“Having a 9-to-5 is the only way to get a mortgage, you know.”
“Don’t you want job security?”
“I guess you’re on a journey of ‘self-discovery’, right?”
If these quotes sound like your last family gathering, then you’re not alone.
Explaining your solopreneur venture to your family can be like trying to explain algebra to a trilobite. (That’s an extinct marine arthropod, FYI.) The idea of talking work at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or whatever it happens to be can fill solopreneurs with dread.
You haven’t got a “normal” answer. You can’t answer with a one word job title because you’re a saleswoman, a marketer, an accountant, a visionary, and an investor…all in one.
At best, being a solopreneur is brave, and at worst, it’s career suicide — according to family.
Explaining your vocation to your family will be different for everyone; no one family is the same. Levels of support vary and mindsets change.
First thing’s first: Take a deep breath. You aren’t alone.
Upsetting the apple cart
I know the struggle.
I moved to a place where there were no starter jobs. It was a place populated with the semi-retired. Moving again wasn’t an option and I spent months trying to land jobs that weren’t quite right for me. I had hundreds of rejections.
It was soul-destroying.
I knew in my gut that my writing ability was exceptional. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t got a mathematical bone in my body, but words? I can do that. I was also well-educated and published in several newspapers.
But I was never the right fit. Not enough years behind a desk. Not enough willingness to subscribe to the outdated keyword-stuffing SEO ideas that still run this city.
Despite this, my personal blogs were getting shared and commented on. I was the go-to for friends who needed something written, so why was the corporate world so dead set against me?
One day, I snapped. They didn’t want me, so I didn’t want them.
I discovered the world of copywriting, an industry I — somehow — never knew existed.
They wanted what was best for me and could only express that by chiding me, trying to nudge me in the direction of a safe, secure 9-to-5.
Remember…a lot of these naysayers — parents, grandparents, extended family — spent their working lives as small cogs in big machines. They could only achieve success by joining a company young and staying there until they retired, slowly climbing the rank ladder.
There was little room for career moves, and entrepreneurship belonged only to those who could afford to be idle. In other words…it only happened to other people.
They don’t get it. They’re not being malicious, they’re just confused and worried.
The best way to assuage their fears is to be confident.
Know exactly what you’re doing and be proud of it. If you’re unflappable, they’re more likely to realize they don’t need to fret.
You never know. A cousin might be belittling your work because they’re envious of your bravery and wish they could do what you do.
When they realize how much you’re willing to sacrifice for your dream, they’ll be far more likely to offer a helping hand or a hug — without the whisper of, “I told you so.”
You’re in control, but you could use a sympathetic ear. That’s no different from someone in an office job suffering from burnout.
The uncertainty and quips about “real work” mostly stem from misinformation. If you break down that barrier in a calm, friendly way, you’ll never have to worry about awkward, talking-to-a-brick-wall moments at family gatherings ever again.
(Yes, they’ll still worry. They’re your family.)
But they’ll also be happy for you, and when you work for yourself, that counts for a lot.
My content marketing business is in a rapid state of growth. I’ve taken on several new clients, doubled my workload, and seen every blog and social-media metric surge beyond my goals. I’m recently married and had my first child six months ago, plus I’m forging new personal and professional relationships in my hometown where I returned three years ago after a 12-year absence.
Basically, my life is on a pretty kick-ass trajectory and I feel darn optimistic about the future.
I couldn’t say the same thing, however, six years ago or even two years ago. That’s because at each of those points, I experienced crippling grief from which I thought I might never recover.
Losing a sibling
The first and most shocking setback of my life came nearly six years ago, on July 4, 2010. That morning, my dad called to tell me he had some “upsetting news.” My younger brother had died a few hours earlier from a heroin overdose. (“Upsetting” was understating things a bit.)
I’ll never forget a moment of that day, which played out like a blur of frantic activity around me as my own brain seemed to move in slow motion.
Driving around until I could find someone to comfort me (a friend’s mom finally answered her door). Falling to my knees in a pile of tears as I said the words aloud for the first time. Waiting while my friends packed my bags and asked me to pick a funeral outfit. Seeing the world whiz by while my friend drove me six hours to my hometown. Hugging my mom and feeling her immeasurable pain. Hearing the gut-wrenching wail of a 10-year-old girl learning her daddy was dead. Then hearing my mom say she had no reason left to live (um, what about me?!).
At the time, I was 35 and my freelance writing business was five years old. I had recently hit a professional slump due to the changing economic landscape (I was doing mostly magazine writing at that time and magazines were a dying breed). In the months and years following my brother’s death, however, things went from bad to worse.
I stopped looking for new assignments and began missing deadlines for what little work I still had. I didn’t even bother to tell many of my editors why, burning every bridge imaginable. I was simultaneously going through a divorce (I suffered death, divorce, and losing my home all in less than a year) and began making really self-destructive decisions about men. I was drinking too much, sleeping too little, and burning through my savings account with reckless abandon.
Two months after my brother’s death, I was out of money and took a sales job that was absolutely not a fit for my skills nor in line with my passions. It paid the rent until I found another gig as an office manager that, again, made no sense for my career path.
I still did some freelance work, but treated it like a hobby at best, not a serious business.
After two years of acting out and scraping by, I finally reached my breaking point. I realized something had to change, so I packed up my belongings and moved back home with my mom — a humbling experience for a 37-year-old woman.
For the next year, I spent time writing about my grief, exploring a healthy relationship, and repairing the bridges I’d burned with former clients. By 2015, I had found love, moved out of my mom’s house, and started making a living wage as a business owner.
