Typically I try to come to you with some kind of answer. Something I’ve figured out over the years that seems worthy of passing on to others.
Today, however, I feel like writing about something I’ve figured out but that isn’t really an answer. I could turn it on its head in order to make this into an answer kind of post, but that would be a different post and it’s not the one I’m compelled to write this week.
Today, I feel like writing about just why exactly this entrepreneurship gig is so hard. So stressful. So overwhelming.
I want to write about it this way — focusing on the difficulty rather than on the ways you can deal with this difficulty — because I think it’s important to understand the root causes of entrepreneurial stress and hardship because otherwise it’s far too easy for us to minimize it, ignore it, and in doing so, compound it.
Understanding all the reasons entrepreneurialism sucks can help us make it suck less. It can help us stick with it through the hard times. It can help prevent us from having those nights when it’s 1am and suddenly we’re crying to our spouses and/or pets about how maybe we should just go get a job or close up shop or throw in the towel because this is just never going to work and it’s too hard and too exhausting.
So here’s my ongoing list of reasons why running your own creative business is hardhardhard.
The decision making. It’s E-N-D-L-E-S-S. And it’s all yours. You decide every single big, small, and in-between thing about your business. When to work, where to work, what to work on. How to spend and how to save money. Which software to use. What payment plan to be on for that software. It’s unrelenting and mentally draining.
The social isolation. Even if you work in a co-working space, which most of us don’t, you’re still working on your own thing. No one else is working on it with you. Each of us is captaining a one-man ship. Even when there are other ships nearby, there’s still no one on the boat with us. It can be lonely. And boring. And crazy-making.
The social media. In this day and age, you more or less can’t run a business without social media. But that means that you have to spend time on social media, a.k.a. the comparison train. I genuinely appreciate social media for connecting me with customers and clients, and maybe even more for connecting me with peers. Helping with that social isolation. But even still. Social media can make you feel like you’re not doing enough, like you’re not achieving enough, like not enough people are following you. It can make you feel like less than you are. Which sucks.
The prioritizing. This goes along with the decision making, but it’s also its own private hell. Not only do you have to decide eight hundred and fifty million small things, but you have to decide which of those small things needs to be done first, second, third, etc. You have to decide what’s more and what’s less important to your business. You’re the hierarchy-maker. So fun!
The pressure of needing to solve all of your own problems. Someone copying you work? You better deal with it. Someone giving away your font for free on their website? Your problem. Not making enough money? Ooh, you better figure that one out quickly.
Speaking of which, the great personal risk. When you run your own business, you could fall flat on your face at any time. Your business could fail in an instant. When you mess up a project, you don’t get reprimanded by your boss. No, when you mess up a project, you hurt your own business. You have to scramble to make it right, often at a financial cost to you.
Ahem. The money woes. Need I say more?
The lack of creative outlet. I know most of us artistic types started our business to be creative outlets for us, but after awhile, most of us find that we could really use a creative outlet from our creative outlet. And when you’re experiencing all of the other stresses, problems, and struggles, finding time to get that outlet can feel impossible.
The relentless self-discipline. Working for yourself requires such immense self-discipline (choosing to work when instead you could be eating chocolate chips while watching Netflix), and doing it every single day can really take a toll.
The wicked-long days. If you work a job and then run your entrepreneurial gig on the side, you’re working a hell of a lot of hours. That’s two jobs right there, folks. And if you’re not working a job but you’re working full-time for yourself, I’m here to tell you: working a regular 9-to-5-style day every day five days a week, with no chit chat with your cubicle neighbor and no half-hour break for a co-worker’s birthday and no leaving for lunch and no mid-day meetings to break up your day, that’s a long freaking day.
The lack of recognition. Sometimes, clients and customers recognize our accomplishments and let us know they think we’re doing a good job. Sometimes we win awards. But for the most part, being a solopreneur means that there’s no one there to recognize your more mundane accomplishments. No one there to pat you on the back when you have a great day. That can be tough.
The lack of backup. For the super-vast majority of us creative entrepreneurs, there’s no one to put in charge for a few days when we’re away, sick, or exhausted. When your spouse gets typhoid fever and unexpectedly spends three days in the hospital (it happens, I can attest), you’re stuck dealing with work and doctors at the same time. If you’re lucky, you’ve automated a lot of stuff and maybe you won’t have much to do. But it falls on you just to figure out what does need to be done, and then to do it, all while dealing with whatever hijacked your life in the first place.
I’ve gotta say, dealing with all of this 240 days a year (and let’s be honest, I’m dealing with it 365 days a year, whether I’m actively sitting in my studio or not), sometimes I start to feel I’m losing the battle. It’s mentally exhausting, sometimes to the point that it feels damned near impossible. It’s only when I sit down and really marvel at the myriad stressors I face on a daily basis that I remember to cut myself some slack, and it’s only THEN that I can actually implement appropriate coping mechanisms or even just appreciate the full extent of what it is I’m really doing here.
I hope my list helps you feel just a little bit more appreciative of everything YOU do. And I hope maybe it helps reassure you that you’re not alone. Because you’re not.