Stress and the Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship can be a very stressful proposition. We’re trying to build our businesses and encounter countless challenges along the way. Cutthroat competition, product design issues, labor shortages, cash flow problems, slow sales, shipping snafus, government regulations, incredibly tight deadlines, lack of sleep and a host of other struggles. A lot of this is simply unavoidable and part of the growth and scaling process. How we deal with stress under duress is the name of the game.

Here are several questions we can ask ourselves. Is stress negative and draining? Do we view stress with fear and trepidation? Is stress something that we must survive? Or do we embrace stress and use it to “lean in” and thrive? You may think that thriving in stress is counterintuitive. But it is not.

It’s a fact that there are many opportunities for situations to become stressful. However, just because a situation is stressful doesn’t mean that we have to buy-in and take on the stress for ourselves. I know – this is certainly easier said than done. We start by observing how we normally react when confronted with potentially stressful circumstances. Some people withdraw and climb into a shell. Others might be combative and hypersensitive. Still others may wear their heart on their sleeve and present a woe-is-me portrait. Finally, there are those who may show panic and confusion. As entrepreneurial leaders we cannot afford to display any of these tendencies.

How we react outwardly is important to our team. If we are snippy and curt with the people around us, they will sense that something is wrong. If we show fear they will smell fear and know that something is wrong. By maintaining an optimistic and cheery demeanor at all times, we can ensure the mental health of our enterprise. I realize that this is pretty hard to do if we really aren’t feeling all that confident in the situation. It’s very difficult to fake it successfully. What to do?

On April 17, 2018, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 bound from New York to Dallas suffered a massive engine failure that resulted in the loss of cabin pressure and the life of a passenger. Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor remained calm under fire and safely landed the aircraft. They didn’t panic and followed their training to the letter. Once back on terra firma, Captain Shults personally spoke to each passenger as they deplaned. What was their secret? They eliminated the emotion and worked the problem.

When we’re overwhelmed, stress can build exponentially. This is the time to heed the old saying – eat the elephant one bite at a time. We break down whatever massive undertaking that is causing the stress into manageable tasks. I am a compulsive list-maker. When a mountain looms in front of me I try and avoid looking at it in its totality. Instead, I develop a series of individual tasks and check them off my list as I finish them. I know this may sound like a mental game but it works for me and it might work for you too.

The next idea may seem like a bit of a stretch, but actually can achieve the concept of leaning in and thriving. When faced with a sticky situation we look for the silver lining and ask the question, “How can I turn this into something positive?” Accomplishing this takes a lot of practice. It involves rising above the chaos and stress to take a clinical look at the landscape and find a way to succeed. I remember talking to a friend who had a major client that was terminating the relationship. Many entrepreneurs would have wrung their hands in despair. My friend immediately reached out to the primary competitor of the departing client and told him that he was now available to work with the competitor. This new relationship was worth twice the amount of business for my friend than before.

There are many other stress-busting techniques – and there may be times when we need to utilize all of them at our disposal. We should make certain we don’t become one-dimensional. Having other interests besides work provides outlets for our stress and frustration. This may include physical activities, hobbies, civic or charitable work to name a few. Meditation and deep-breathing exercises are excellent ways to remain centered and relaxed. It’s important to practice them continuously and not just when we are in distress. Finally, I’m a big proponent of creating and saying positive affirmations. Positive affirmations pattern our minds away from negativity and fear. For example, saying something like, “I am totally relaxed and ready to claim my good!” may be a great way to start. I know it may sound corny, but I’m living proof that it works. Saying a positive affirmation in groups of ten at least 100 times a day will lay the foundation. Doing it for a week or two adds the cement.

We all have moments where stress can build to overwhelming levels. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating if we choose to embrace it; lean into it, and thrive.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 100 – Congratulations – You Own a Gold Mine!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

I Still Hate Eggplant and Rhubarb

Question: I attended an event recently and talked for quite a while with another individual. He was completely boring and didn’t have much to say beyond work stuff. It made me wonder if I too might be one-dimensional. How do I make sure I’m not?

Answer: Your self-awareness is an encouraging sign that you are on the right track. We entrepreneurs can have a tendency to be so focused on our work that we assume everyone else must be interested in this aspect of our lives. The first step in making certain we aren’t one-dimensional is to take a personal inventory. During the past 30-days, make note of all of the activities in which we have participated that are not work-related. If we’ve attended sporting events, the symphony, met friends for dinner, read a book or two, watched a documentary and volunteered at the local food bank, we are probably in pretty good shape.

If you find that you need a bit more variety in your life make a “bucket list.” This isn’t necessarily a bucket list of things you want to do before you die (though it can be), but is simply a list of things that you think might be interesting if you would ever stop eating, breathing and sleeping your work so much.

The hardest part about this is moving out of the work-focus mindset. To move forward and try new things we need to give ourselves permission to do so. That new product idea will still be ready for us to flesh out tomorrow if we take a cooking class tonight. We’ll still have time to complete the spreadsheet that needs to be created for next week’s presentation if we take a piano lesson or spend some time at the gym. Try new things. Meet new people. Twenty years ago there is no way that I would have envisioned doing the things I am now outside of my profession. And in so doing, it’s opened a whole new world for me that has made me a much better entrepreneur. Why? Because adding more dimension to my life has stimulated my creativity and kept me fresh. I’m more receptive to new concepts and I find it fascinating to talk to other people about many things other than business.

If you choose to walk down this path don’t despair if at first it’s a slow go. You’ve become accustomed to doing things a certain way and you can’t broaden your horizons overnight. But your enthusiasm will grow and I guarantee you’ll be a better entrepreneur and a better person overall.

The best antidote to being one-dimensional is an open mind. The world is full of opportunity beyond our own little backyard. There are so many new and wonderful things to experience. That said, I still hate eggplant and rhubarb.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.