It took a long time to claw my way out of the nearly bottomless pit of grief, but I finally found my way back to the sun and felt so good about life that I was ready to create a new life. We decided to have a baby.
In March of 2015, we learned I was pregnant. On Mother’s Day, we excitedly told our families the amazing news. Two days later, during a routine visit to my OB/GYN, I learned the baby no longer had a heartbeat.
The entire episode lasted 10 weeks, but the loss was no less real. Once again, my grief sent me spiraling. Facing hefty medical bills from the experience, I panicked and took a full-time editorial job. It was a better match than my previous attempts at day jobs, but I knew in my gut I was meant to be my own boss.
This time, I quickly decided not to let grief consume my life. I allowed myself to cry when I needed to, and reached out to friends and family for emotional support. I was honest with the freelance clients I still had and asked for extended deadlines. I started a weekly mastermind group and got serious about building my business so I could quit the full-time job.
Four months after starting, I gave notice at the 9-to-5 gig and focused all my efforts on growing my content marketing company. I clarified my marketing message, rebuilt my website, and bumped up my social media presence.
Now, one year later, I’ve never been busier or more profitable. Oh, and I got pregnant again and had my baby boy last May!
What I learned from surviving and thriving after loss
Death and loss affects everyone at some point. Grief feels exceptionally lonely, but it’s actually our most common bond. Whatever you’re experiencing, take some comfort in knowing someone else has already gone through it. You’re not alone.
Seek out a community. Whether it’s friends or an organized support group, seek out a group you can talk about your situation with and find those who can be truly empathetic. Sharing with others who’ve had miscarriages, and later writing a blog about my experience, helped me get through this experience in a faster and healthier manner than after my brother’s death.
Allow yourself to feel your pain. Take the time — however much you need — to experience the very real feelings of grief. Running away from the emotions only delays the inevitable.
Treat yourself with grace. During our darkest hours, it’s likely we will make some mistakes, drop some balls, and say some stupid things. Forgive yourself for these moments.
Be vulnerable. When you do fall down and upset or disappoint a client or friend, be honest and tell them why. You may be surprised by the outpouring of love and understanding you receive.
Ask for help. It’s okay to admit you are overwhelmed with your situation. You may need to ask your friends and family for emotional (and even financial) support. This doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you human. Be grateful you have people in your life who love you and thank them for helping.
My hope is that everyone will have a perfect 2017. Unfortunately, the reality is many of us will suffer a loss or otherwise experience grief in the coming year. While we can’t control what happens to us, we can be responsible for how we respond. If you fall on tough times, I hope my tips will help ease the pain, even if only a bit. And if you need support or advice, my (email) door is always open.
Here’s your challenge: Describe your ideal professional life in five words or fewer.
Seriously, think about it.
Where do you want to be in five to ten years?
Are you doing everything you can today to get closer to your goals for tomorrow?
I pose these questions not because I get enjoyment out of seeing people struggle to picture their future, but rather because I sorely wish someone had asked me the same questions, sooner.
Here’s the backstory
About seven months ago I traveled to Budapest, Hungary for my brother’s wedding. It was a bittersweet trip, as I knew it would be the last time I’d enjoy a trip overseas for quite some time.
My impending law school stint was set to start in August (2016) and the combined soul-crushing costs of living in a New York City apartment and attending a horribly expensive school caused my wallet to shudder at the very thought alone of purchasing another set of international plane tickets.
My brother, a very successful entrepreneur, made it his goal at his wedding to send slews of his friends in my direction to convince me out of law school and into solo business.
Needless to say, you wouldn’t be reading this right now if his slick tactics failed.
I don’t give him all the credit for my change of heart, but I do give him some. The legal profession wasn’t my calling and, if it weren’t for my brother, I’d have found myself miserable in a classroom listening to professors speak as I daydreamed about what my life could have been instead of out doing what I absolutely love (like I’m doing right now).
So here’s what this journey from law school debt and misery to solo business freedom and flexibility has taught me…and why I’m filled with anything but regret.
1. Your life is meant to be viewed through your eyes, not someone else’s
With the exception of my immediate family, many people didn’t respond well to my announcement that instead of law I was going to spend my time developing a freelance career and working on my blog. It was like I’d gone from “riches to rags” – law to unemployment; no one knew what to say, so many said nothing at all.
I dealt with whispers behind my back and sneers and snickers from my friends who hold 9-5 jobs with benefits and job security. Suddenly my unemployed, non-student self was cause for laughter, and in some instances, concern.
Though many people envisioned my life taking another path, or thought I’d do “better things” with my time, it’s my life to live, not theirs. If I’m enjoying the view from my perspective, it shouldn’t matter what the “neighbors” think.
2. Flexibility and freedom are invaluable assets
Changing my mind from law school to solopreneurship was monumental in many ways, but most notably, it meant my freedom no longer had an expiration date.
3. A fancy degree and pile of debt won’t necessarily guarantee success
When I was a fresh 18-year-old entering college, I thought obtaining my bachelor’s would be the coolest, most “official” thing I could do to solidify my “success” as an adult.
When that failed, I thought I should pursue law school. Maybe then, jaded from three years of law school, buried in debt but decently educated, my JD would help me along professionally.
Cue the laugh track.
Despite my disillusionment, fancy degrees won’t necessarily guarantee success.
If you want success, you need to get up every day ready to put in the work and make your ideal reality happen for you. Your workload doesn’t lessen just because you have a fancy degree to back you, so you might as well be doing something you truly enjoy.
