the Entrepreneurship is often romanticized. Many of us imagine doing what we love, and becoming our own bosses can be attractive. The reality of stepping into entrepreneurship and starting a small business also comes with challenges and struggles. The conflict between stress and running your own business is well-documented in research.
Good stress, also referred to as resilient responses, can serve as a motivator, increasing resilience and thus increasing the likelihood of success. Bad stress can hinder success, increasing what researchers call non-resilient responses, leading to cognitive and somatic issues.1
Small business owners can’t control when bad stress arises—the impact of running a business during a pandemic is a recent example of when challenging and uncontrollable things appear. However, entrepreneurs can prepare for the bad stress and get the support they need. Preparation includes radical honesty, a willingness to evolve, and a belief that being supported is possible.
How expectations weigh out with reality is important when assessing where support is needed. Schentell Nunn, floral designer and owner of floral design studio Offerings, spoke to the reality of entrepreneurship in the digital age. It is true, living in the digital age, we see images of others’ most aspirational lives. Our digital world inevitably informs what we feel and think in our inner world.
“We see a lot of people winning and don’t notice as many people who are trying. However, such a sentiment goes both ways. Nunn expressed that if you’re trying to get your business off the ground and see others thriving, you may start feeling like you’re doing something wrong. “From any angle, it is important to give yourself grace and patience,” she concluded.
We see a lot of people winning and don’t notice as many people who are trying. If you’re winning, there’s… hardship people aren’t aware of.
Jenny Walters, LMFT and owner of Highland Park Holistic Therapy, is no stranger to the reality of the hustle. Because she is straddling the roles of providing care for others while navigating her foray into entrepreneurship, she has a unique perspective on the challenges of being a business owner. “I will say… There have been some stressors that have been fairly intense that I don’t think I would have encountered as a solo practitioner,” she admitted.
The Trade-Offs of Being the Boss
Before opening a group practice, Walters found that her time was more streamlined, and her day-to-day was less complex. However, the complexity that accompanies running a small business is something that continually keeps her engaged.
A recent study articulates that the desire to become a business owner is seldom one driven by income, especially since economic shocks are an expected occurrence for entrepreneurs. Instead, a documented motivator is to develop a lifestyle that aligns with one’s desires.2 For folks who find routine unfulfilling, having consistent shifts in their business operations can feel exciting.
“You have to learn how to wear a lot of hats or ask for help, especially if you’re a do-it-yourself person, which I think a lot of small business owners can be,” Nunn explained. Having to ask for help as a small business owner is vastly different than asking for help when employed by an organization.
Asking for assistance applies to emotional wellness as a whole. “Since you’re doing it all, it is easy to neglect our emotional selves. But, you could be missing out on a tool that could be incredible for your business,” Walters expressed, referring to her intuition as a source of navigation throughout entrepreneurship.
Since you’re doing it all, it is easy to neglect our emotional selves. But, you could be missing out on a tool that could be incredible for your business.
In some cases, it may be easier to avoid these struggles when employed by an organization. You may experience a different kind of stress or prefer the structure of a hierarchy and schedule to the emotional discomfort of unpredictable and unknown challenges. When you’re doing it all yourself, the call to turn inward can be the difference between sustaining what you’ve built or burning out.
Caring For Yourself When It All Falls on You
It is worth noting how Walters took hold of the stress accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic. While an outside force that affects our lives and the entire world is often perceived to develop non-resilient responses, that isn’t entirely true for everyone.
“The pandemic clarified my business plan. I couldn’t sustain my client load, and I had to figure out a different way to run my business so I could still take care of my family and meet my financial needs,” she explained.
During the pandemic, Nunn also experienced a shift, though she attributes much of her business growth to June 2020’s civil uprisings. “Like many Black-owned businesses, things went from zero to one million and haven’t stopped since,” she shared. This massive growth has brought on new mental health challenges. “It’s been a never-ending game of going up the staircase and hoping I’m doing things right,” Nunn stated.
