You saw a need in the market and you filled it. You birthed a business. You felt the euphoria of the first sale. The joy of being quoted in publications. The thrill of pushing past financial goals. You have no boss to please, no one looking over your shoulder. You get to call all the shots and ride the intense highs. People admire your grit. You make it look fun.
Entrepreneurs are a breed unto themselves. Entrepreneurs rarely measure time in days or weeks or months. For them, time is measured from win to win, deadline to deadline, failure to failure. Financial success and fame do little or nothing to provide proof of security. In fact, for them, achievement can usher in unimaginable levels of fear and anxiety. For entrepreneurs, victory can mean a farther fall to the bottom.
Entrepreneurship can be a grisly concoction of toxic ingredients that can poison your sleep, your health, your relationships, and your life. While the highs of entrepreneurship are plentiful and addicting, people rarely talk about the loneliness, the fear, and the sheer terror of owning your own business.
They don’t teach you in Business 101 how to prepare yourself for a life that can be wrought with imposter syndrome, self-doubt, second-guessing, sleeplessness, and shame. The best education cannot prepare you for the toll business ownership can take on your emotional and mental health.
Entrepreneurship is all-consuming. Its terror can keep victims in its clutches 24/7 for years on end. The larger the investment or the more people who depend on you for paychecks, the greater the chokehold.
And still, entrepreneur terror is almost never talked about. It is an unspeakable truth so rarely talked about, it is easy to believe you are the only one who suffers from it.
But, if you are a business owner who can feel like you are treading on a beautiful, glistening, bed of broken glass, you are not alone.
- 2x more likely to suffer from depression
- 6x more likely to have ADHD
- 3x more likely to struggle with addiction
Entrepreneur terror stems from the mother of all fears: the Fear Of Failure and its favorite cousin, the Fear Of Judgment. Stir into that mix a friendly pour of rejection, loneliness, financial and legal exposure, stress, long hours, failure to gain traction, self-doubt, self-sabotage, lack of experience, anxiety, loss of control, and overwhelm, and you’ve got yourself a perfect cocktail of terror.
To the outside world, entrepreneurs are seen as risk-takers. They’re confident, flexible, and they intrinsically know how to weather rough seas. They have swagger. Insiders know different.
Ask an entrepreneur about terror. Reactions will vary from a knowing look to full-on tears depending on the person and perhaps the current state of their business, but seasoned entrepreneurs will all agree terror is real. Anyone who tells you there is no terror is either lying, in denial, or terror simply hasn’t yet dropped its 18 ton bolder onto their chest. Some form of terror is all but guaranteed in entrepreneurship.
The world needs entrepreneurs and the gifts they bring and entrepreneurs often cannot imagine life in any other form. The half-true joke among entrepreneurs is that we are pretty much an unemployable bunch. I mean, once you’ve got the bug, felt the highs, worked for yourself, created something from nothing, clawed yourself from the depths of despair, solved a client’s problem, it is not easy to transition into a 9–5.
So, what can we do about the terror?
- Set a place for it at the table. Expect terror to appear and have a plan in place for when it arrives. Be realistic about success, failure, and deadlines. Understand failure isn’t a reflection of self-worth. Struggle can often be a great teacher. Embody a healthy perspective.
- Stop projecting. We have tendencies to take a bad day or bad deal and let it explode worst-case scenarios in our minds. Losing money, losing clients, and occasionally losing faith does not mean you will be forced to live alone, under a bridge in your old age. Focus on solutions to the issue in front of you without blowing up your head with the dreaded what-ifs.
- Get some sleep. Seriously. Sleep is ridiculously important for your attitude, your mood, your thinking, decision making, and your health. Sleep is quite possibly the secret to success. Get more of it.
- Talk through it. Hire a coach. Get a mentor. Surround yourself with other entrepreneurs and trusted friends. Networking is not sharing. Find yourself a group of people you can be real and transparent around. They will help you offload the fear. There is comfort in knowing you are not alone.
- Find inspiration. There are thousands of stories of people who overcame defeat or bankruptcy or any number of desperate situations. Any sex, any age, any ability, any circumstances, you name it, someone has pulled themselves out of despair and into glory. Read about them. Let them inspire you.
- Your mother was right. Eating right and getting exercise is imperative if you want to think and feel your best. While you are at it, go for a walk outside. It will do wonders for your head.
- Get help. If you are feeling hopeless and/or suffering from depression or any other mental health conditions, talk to a therapist. Therapists have the tools to help you. Therapists are there to help ward off the terror not just in times of struggle, but also in times of success.
Where would the world be without visionaries, risk-takers, and creatives? Entrepreneurship is essential in this day and age. Working through entrepreneur terror not only helps your health and your overall well being, but it also allows you to continue supplying the world with your gifts. Everyone wins.