Thankfully I pulled my head out of the clouds just in time to figure this out before the time ran out and the debt started piling.
4. Long-term goals should be factors when making life-altering decisions
Though I’d already applied to 12 law schools, selected a school, paid my seat deposit and expensive down payment on a pricey New York City apartment, my brother’s wedding party challenged me to think about my goals, long term.
Would law school really help me reach those goals?
The cold hard truth was that law school was more of a distraction than a step in the right direction toward achieving my goals; it wasn’t in line with what I really wanted.
Life is short, so do what you love.
Act in accordance with what you want, what you love, and what you believe, and demand the sort of life you’ve always wanted to live. If you want to quit school, quit school. If you want to be a doctor, go be a doctor. If you want to start your business, start the business. If you want to be a better businessperson, start doing what you need to do to be better.
As solopreneurs, there are many things that can make us crazy and cause us to struggle, but it’s important to keep the big picture in mind so that we continue heading in the right direction.
I very nearly derailed my entire life by forgetting to ask myself the tough questions. Thankfully, I corrected that error just in time to avoid the insanity of the legal industry. Now, I still struggle every now and again, but I’ve settled very nicely into my own adrenaline-filled life as a solopreneur.
So, ask yourself the questions that I failed to ask myself early on:
Where do you want to be in five to ten years?
Are you doing everything you can today to make your ideal tomorrow a reality?
And if you’re not, what can you do today to change that?
As Sara and I were creating a 5-day mini-course based on the content in the Solopreneur Sanity Handbook, we kept (only half) jokingly saying “Man, this stuff is so good!” and “We are geniuses!” (Maybe we shouldn’t admit these things…?)
We got to talking about how we use the concepts in the Handbook in our own lives — both personal and professional — on a daily basis. So, when we say we’re living the Handbook, we’re not blowing smoke.
Does it mean that we live it perfectly? Hell no. It means that we deal with all of the same stressors as you, but that we stop as often as possible in the midst of chaos to remind ourselves that we literally wrote the (Hand)book on this stuff. And that, if we want to live lives of integrity, we have to work our hardest to practice what we preach.
Enough speaking theoretically. Here are three ways that I’ve lived the Handbook recently, as I moved from Guatemala to Europe — while working (mostly) my normal hours:
Getting comfortable with the chaos
In the beginning of the Handbook, we lay out 10 principles; we think of them as “general truths or ideas key to progress and success in achieving solopreneur sanity.” One of my favorites is “Get comfortable with the chaos.” (I love it so much that the wallpaper is plastered all over my desktop and computer background.) This is our phrase for acknowledging that life and business ownership are chaotic and basically, there’s nothing you can do about it except accept it.
As I dealt with the chaos of leaving my home in Guatemala, taking international flights, moving with almost all of my worldly possessions, being on a new continent with an unfamiliar language, and keeping up with work, I asked the One Woman Shop accountability group to hold me accountable for using “Get comfortable with the chaos” as my mantra. (Though these are all exciting, wonderful things, they are indeed chaotic.)
Remembering that chaos is par for the course gave me the perspective to stay just a bit calmer as I navigated the public transportation system, ordered my first latte, got yelled at in the grocery store, and accidentally cried in a coffee shop on my first day.
Non-negotiables — the building blocks of solopreneur sanity
As we say in the Handbook, “Our personal and recommended non-negotiables are working out, eating healthy, sleeping enough, and disconnecting — we’re not saying you must do them, but we will challenge you to find us someone who works out regularly or eats healthy or takes time to disconnect and doesn’t credit those things at least a teeny tiny bit with an increased sense of well-being. (If you find one, send them our way and we’ll interrogate them until they admit that they’re wrong.)” ← Still laugh every time I read this.
I know that working out, eating home-cooked food for most of my meals, taking time away from technology, and having a productive workspace are essential for my well-being and productivity. Instead of letting these things slide when I arrived in Hungary, I made them top priority, even though it meant taking time away from work to find a gym, grocery shop, and find a coworking space. The result? I was able to regain that lost work time five-fold* (*I don’t actually know what-fold) by not going out for every meal and increasing my energy through exercise.
Breaking it down and choosing the next best step
The Handbook is broken into scenarios and corresponding solutions. “Breaking it down and choosing the next best step” is the solution to “For when you…are stalling because you’re overwhelmed and aren’t sure where to start.” Um, couldn’t have said it better myself. (Get it? Though I can only take half credit for all phrasing.)
I’ve been looking into obtaining a long-stay visa in Europe and it’s not easy. I completely stalled out on the process because I had no idea what to do next. I channeled the Handbook and told myself, “forget about the end result (that big, looming outcome that you’re not exactly sure how to get to), and choose the next best step that will get you closer — no matter how little that step might be.”
I thought the next best step was speaking to an immigration lawyer but I quickly realized there was a step in between: Finding a reliable immigration lawyer. I found an in-depth post from a blogger who ended up with a visa after working with a lawyer and emailed him asking for a recommendation. Bam — things were suddenly in motion and the next steps suddenly felt significantly less overwhelming.
So, speaking of next best steps when it comes to increasing your sanity, here’s our recommendation: Drop your email below to sign up for our free, 5-day course on reclaiming your time. It’ll give you an awesome, albeit small, preview of the solutions we walk you through in the Solopreneur Sanity Handbook. Easy as that.
Working from home, how I love thee! Let me count the ways: I can wear pajamas, I can work at the table, in bed, or on the couch, I can take breaks to walk or shower, I can sing along to music, I can even drink a glass of wine while writing a blog post!
