A fear of the unknown may be enough to keep some people from taking the leap to entrepreneurship. For those with the confidence and passion to push forward and start a small business, many other hazards can emerge and take a serious toll.
The psychological effects of entrepreneurship can be significant, and go beyond simple day-to-day business matters. Jessica Bruder explores this in a story for Inc.com, including how some avoid showing vulnerability in favor of the “fake it till you make it” approach. She uses an analogy — “a man riding a lion” — from Toby Thomas of EnSite Solutions to illustrate the point: “People look at him and think, ‘This guy’s really got it together! He’s brave!’ And the man riding the lion is thinking, ‘How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?’”
Here’s a look at some of the fears and psychological elements that can go with starting a business. Not all are universal, of course, and they can be overcome on the road to success. Being aware of them beforehand may help a prospective entrepreneur to have a more realistic perspective.
Fear of failure
There are inevitable pitfalls when starting a business. Mistakes are likely for those going out on that limb for the first time, and these slip-ups may lead to a pattern of negative thinking that could hinder potential improvement. In a story for Entrepreneur, Jacqueline Whitmore examines ways to fight this fear, including developing a “growth mindset.”
“View failure not as the end of a journey, but a step in a long process toward your goals,” she explains. “Don’t berate yourself when you make a mistake. Instead, ask yourself, ‘What lesson can I learn from this?’ Take that new knowledge and put it to good use. When you make a mistake, reflect, learn and try again. Eventually, you will succeed if you persist.”
Stress comes with the territory for entrepreneurs, just as it does in any occupation. The stress that comes from a startup may be an entirely new experience, however, and the responsibility that goes along with that may seem intimidating. Part of dealing with this is just learning how to accept it, and not run away from it, as Rhett Power writes for Success.com.
“Never kid yourself into thinking that entrepreneurship is easy,” he writes. “The pressure can be overwhelming, and until you learn how to manage and control the resulting anxiety, you just have to prepare for the gut-wrenching feelings coming your way in the early stages. Say your phone rings on the weekend or after hours. It probably means trouble, but you can’t ignore it — nausea or not. You’re in charge, so take a breath, answer the call and deal with the situation.”
When troubles at the office are daunting, the last thought that might occur to a small business owner may be to go exercise or stick to a healthy diet. But there is a connection between work-induced stress and poor health habits. Theo Tsaousides explores this in a story for Psychology Today, writing that “Taking care of your body is the first line of defense against emotional distress.”
“The mind-body connection is strong and reciprocal,” he writes. “Your physical state affects your psychological state and your own thoughts and emotions can have an impact on your physical well-being. When you have a nasty cold, you feel unmotivated, distracted and irritable. Your ailing body is dragging down your mood. In a similar manner, when you are worried about making payroll at the end of the month, you may start getting severe tension headaches on the 25th of the month. … Exercise is a preventative measure for a lot of physical problems, but it also gives your mood a jolt, clears your head, and sharpens your thinking ability.”
Consider the new small business owner. Maybe he or she has worked a steady job in a traditional setting, but longs for the independence and adventure of a startup. Those cravings can be fed by focusing on entrepreneurship, but a new crop of unfamiliar and uncomfortable scenarios can emerge as well. As Jayson DeMers explains for Entrepreneur, “… Be prepared for some inherent instability in your first several months.”
“You’ll have sudden surges of consumer interest, followed by long droughts,” he says. “You’ll have random, necessary expenses crop up; major team members leave the company; and windfalls that will make all those losses seem insignificant. To abuse a common cliché, startups are a roller coaster ride, but even if you enjoy that ride, the constant instability can get to you. People crave routines, foundations and reliable structures. Without those, you’ll experience much higher levels of stress, which in turn can make you impatient, overly emotional, and miserable, in general.”
Having a passion for the business can be a major strength for an entrepreneur. From the energy it inspires to the potential satisfaction it brings, passion can keep a small business owner interested and motivated. Some may allow this to take too much of a hold, however, as Bruder explores in her Inc.com story.
“Call it the downside of being up,” she says. “The same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them. Business owners are ‘vulnerable to the dark side of obsession,’ suggest researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. They conducted interviews with founders for a study about entrepreneurial passion. The researchers found that many subjects displayed signs of clinical obsession, including strong feelings of distress and anxiety, which have ‘the potential to lead to impaired functioning,’ they wrote in a paper published in the Entrepreneurship Research Journal.”
Disappointing days at the office are inevitable, from getting bad news about the financial state of the company to a personal career path not trending upward to frustrating scenarios with employees or clients. What we do with that disappointment when we walk away at the end of the day can contribute a great deal to our mental state. In other words, don’t take it home and allow it to ruin relationships. Bruder includes commentary from Michael A. Freeman, a psychiatrist and former entrepreneur, in her Inc.com piece.
“Though launching a company will always be a wild ride, full of ups and downs, there are things entrepreneurs can do to help keep their lives from spiraling out of control, say experts. Most important, make time for your loved ones, suggests Freeman. ‘Don’t let your business squeeze out your connections with human beings,’ he says. When it comes to fighting off depression, relationships with friends and family can be powerful weapons. And don’t be afraid to ask for help — see a mental health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of significant anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression.’”
Just as stress can become a dark cloud that can form over our heads, so can anxiety develop into a negative behavior trait. Constant worrying won’t help a small business owner’s outlook or approach, and it can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, as Amy Morin writes in a story for Forbes.
“The pressure of knowing your ability to pay this month’s mortgage depends on closing the next deal, or feeling as though you can’t spend time with family because you have to keep working, lends itself to incredible anxiety,” she explains. “Many entrepreneurs struggle to function normally because they’re constantly worried about their business. Their strong desire to achieve can cause them to constantly second guess their actions and ruminate on worst-case scenarios. Eventually, the constant anxiety can become immobilizing for many entrepreneurs and eventually, it can lead to burnout.”