As an entrepreneur, there are times where you’ll find yourself at a crossroads in your business and your life. The stress of these moments will feel insurmountable. The days and nights will start to blend into one another. You’ll feel like you’re suffering a modern-day form of 19th century Chinese water torture, with no way to escape.
I found myself in this position last year. It was just after I had kicked my business into high gear. In a few short years, my company had grown from a one-person show operating from my basement to an office space almost double the size. I quickly realized how much risk I had exposed myself to.
With a team of 10 employees, and the payroll and overhead to match, I found myself responsible for not only the lives of my family, but now the livelihoods of everyone on my team and their families. To add to this stress, I experienced some semi-major growing pains while trying to scale. Suddenly I was a $250,000 in debt, and literally one more major crisis or misstep away from potentially losing everything. It could be gone just like that.
The stress got to me. I woke up every day, for months, with an intense fear buried deep in my stomach. I was constantly wondering if today would be the day that a new crisis would arise that would ultimately act as the final blow.
I felt sick on a daily basis. I was sick, both physically and mentally. But as I would eventually learn, you don’t have to let stress break you: when you change your mind about stress, you change its power over you. And that’s how you’ll move forward.
For me, this realization happened when I came across a TED Talk given by psychologist Kelly McGonigal, entitled How to Make Stress Your Friend. In it, she describes a wide-scale study on stress that was conducted over an eight-year period. Researchers would ask questions such as “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?" and “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?" As the years passed, they would track who was still living and who had died.
Here is the profound part:
-- People who admitted to experiencing a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43% increased risk of dying. But the incredible part was that number was only true for the people who also BELIEVED that stress was harmful to their health.
-- People who experienced a lot of stress but did NOT view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study.
For me, this shift in thinking acted as a major pivot point for my business.
Here’s what I learned:
Lesson 1: Realize you’re not alone and seek the advice of others.
Tired of being paralyzed by worry, I sought out counsel from a group of trusted mentors. Using them as a sounding board to get outside of my own head was a priceless experience. Upon hearing their feedback, and realizing I was not the first (or last) business owner to over extend himself, I quickly put together a plan of action that focused on two primary levers: 1) freeing up capital using existing resources, and 2) lowering operational costs.
And with this plan in hand, I proceeded to take massive action. Within four months our debt had dwindled down to zero and, within six, we were once again looking at a very healthy set of books. My business was back on track.
Lesson 2: Do SOMETHING.
Managing crises are a core and essential aspect of growing any business. Since overcoming this struggle, I’ll take a bad decision over being indecisive any day of the week. To echo Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
At least in making a poor choice, you have the opportunity to learn from it and continue moving forward. And if nothing else, at least you won’t be in the same place today as you were in yesterday.
So, next time a seemingly insurmountable obstacle gets in your way, and the worry clouds up your thinking so much you can hardly see two feet in front of you; remember that your next breakthrough is as close as you are ready.
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