The list goes on, and make no mistake, there are many great things about working from home. But the appeal of wearing what you want and working from your bedroom hides the fact that working from home presents unique challenges.
It’s incredibly easy to get distracted. It can feel lonely and isolating. But what’s especially tricky is this: Without coworkers beside you, it’s hard to tell when the work day starts and when it ends.
The personal is professional
When you are your business, the personal and professional are almost the same thing. When you spend so much time thinking, daydreaming, talking, and planning your business(es), being “off the clock” becomes a foreign concept.
This is especially true when you work from home (this may resonate with students as well as entrepreneurs). When your home is your office, you know that you could always be working. This can create the toxic habit of feeling like you’re never not working…and that treadmill always leads to exhaustion and burnout.
The separation of home and work
If you have trouble getting “off the clock”, I feel you. I spent months this past summer feeling the constant, low-level anxiety that I wasn’t done. Five o’clock would come and I’d go from typing an email on my bed to typing an email in my kitchen, while I tab-switched to a recipe and cooked dinner. There was no physical difference between being at work and being at home, and that made it hard for me to switch gears from professional time to personal time. As a result, all my time felt like a confusing and exhausting combination of both.
This is perhaps the most challenging thing about working from home: separating “work time” from “not work time” when both happen in the same place. When you work in an office, your brain and body understand that it’s a workplace where you get work done. When you leave the office and commute home, it signals to your brain and body that the work day is done and that it’s time to relax. Even if you take work home with you, it’s in your personal space and you’re choosing to do it.
But when The Office is wherever we happen to be sitting in the house, the brain and body receive no external cues that the workday is over and it’s time to relax. Even if we switch from professional tasks to personal ones, we give ourselves no chance to recalibrate. That’s why we might still feel like we’re working while we eat dinner or watch a movie. Without a clear transition, our energy never switches from “on the clock” to “off the clock.”
The solution: Create transitions for your brain and body
So what do we do? We must create other ways to transition from professional into personal time. Here are five effective ways I’ve found to do this:
1. Meditation: Ending my workday by listening to a meditation is a rejuvenating exercise that I always look forward to. The stillness I find in meditation has truly transformed how I feel during my evenings “off the clock.” It helps ease my mind and body from any tension I hold from the day, and signals very clearly that we’re going from one way of being (work) to another (not-work). Try ending your workday with a guided meditation from Insight Timer. My favorite is Guided Meditation and Deep Relaxation, because the meditation closes with an invitation to gently come out of the exercise. For more on meditation, read A Beginner’s Journey with Meditation and Becoming 10% Happier.
2. Walk: For many people, stillness is best found in movement. We spend a lot of time with our bodies sitting and our minds whirring. It’s energizing and healthy to flip that script and to let our minds settle by moving our bodies. Try ending your workday with a 30-minute walk around your neighborhood. Sometimes I listen to a podcast for my walk, but often I prefer to walk in silence and see where my mind goes. (Note: If your mind goes to work, that’s okay! Processing work thoughts while walking can be a great way to end your work day.)
3. Clothing: A simple but powerful signal to the mind and body is changing clothes. Try ending your workday by changing from your “work clothes” (even if they are sweatpants!) into a different set of clothes. If you were wearing pajamas, put on jeans before you go for your walk!
4. Snack/drink: Another way to transition is to have a designated snack or drink. Make it something you look forward to: something tasty or special, that you don’t consume during the workday. This act signals to your brain that you’re done transitioning from one way of being to another. Try ending your workday by eating a cookie or making yourself a cocktail.
5. Say it: This transition is excruciatingly simple: When you’re finished working, say the word “done.” According to this research, this simple act can have a big impact by signaling to your brain that something is complete.
We are our keepers
It will take time to form the habit of closing your work day with a transition ritual. Repetition is what teaches our brains to associate walking or sweatpants with work being over. Try choosing one transition and trying it as often as you can for a month. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t immediately feel your mind settling down. Patience and self-kindness is key!
No one disputes the benefits of meditation or exercise, but it can still be hard to make them a priority. There are a lot of articles out there extolling the importance of working hard and hustling, and they can make it seem like any time spent resting is time wasted.
Thankfully, more and more research is coming out that that shows that rest, play, and time off are as important to our health as sleep, healthy food, and exercise. This is not really “news”: It is a central concept in athletic training that rest is critical for muscles to repair themselves. Similarly, giving ourselves dedicated time off work is critical for our success. It is in rest that our minds have the space to make connections and process ideas. We are our best when we put as much thought and dedication into rest and relaxation as we do into hard work.
Still, it takes courage and discipline to make “not work” as much of a priority as “work.” We must remind ourselves and each other that work is not better than rest and rest is not lazy. What we ambitious, motivated, creative solopreneurs must do is deliberately set aside time when we’re not working. There are many healthy reasons to do this (physical health, mental health, and more) but if nothing else, remember this: Scheduling rest is good for the health of our business.
This here is specifically about a different kind of disconnect.
Disconnection: Turning your digital connection off. You know…unplugging.
(That means phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, emails, Tweets, Facebook, Trello, Slack, and anything digitally business-related.)
If this jars against every business particle of your being, don’t worry. Take a deep breath. It’s not so frightening.
Remember: Your solopreneur venture won’t go bust overnight if you take a time out and get a great night’s sleep.
It seems simple on paper, but we all know the lure of email and Trello; the power socket right next to your bedside table where you charge your phone; the promise of client interaction and the certainty of a future in business.
