path, with better working conditions (as these have themselves).
As a result, they don’t understand that the entrepreneur isn’t choosing to cause themselves pain, but that they are expressing their inner self, an innate need to create and to build. Above all, the entrepreneur is trying to achieve a worthy and ambitious goal – but nothing can be accomplished without concerted effort and many sacrifices along the way.
This experience is necessary because it will not only help the entrepreneur become more resilient, but it will also teach them to know their own limits and needs better. The entrepreneur should be able to confide in someone who will understand the soul-searching that comes along with their choices (of course, these will depend on the entrepreneur’s own personality and journey) and who will encourage them to push through and pursue their goals while helping them reflect on the best solutions to a particular problem.
The importance of a network of entrepreneurs
In the early days, when I was getting my business off the ground, I had the support of many people, including two mentors who were themselves women who had their own food manufacturing businesses.
I also developed relationships with many young entrepreneurs to talk about our common issues, which helped me feel less alone. For around ten years, I used the services of a coach who acted as my “business therapist”. In this relationship, I could talk about my fears and my frustrations and take a step back to allow my business to overcome the many obstacles it faced along the way.
Over the years, I have never hesitated to look for help and share my vulnerability with those I trusted. In the early years, I thought this was a weakness. Today, I realize that this was one of my strengths, something which has allowed me to continue my journey as an entrepreneur for almost twenty years, without stopping, pressing on all the way. How about you? Do you have someone trustworthy to confide in?