It’s been a never-ending game of going up the staircase and hoping I’m doing things right.
To learn how small business owners can care for the doubts, shocks, and joys of entrepreneurship, I spoke to Nara Lee, LMFT. “Balance and perspective are key. Remind yourself why you love what you do and what you love about it,” Nara suggested. This sentiment helps Nunn forge forward when things feel trying. “I do think finding a way to clock out and prioritize rest is very necessary for creating sustainable wellness and helping yourself not resent the life you’ve built.”
Small business owners aren’t only responsible for running their business and adjusting to the trade-offs of being their boss. Walters shared sage advice for those experiencing mental health issues when running their business.
Balance and perspective are key. Remind yourself why you love what you do and what you love about it
Seeking the Support You Need
If you’re an entrepreneur reading this, then you’ve likely heard the call to tend to your well-being loud and clear. Yet, that isn’t as simple as utilizing employee benefits to book a therapy session. While entrepreneurship can be highly stressful, the benefits tend to outweigh the psychological stress.3 Despite this fact, there is no need to perpetuate further suffering. Instead, let’s explore options to get the needed and much deserved support.
I would say [mental health] needs to be tended to and taken as seriously as your spreadsheets.
First, let’s address how you can support your mental health. Finding a licensed mental health provider is a great first start. Though this can be cost-prohibitive, there are options. Open Path Collective has a variety of diverse therapists who offer sessions between $30 and $60. In addition, many therapists have a sliding scale, meaning they offer their services at a discounted rate for those experiencing financial hardship. If you have health insurance, reach out to your providing company to see what mental health offerings are available.
Next, explore if your daily life needs some boundaries. Perhaps you work well into the evening every night, rarely allowing yourself a break.
The demands of running a business are heavy, but some boundaries can lighten the load. Consider setting limits around your work hours—for example, you close your laptop or leave your workspace at 6 p.m., no matter what. Barring major emergencies, adhering to this boundary can create a division between labor and rest in your mind. In turn, you may feel more energized and prepared for any curveballs that come your way.
Boundaries don’t only apply to working hours. “Make sure to balance time working with time for play and rest,” Lee suggested. Play can mean an hour of Netflix, walking outdoors, or taking a day trip. Regardless of how you find lightheartedness, make an effort to consciously connect with it regularly.
If you have employees, there are ways you can lighten the load for yourself in your managerial duties. According to Lee, transparency about the highs and lows of running your business can lead to breakthroughs in the workplace. “Having open conversations with your employees about the wins as well as the challenges at work builds mutual trust and a willingness to work together, solve problems, and come up with innovative ideas.”
Finally, call on your community. If you simply need an extra hand on a project, ask a friend if they’ll donate a couple of hours of their time. Seeking a mentor can help normalize some of the challenging experiences during the entrepreneurial journey.
You can also seek out out additional support (other small businesses owners, customers, community members) through Instagram and Facebook groups, small business owner meetups, masterminds, etc. Having this community and support is especially important for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
How We Can Support Small Business Owners
Pursuing entrepreneurship is an act of bravery and should be celebrated. Voting with your dollar, meaning spending money at businesses you want to see thrive, is an excellent approach to lifting up small business owners. However, the support doesn’t stop there.
“I think people can have awareness around what it takes to run a small business… To have empathy and compassion. There are usually one or two people where [issues] are kind of falling on them, and I don’t think people always realize this,” Walters said when asked about the support others can offer small business owners. This statement led me to reflect on my experiences working at small businesses.
Empathy for one’s employer can also function as a stream of support. While folks must be held accountable for workplace maltreatment, there are cases where an employer needs a little grace. In larger organizations, HR often offers solace and peace of mind. Usually, just a few individuals manage all workplace processes at a small business. Leading with patience, curiosity, and honesty are ways to support the small business owner who employs you.
Carving out your own path is courageous, and you’re not alone in the stressors that crop up along the way. Walters summed it up perfectly: “I love my job… But, it isn’t an easy one.”