Is it possible to switch off and disconnect from the digital sphere for a while and not lose momentum? What harm can a quick email at midnight do?
Take my example. I’m blessed/cursed with a brain that never shuts off, particularly when I’m trying to go to sleep. (I suspect plenty of you have the same encumbrance.) Apparently the best time to come up with new blog ideas and social media campaign plans is when my head hits the pillow.
Because…“reasons”, as Twitter would say.
Typically, when these ideas would strike, I’d roll over, grab my phone and note them down in Wunderlist. During my hasty scribbling, I’d see my email ping.
“Maybe it’s a client. I should just check that out quick.”
I’d read the email and my overactive grey matter immediately constructed a response, so I’d reply there and then. While I was writing that, I’d start making a plan to resolve the issue. I’d think about who else I had to email to make it happen. I’d remember something else and fix that too.
You can see the trend here. I wasn’t losing hours on YouTube or scrolling through Pinterest — I was being productive. But I was still losing hours that my body and brain needed to disengage and heal.
Being a solopreneur can consume your life, pixel by pixel. All hours are working hours. It’s the downtime we struggle to fit in, not the hard grit.
My addiction to work nearly broke me. I was plagued by headaches at all hours of the day. Everything hurt and sometimes it would evolve into a full body shut down with violent nausea, photosensitivity, horrific pain and general incapacity. I’m predisposed to migraines anyway, but they were spiralling out of control.
My perma-headache also meant I never got any sleep, so I tossed and turned, checked my emails, suffered my headaches and wondered when the pain was going to end.
Consider this: Disconnection isn’t a matter of personal habit. It’s a matter of health and wellbeing.
Eventually my 24/7 brain and crippling headaches brought me to my knees. Pain medication wasn’t taking the edge off and I didn’t want to get addicted.
At my wits end, I figured I’d try ditching my phone (and blue light) for just a little while. I wasn’t producing any worthwhile work in that condition so I wasn’t losing anything.
You might’ve guessed, but the cure was almost miraculous.
I still get headaches but they’re so infrequent that I forget them. I am falling asleep quickly when it used to take three hours. I am sleeping soundly and not waking through the night. I am powering through my work every day, all the way up to bedtime, but I have a golden rule:
Once I’m in bed, the phone turns off and I don’t touch it again until I rise the next day.
Everyone is different and electrical blue light will affect everyone to varying degrees. Some gadgets are designed to eliminate blue light, which is fantastic up to a point.
But that means you’ve still got your business brain on when you’re in bed, the one place in the world you need to relax entirely and recharge yourself (figuratively speaking).
Turn your phone off. And your computer. And your tablet. (I see you trying to squirrel it away.)
However, we’re also human and we aren’t designed to function 24/7. Working for yourself is great, but you need to be able to enjoy it or you’ll lose motivation, determination, and heart.
Clients also deserve a little more credit. They understand the world is round and timezones don’t always sync up. If they really have a problem with you sleeping, maybe they aren’t a client worth keeping.
Your business truly won’t end if you don’t respond to emails immediately.
You also get the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes. When working on a blog, I’ll write a draft, abandon it for at least a few hours, and revisit it. Re-engaging with my work with a different mindset shows me where I can improve and what needs changing. This applies to any kind of work.
Getting sleep, even if only for a few hours, will condition you for the day ahead. You’ll be happier, healthier and more productive.
The better you feel, the better your work will be. The better your work is, the better you’ll feel.
The only missing component is getting some shut-eye, and if all it takes is switching your phone off for a few hours, it’s very much within reach.
The feeling of stress in today’s society is unfortunately rampant. Long hours and high demands at work contribute to this dreaded feeling for many people. Stress comes with many physical symptoms — from upset stomach and migraines to trouble sleeping. Anyone who experiences it can agree: Stress is terrible. Stress can be even more detrimental for the solopreneur. While we enjoy feelings of independence and are not bogged down by the mundane aspects of office culture, creating our own schedules and managing our own clients without the guidance of any superior or support of reliable co-workers can lead to even higher levels of stress. Combined with unpredictable income, the prospect of stress is very real and it can have a resoundingly detrimental impact on relations with clients, friends and family — not to mention your own self care. Your first step? Becoming aware of the side effects you’re up against when you succumb to the hazardous pitfalls, so you can get better in preventing solopreneur stress in the first place.
Six primary side effects of stress, witnessed as a solopreneur
Six issues that can occur when solopreneurs neglect to place stress management first are:
Unhappy clients who can tarnish the reputation of your brand with word-of-mouth criticism
Poor sleep habits and an unhealthy diet, which can lead to a lack of focus and positive energy
A lack of accurate sales projections due to disorganization regarding clients and goals
Strained relationships with friends and family
Lack of time for personal development and new relationships
Increasing likelihood of failing to find willing co-workers to expand the business
I’m sure you could even think of more, but one thing remains common amongst all of them: Each side effect of stress detrimentally impacts you and/or your clients. Fortunately, solopreneurs with prudent planning and organization can successfully evade the stressful pitfalls of being an independent worker. Here are a few ways to get started.
