Times are hard.
It’s not easy being a business owner in this climate.
We are having to dig deep and make sacrifices.
We just need to get out of our comfort zone.
Our cash flow is precarious at best.
It’s not good and the problems snuck up on us so quickly.
These statements and more like them came from the mouths of talented and innovative business owners who were responding to the question “How’s business?”
And I watch with frustration as the patterns that they believed they’d “managed to overcome before” come straight back into play when the going gets tough. It saddens me to see their frustrations and worries grow with every turn in the roadmap of their business.
So, if they’ve been there before, why are they repeating a pattern that is clearly not working for them?
Because of fear. Fear will take you straight to a mental and emotional level wholly preoccupied with your survival. And if you’re lucky, you’ll learn something, pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and do it all over again. Some less lucky ones resign themselves to a lifetime of “if it wasn’t for….” stories. Either way, these business owners are not having the time of their life, running thriving businesses and calmly preparing for the economic winter that lies ahead.
What we’ve established is that what these entrepreneurs have, is a dilemma: accept the “Ragged. Rinse. Repeat” (3Rs) cycle or give up. To make this a choice, they’re going to need at least one more option. I am going to offer a suggestion or two, and I hope that in the reading, you’ll come up with a few of your own, but first let’s understand where they’re at. Now, if you’re here reading this, I’m guessing you’re not a fan of the give up option and that you have a pretty good idea of what that would look like. So, forgive me if I don’t labour over the details. I’d much rather help you understand the 3Rs cycle as it will lend some context and honestly, if you’re not in it, then it’s likely that you’re at risk of it now or in the future. So, here’s what it looks like:
Whoa, it got busy! Not expecting to have to spin so many plates. Clients are becoming more discerning and tightening their budgets; proposals and quotes have much finer margins; negotiations feel fraught with uncertainty; there are more outstanding invoices than usual; a number of suppliers have put their prices up; the need to scale is becoming more and more urgent; training new people is taking a lot longer than usual; everyone involved in or on the business is becoming more and more stressed; it’s becoming really difficult to know how to communicate effectively; there are so many plates spinning it’s hard to switch off; sleep, diet and exercise have all taken a hit; executive function has left the building!
Not surprisingly, this will, in most cases, lead to what is commonly referred to as “burnout”.
What is burnout really though?
Burn-out is an “occupational phenomenon” as defined by the InternationalClassification of Diseases (ICD-11) and highlights that it is not classified as a medical condition.
Which is interesting since many people labour under the misconception that burnout is something that, once diagnosed, they can treat and overcome. The “ah, that’s what’s wrong with me, I’m burnt out!” is an all too familiar war cry in the land of the entrepreneur. In fact, perversely, I’ve even seen it used as a badge of honour, there’s always a tale to be told of the misery, toil and endeavour attached to the journey to becoming the go-to expert to overcome it.
Which leads these struggling entrepreneurs to the inevitable next phase of the 3Rs cycle:
That’s right, rinse off all those factors in life that are causing the burn out. Or at least that’s the popular solution, evidenced by a leisurely scroll through Facebook feeds and Insta reels. And what that looks like is:
quit the job
ditch the relationship
sell the business
retrain as the next hottest guru in lycra
Learn something so far removed from what caused it as is humanly possible and then sell that instead.
or you could just make some new year resolutions, that’ll do it!
Yip, they go and reapply all of the unconscious beliefs and patterns to “the next thing”; they overlay those with some new learnings about what went wrong last time (because they’re smart, right?!); they commit to being more [insert the thing they told themselves they should have done last time]; and they pour their heart and soul into doing it all again.
Now that might seem reasonable but let’s dig a wee bit deeper.
One of the biggest problems with this strategy is that we have failed to acknowledge that we had an expectation of what we believed it was all going to look like and I love the quote: “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.” from the author, Anne Lamott.
We expect the job or the new business or the new employee or the new client to be the substitute for something that is fundamentally missing within ourselves and, when we don’t listen to our truth, we begin to build the perfect environment for this “occupational phenomena” to thrive.
ICD-11 says that “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
A group of symptoms then, that when we bring them all together, create burn out. So, it’s possible then that burn out is in fact, entirely avoidable? If we can identify the cause of the symptoms, would we eradicate it altogether? It would certainly explain why it doesn’t happen to every entrepreneur out there.
Maybe it’s not that we’re too poor/too old/too young/live in the wrong country/live in the wrong decade/building a business in a recession.
In fact, might it simply be our inability to understand how we approach each moment, our struggle with understanding what’s driving our beliefs and that we haven’t yet learned to become more conscious of the patterns that we’re running, might those things be what’s causing the burn out?
I believe so, and we can change all of that by taking a deep and meaningful dive into self.
What I mean is, we need to stop looking for external factors to explain our tiredness, fatigue, and depletion. Whilst it’s true that we live in an ever-changing (and currently a wee bit tumultuous) world, it has always been that way, so we need to get over any notion that the change needs to happen from the outside.
Ok, here’s a caveat because I have a feeling you might need it in this moment. As purpose-driven entrepreneurs, part of what drives us is a desire to facilitate external change, so chill, I’m not saying to wipe it from your strategy board. What I am saying is that your strategy must come from knowing intimately, your internal drivers, whether it’s serving both you and your people, and that it is moving you towards where you want to be.
We need to take an open and faithful look at how we process our experiences, how we create new and purposeful patterns and learn how to write new scripts that determine our wisest actions. It’s finding the resourcefulness to disassociate from our “messy middle” and be ready to understand and learn what we really need to see about our situation. That’s what’s going to give us what we need.
So, here’s the choices I’m suggesting you consider – and I hope that you’ve come up with specific choices for yourself too:
1. Run the 3Rs cycle above
2. Quit and go do something else
3. Do the work to learn what makes you tick, and which strategies will help you get to where you want to be.
Go on, run the pros and cons of these choices, I’d love to know what decision you make.
And please stop telling me it’s hard!
I could point you at countless highly successful entrepreneurs who are responsible for creating and maintaining thriving businesses. These serial entrepreneurs are living enviable lifestyles and still have time to give back and share their moments of learning.
Time and again, they talk about what they had to change within to make it all happen. Was it hard? Yes! Are they happy they went digging into their “stuff”? 100% yes! Their focus wasn’t on how hard it was, their focus was entirely on where they wanted to get to.
So, the question is, where’s your spade?