small business

Anxiety for innovators

As far as I can tell, nearly every startup leader, innovator, entrepreneur, intrapreneur or other change-maker experiences bouts of anxiety. You almost can’t help it. Whether it’s the urgent needs of the present, the ghost of past crises or an uncertain and uncontrollable future, creating something new and worthwhile seems to require some level of anxiety.  

For some people, that manifests in paralysis, in another a periodic stomach ache or the sleepless nights that are part of the entrepreneur stereotype. Sometimes we don’t realize how anxious we really are until some relatively minor issue, like a traffic jam or a glitching computer, seems to knock the lid of of our internal well of unease. And of course, for some people trying to control that anxiety seems to pave a path to unethical decisions, substance abuse, depression or worse.  We’ve seen plenty of examples of those.

The awareness that some level of anxiety is almost inevitable when doing something that matters provides a little bit of comfort.  We can think of it as sort of the cost to participate in the adventure that we have undertaken. We know that there’s probably an easier route, but we also know in our guts what price that route would exact from us.  

I suspect that for most of us, the big challenge we face is in learning to manage our anxiety, learning to live with it and be with it and accept it as a part of the process.  Mediation types talk about accepting thoughts and feelings, not trying to judge them or control them, which is apparently why you have to “practice.” Living with it without controlling it does not seem to  come naturally.

For me, simply acknowledging that I’m anxious seems to help.  I’m not routinely self-reflective, and I can be very much on edge without having any conscious awareness of how anxious I really am. Ironically, people around me can usually spot it before I can.  But once I know it’s there, I can usually manage it down to a dull roar.

But it never truly leaves, and I think that in itself is a useful recognition.  Perhaps we don’t need to expect it to leave. Perhaps managed anxiety has a value to the work we are trying to do.  

And if nothing else, writing about it might help you feel more at peace with it.  

 

***NOTE: I am nothing resembling a psychologist.  I don’t know where clinical, chemical/hormonal anxiety starts and life anxiety-type anxiety begins.  I don’t actually know if there’s a line between them or is it’s a mix of both or what. If you have anxiety that’s interfering with your life, get counseling.  Your experience may vary… a lot. And while some anxiety might be inevitable, your life should not suck. If it does, you may need more than deep breathing and a positive perspective.  Get help.

Strengths and weaknesses and who we are.

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We spend a lot of time dealing with strengths and weaknesses. We do StrengthFinders tests on our students, we do SWOT analyses for our Link clients, and we spend hours coaching our students and young professionals on items of professional management that they have not yet learned.

We all know that we have things that we are good at, and things that we are… not so good at. If we work for a large company, chances are we can find a place to slot it… we can find a role that makes the most of our strengths and keeps us from getting in too much trouble from our weaknesses.

But as our businesses get smaller, and as so many of us find ourselves running small businesses or organizations at some point in our lives, our weaknesses get more and more in our way. For a lot of us, the biggest weakness (and threat to the work that we care about) comes in the form of the stuff that we know is necessary, but isn’t what we got into this to spend our time on. Love dogs and excel at training them? Chances are you don’t want to spend your time on accounting. Great at designing new projects? Chances are you might not be so good at marketing.

When you run a small business, you find yourself having to do everything because you don’t have anyone else to do it. And chances are, you don’t know how to do the things that you have to do, or you don’t know how to do them well or efficiently.

The difference between the success and failure of your work probably doesn’t depend on how you do the things you love -- the purpose of your business, the things that you knew your could do well enough to offer them to other people. Most of the time, the failure of a business - and more than four out of five small businesses fail within a few years of their start - happens because one of their weaknesses did them in. The best dog groomer who does not understand marketing, or the smartest investor who cannot manage employees, end up in the same situation - losing money and looking for a job.

Every small business owner needs to take a clear-eyed look at their weaknesses -- and either build up their skills in that space, or get help.

That was our purpose with Econogy Talent Group. We give you that help — from people who know how to do it right.