Commit to a schedule and get organized
Robotic, automatic memory retention is not yet an add-on for humans, so in the meantime we have to rely on our standard memories, which can be forgetful no matter your intelligence. As a result, it’s a good idea to record everything you deem important, ranging from ideas to tasks. Whatever your favorite form of notetaking is, start a brain-dump doc — whether it’s a list on Asana, a board in Trello, a note in Evernote, a standard Google Doc, or a blank page in a notebook. Even if you don’t use all the information, it will alleviate your stress-prone mind to know that the information is there in case you need it. And, it gets it out of your already-full head. Next, consider maintaining a daily to-do list. Keep it short. Write down the most important one to three tasks for a day, with the potential to add bullet points under the broader task. Keeping your list to no more than three will help prevent feeling overwhelmed. Planners and folios are great for keeping to-do lists and schedules organized in one place.
Solopreneurs need a mindful qualitative and quantitative approach to their clients, to make the client process run smoothly from start to finish, and avoid over- or under-booking. I have three tips for building an effective client management system:
Design a proper onboarding process, from the kick-off call to contract signing and right into getting the materials you need to start the work. Kicking off projects on the right foot can alleviate a lot of stress along the way.
Maintain a spreadsheet of your current clients, along with personalized data like campaign start/end date, project goals and current status. This will help you prioritize, making it easier to allocate duties between clients equally and effectively. Project management apps like Coach, Dubsado, and 17Hats make client workflows more manageable by helping you track everything in one place.
Designate specific times to follow up with and update clients on the current status of their project or order. Whether automated or personalized, knowing your clients are aware of the project’s current status will relieve any doubt that they’re unsatisfied with the amount of communication. Clients enjoy transparency and results, and organization and scheduled communication are important to making that a reality.
Give yourself time throughout the day
Working ceaselessly can lead to procrastination. Studies show that people work better in intervals. Some studies find a 52-minute-work, 17-minute-break protocol to be effective, though it doesn’t have to be precise. Find a timeline that works for you. (Editor’s note: At One Woman Shop, we love the Pomodoro Technique.) You need to work and focus, but still have time to refresh your mind with a brief break. Giving yourself time throughout the day can prevent stress, bad moods, and boredom. When taking time for yourself every hour or so, remember to breathe — specifically, with your belly for one to two minutes, and focus only on the air you’re breathing. Tell yourself to take care of the current day, limiting your information intake to what matters immediately. The best breaks are those that don’t take place in front of a screen.
Stress doesn’t have to be inevitable, solopreneur
Your constant state of overwhelm doesn’t have to be so constant, solopreneur. It’s extremely important to practice stress-avoiding techniques thorough scheduling, organization, management, and frequent personal breaks to not only help sustain a successful solopreneur business, but to maintain a healthy relationship with your clients, family, friends — and yourself.
What can you do to change your mindset, relieve stress, and carve out that much needed “you time” each day in order to keep some level of mompreneur sanity?
I’ve been working from home with my daughter since she was 10 weeks old. I worked full-time remote hours until she was nine months old, then struck out on my own and started my business. I was able to downgrade my hours to 3-4 per day while maintaining my client load and increasing my income. This was important to me because I consider myself a full-time mother and part-time freelancer. Of course, it took work to get to this place.
An important part of my day is my morning routine. I wake up 30-60 minutes before my daughter so I can practice self care. My routine includes stretching, journaling, reading something informational or inspirational, and meditation.
I meditate for 10-20 minutes in the morning and another 10-20 minutes in the afternoon during my daughter’s nap. This 20-40 minutes of meditation per day is a big part of how I stay sane, positive, and engaged while working from home with a two-year-old, and it’s made a huge difference both my professional and personal life.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation has many proven benefits. It relieves anxiety and depression, improves concentration, boosts empathy, and increases well-being. It can literally change the structure of your brain.
My meditation practice is the only time during the day that I’m aware of my breathing! It’s my chance to slow down, relax, and pay attention to my body. It quiets my mind and helps me appreciate the moment.
Since I started regularly meditating two years ago, I’ve noticed an increase in patience, an overall feeling of calm in most situations, and a more intense focus on my goals. Meditating helps keep my mind from wandering into dangerous territory.
The great thing about meditation is that you don’t need anything to do it. Standard meditation involves sitting in a comfortable position, either on a chair or on the floor, and focusing on your breath going in and out of your body. As you breathe, let thoughts pass through your mind like clouds in the sky.
I prefer guided meditation. In guided meditation, someone walks you through a session. They tell you what to picture and when to breathe in and out. One of favorite meditations involves imagining that I’m sitting on a mountaintop and seeing blue sky all around me.
There are quite a few great apps for meditation. My recommendation is the Stop, Breathe, & Think app. It is free (with purchase options available in the app) and has many different meditations. The app gamifies meditation by rewarding you with stickers when you’re reached certain goals like meditating twice in one day, completing a streak of two days, or trying a new track.
Oprah and Deepak Chopra offer a free, 21-day guided meditation series every few months. These are great series and they are perfect for everyone, no matter your experience level. Each series focuses on a specific topic and can help you make major mental progress in that area.
Making it work
Of course, even if you build the perfect schedule, the best laid plans often don’t work out…especially when a tiny person dictates your schedule. Some days, my daughter gets up at an ungodly hour or I intentionally sleep in and I don’t have time for my morning meditation. Other times, my daughter refuses an afternoon nap and my practice is thwarted yet again.
When this happens, I have my daughter sit with me on the floor and do deep breaths. She is a bit too young to close her eyes and sit quietly for more than 10 seconds, but she does enjoy doing big breaths while lifting her arms above her head. Since she was about 18 months old, I’ve told her to take breaths when she’s been upset or angry. You don’t have to be a child to feel the benefits. Try it, it works!
Meditation has been a huge benefit to me both personally and professionally. As a mompreneur, it’s essential that I show my daughter that I am just as important as my business. I’m proud to demonstrate the importance of taking time for self care. I’m also happy to pass along these coping strategies before her life gets stressful.
My challenge to you: Take five minutes and try meditating today. I bet you’ll notice an immediate difference in the way you feel.
Do you ever wonder, “Am I worthy?” Do you question whether your work or blog are ‘good enough?”
I know I have at various points throughout my life…but my decision to become an entrepreneur seemed to kick these insecurities into overdrive.
I’d love to tell you that this feeling goes away, but the truth is that imposter syndrome will rear its ugly head over and over again when you’re your own boss.
If you’ve experienced this at all, I have good news: You’re human and you’re on the right track.
No one is exempt from imposter syndrome.
That’s why it’s so important to face it. Because if you simply let it do its thing, imposter syndrome will kill your business.
It’s hard to believe that imposter syndrome didn’t exist (at least by name) prior to the late 1970s when it was identified by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. Their research showed that many high-achieving women experienced something called the ‘imposter phenomenon’, which meant that “many tended to believe they were not intelligent and that they were over-evaluated by others.”
The scariest part when it comes to imposter syndrome is that it can keep you stuck and prevent you from taking action on important projects.
But it doesn’t have to be a “normal” part of solopreneurship; nor does it have to be the death sentence it can feel like.
I’m here to help you identify the ways imposter syndrome shows up for you, then develop an action plan to help you move past it faster next time. Because I believe the feelings of imposter syndrome are actually a promise of, or a prerequisite to, the great things yet to come.
4 simple steps to identify imposter syndrome in your business:
Develop a confidence meter. When you have confidence in yourself and your abilities, you’re less likely to feel like a fraud. The greater amount of confidence you have in your work, the easier it’ll be able to spot moments of imposter syndrome.
Kick comparisonitis to the curb. One sure fire way to discredit your expert status is to look at what others are doing. Remember: Only you can set benchmarks for you. You have no idea what that person went through to get where they are and you would be better off devoting that attention to your own business. (And any time spent looking at others can be done strategically.)
Check your self talk. Are you labeling yourself as a failure based on someone else’s success? If you find that you’re bashing yourself more than usual, chances are imposter syndrome is right around the corner.
Recognize your wins. Imposter syndrome tends to show up when you’re upleveling. This is also known as an upper limit problem. As you challenge old habits, grow, and expand, part of your mind will try to keep you safe by trying to convince you not to take risks or halt your development.
Here are a few of my favorite activities to connect with my friends:
Co-working days. Just having a change of scenery and a bit of company can be enough. Get out for a coffee chat or arrange a virtual coffee chat.
Role playing. Try hopping on the phone with your accountability buddy or friend and telling her some of what’s floating around in your head. Sometimes the simple trick of sharing your self talk out loud can help you identify the lies you are telling yourself more easily.
Instant/text messages. Sometimes meeting in person or hopping on the phone aren’t the best or most convenient options. If that’s the case, you can turn to instant/text messages. I used this trick the last time I was experiencing imposter syndrome. Just sending a quick message with my fears and concerns to someone else allowed me to boost my mood and reminded me that I could do anything. I went on to deliver my first live talk with great success.
But, sometimes just saying your affirmations doesn’t work. If this is the case for you, try writing them down.
Here’s a fun exercise: Break out your journal or a sheet of paper and write down 3-5 affirmations to combat your top fear.
For example, “I am worthy.” “I am successful.” “It’s ok to ask for money for my services.” “I am worthy and deserving of success.”
When you feel or hear that imposter syndrome lurking about, revisit that sheet of paper and read them, then recite them out loud…on repeat.
3. Catalog the good
I like to use social media to combat imposter syndrome.
Here’s how: I’ve created a Pinterest board devoted to imposter syndrome and I look at it whenever I need to boost my confidence or find inspiration. I’ve also created a private board, called smile, where I keep screenshots of my client testimonials. That way I can see how I’ve helped my clients and own my expert status. Create your own rainy day file and put it somewhere you can easily reference it.
Now: Create your action plan
Now you know exactly what steps you can take the next time your imposter syndrome shows up. But, will you?
The truth is after reading the cures, one of these four thoughts likely floated through your mind:
“It’s too easy.”
“It won’t work for me.”
“Whatever. I’m just not ready.”
“I’m waiting for a sign.”
I want to encourage you to notice these thoughts for what they really are — lies. The three unlikely cures for imposter syndrome are too easy not to implement, and they can work for everyone.
As I write this post, I’m thinking, “Who am I to write a post about imposter syndrome? I’m just not ready.”
To push past this, I asked myself two questions — part of my affirmations:
What would I do if I were ready?
When will I be ready?
Since my answer to the second question was, “I don’t know”, I decided to go ahead and implement my answer from the first question (and I just did it).
If I had allowed those thoughts to get the best of me, you wouldn’t be reading this post.
Embrace imposter syndrome
You are expert enough, good enough, and ready enough to take on (and conquer) whatever journey lies in front of you.
It’s your constant desire to be better that is going to fuel your creative inspiration and set you apart from everyone else.
You are unique. You are valued. And, it’s impossible to fake that.
You know that feeling: Your thoughts are flying at 90 miles per hour. It’s new business ideas, it’s deliverables, it’s remember-to-text-your-friend-tomorrow-it’s-her-birthday. It’s mental hyperventilation.
The thoughts are going so fast you can barely complete one before the next comes zooming along.
When you’re an entrepreneur, the professional is very personal. You’re pouring everything you have into your business. Work-life balance? Please. It’s not as though your life is here, and your business is over there. When you’re a one-woman shop, you wear all the hats. And with those hats come many responsibilities.
You knew it would be hard, but…
When you started your business, did everyone and their uncle tell you it was going to be hard? That advice can be frustrating because it’s not actionable.
No one told me what exactly to do when the going got tough. I don’t mean to imply that we have the corner on tough professions: a lot of jobs are challenging. But there is something unique about being solely responsible for all the moving parts. And since it is impossible to be good at everything, it’s inevitable that some of our responsibilities are hard for us.
That can feel pretty devastating when you are all you’ve got.
This professional stress is often compounded by a lack of structure that traditional jobs can provide. There is no boss holding you accountable, no annual review, no regular paycheck. You have to make those things happen. When I started my business, I became a lot more anxious about money, my value, being respected, imposter syndrome, spending “enough” time with friends and family, having non-work-related hobbies, and taking care of myself. These worries add a mother load of pressure to our work responsibilities.
Sometimes our thoughts are so relentless it feels like we’re trapped. Get me out of my head! you want to scream. It’s a like a tea kettle: After enough heat, the whistle starts shrieking, signaling that something’s got to give. So what happens? An epic meltdown. Tears, screaming, wanting to punch things, panic attacks, and more.
It might take a while, but afterwards, we feel better! The release brings clarity and can prompt good change.
Cycles of pressure and release are inevitable, and help us learn and grow. The problem occurs when we avoid these releases until they are explosions. Periodic meltdowns are natural, but epic meltdowns are painful, and they needn’t be so debilitating. What can we do to mitigate these epic meltdowns? Embrace — and complete — the cycle.
Let yourself complete the cycle
Let’s talk evolutionary biology: When we feel threatened, our mind wants to fight, flee, or freeze, accompanied by a huge dose of adrenaline. And if we freeze, that adrenaline has nowhere to go. Like a tea kettle, it eventually explodes out of us in tears, screaming, or punching.
When the “threat” we perceive comes from frequent, low-to-medium level anxiety (as opposed to, say, being attacked by a lion), fight and flight don’t make sense. So we freeze, but the pressure is still there. We go along, ignoring the anxiety or staving it off with coffee, wine, and sweets. Unless we create a “valve” to release the pressure and complete the cycle, it builds until we melt down.*
So how do we release the pressure before it explodes out of us? What follows are a list of “valves” you can build into your days to complete the cycle regularly and prevent epic meltdowns. Your task? Figure out which are the best ways for you to release the pressure you feel.
2. Hug: Oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social bonding and tempers anxiety, is released with physical contact. A long hug or cuddle will boost your oxytocin levels and make you feel more connected and confident, thus releasing pressure.
3. Meditate: Regular meditation helps relieve anxious thoughts and reminds you of other parts of your life besides the whirring of your mind: physical sensations, sounds, breathing. I found meditation difficult (for many of these reasons!) until I discovered guided meditations through the app Insight Timer. Now, regular meditation helps me release the pressure that builds up while I’m entrepreneuring. A favorite meditation is Mindfulness for Releasing Anxiety, by Glenn Harrold and Russ Davey.
4. Practice self care: Taking care of ourselves focuses our attention on our bodies and, unlike much of what we do in business, isn’t for anybody else: It’s just for us. Regular self care is in healthy contrast to the pressure we feel when running businesses. As my entrepreneur friend Lauren explained in an email, “Here’s what I do when I want to relax — I take care of myself. I put on a face mask and have some wine, or a bath, or I paint my nails, or I do a hair treatment. It’s completely removed from work and my computer, and yet I still feel a sense of accomplishment because afterward my skin is nicer.”
5. Talk: When pressure is rising in your mind, tell someone about it. Saying your thoughts out loud changes them; they sound different than they feel in our minds. It may help to have designated people to talk to about this, such as a best friend, partner, or fellow entrepreneur. You can help each other release pressure by questioning whether you agree with your thoughts or brainstorming solutions for whatever brings you anxiety.
6. Write: If confiding in another person isn’t your thing, try writing. Get the thoughts out of your head and onto something physical. If you keep track of thoughts on paper, your brain doesn’t have to try so hard to remember them and hold you accountable. When I’m feeling particularly fearful, I write down what I’m afraid of, and then brainstorm actions I could take that would mitigate my fear. I don’t have to act, but it gives me confidence to know there are steps to take that will improve the situation.
7. Tears: Sometimes all there is to do is cry. The physical release (tears) lets us process and symbolically release thoughts and feelings we keep inside. Recently I felt anxious and vulnerable about the future of my business. Instead of ignoring it, I went for a walk, sat by a creek, and cried. It wasn’t fun, but I felt much better after I let myself cry, rather than trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.
We solopreneurs are self-reliant, brave, and driven people. We want to do all.the.things, and with ambition comes pressure. As the pressure accumulates, it has to come out. We can ignore what we feel, but it will release — epically. We do ourselves and our businesses the best service by letting the cycle complete. I urge us all to release the pressure regularly, and avoid the shrieking of that tea kettle.
What do you do to release pressure? How do you manage and/or avoid meltdowns? Please share in the comments!
P.S. Trying out a few of the options above to avoid explosions will help you in identifying your “non-negotiables” — what One Woman Shop calls the essentials of Solopreneur Sanity. Find more about it in their free, 5-day email course below.
*Author’s note: The concept of completing the cycle was introduced to me in chapter four of Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, an excellent book on women’s sexuality. Many of my suggestions for completing the cycle are adapted from that book.