5 ways to Reduce Entrepreneurial Stress when you Quit the Day Job

After years of working for someone else, when you finally get the opportunity to start working on your own project, to actually be the entrepreneur that you wanted to be, it is a joyous day and also a downright terrifying one. Chances are you didn’t just decide to quit your day job and do so without any planning or forethought. Most of us nurture a business idea for months, if not years, strategising on how to make a living doing what we love, saving money to keep us afloat whilst setting up the business or creating a side hustle, before making the leap to cut ties with our employers and go it alone.  Regardless of how much planning and thought go into your new venture, it is likely that at some point, possibly many points along the way, you will feel the pressure of cash flow and other entrepreneurial stresses when things do not go entirely to plan.

Entrepreneurial stress can take the form of mild gloom and self doubt, ranging to full blown heart palpitations and panic, resulting in paralysing procrastination and fear.  Not fun. And it is easy to cycle through a vast array of emotions on a daily if not even hourly basis, because being a solopreneur is lonely and you spend way too much time in your own head with your own thoughts and no one around rein in the crazy.

Starting your own business takes a vast amount of confidence, self belief and courage, so it is not surprising at all that even the most seasoned of entrepreneurs can waver in the face of inevitable obstacles and start to feel less than on top of their game. A great thing to do if you haven’t already tried it, is to seek out or form a Mastermind group.  Simply a group of other entrepreneurs who you can bounce your ideas off and use to help hold you accountable to your goals, in a gentle but firm way.  Everyone needs a measure of guidance and support, and like minded individuals who know exactly how you feel, can be a source of tremendous strength.

It can be difficult to discuss your doubts and anxieties with your friends and family because as much as they want to support you, there is a good chance that they think you are half crackers anyway, simply because you left a safe, solid job to pursue your dream.  As nice as it is to have people you love concerned for you, it can be downright unhelpful to deal with the unique stress of entrepreneurship.

But like it or not, you are the entrepreneur and this is your gig. And like it or not, you can’t always find a way to escape the thoughts that whiz around in your mind.  I’ve always found that confronting my fears and reasoning through them, is the only way that I can overcome them.  It is not as easy as saying it and at times it takes far longer than I would like before I can reason my way back to productivity, but there is no other way so it must be done. I find journalling can be really helpful and keeping a record can be useful if the same demon rears it’s ugly head again. Here is a short list of unhelpful, but not unusual negative thoughts that have plagued me and the rationale that I use to defeat them.  Your conversation with your inner voice could sound different to mine, but I sincerely doubt that there isn’t an entrepreneur out there that hasn’t harboured at least one of these nasty thoughts in their heads at some point.

1. Everyone is better at this than I am.

Ok brain, it is time to stop looking at other people and comparing yourself with them, because it is not helping.  It is never going to help because you know absolutely nothing about them or what they are doing or what circumstances led them to be where they are.  You have no information or facts to support anyone else being better than you, so you are just telling yourself this to feel bad.

In reality, everyone has some times of struggle and some times of luck and you can’t determine that they are ‘better’ than you, any more than you can tell the future.  It is time to stop benchmarking yourself against imaginary targets and reach out for help.  If ‘they’ are in a place that you would like to be, ask some questions, learn from them.  And above all remember, that they were where you are now at some point and they got past it, so that means you can too.

2. If I was smarter and more capable, I wouldn’t make any mistakes.

Oh really?  There is no one on the planet that hasn’t made mistakes no matter how smart or capable they are.  You know that.  And you also know that the smarter and more capable people tend to take bigger risks, which can result in more epic mistakes with long ranging consequences.  It is scary, it is terrifying, but the innovations and advances in the world would not have taken place without the people who tried and failed and then tried again, until they got it right.

There is no doubt that mistakes suck and make you feel bad. Everyone in the world would like to coast through life without making a mistake and never feeling bad.  But you know that isn’t going to happen.  So you are going to make mistakes and part of the journey is learning how to deal with them and move on.  You can deal with the mistakes. You have been making them your whole life.  And you know the bad feeling passes with time and you will get past it.  This is just another one of those times. So wait for it to pass and figure it out.

3. If I fail at this dream, I will have thrown my life away.

Firstly, before you were doing this, you were doing something else, and you were good enough at it to make a living out of it.  You have skills and you have talents which are not going to evaporate no matter what happens with your current venture.  The only thing that will stop you from using your skills and talents is fear. So if you do fail, and I’m not saying you will, but if you do, you are still going to possess all the abilities you now have and more, so you will be able to use them to do something else.  It may hurt your heart, but it is possible to move on because you will still be you.

Secondly, you don’t know that you will fail, any more than you know that you will succeed.  And if you can’t guarantee your success, then your failure is not guaranteed either.  So give it your best shot.  And if it doesn’t work out, refer to first point.

4. I will never be able to make a dent in the universe because I am too inconsequential and irrelevant.

You are not inconsequential or irrelevant unless you want to be. By the way, how are you measuring your ability to make a dent in the universe?  You can make a dent by affecting just one person or you can make a dent by affecting millions or billions.  It is not any less of a contribution to help just one person or more of a contribution if you are helping millions. Why? Because say you save the life of one person, help them, make their life better and that person goes on to cure cancer.  Will you regret what you did or think you didn’t make a dent? Of course not.  You don’t know what sort of a snowball effect your dent will have.  And you may never know.  And that is why you should commit to it.

What you need to focus on right now is doing the best job you can do and being passionate and loving your dream.  You need to nurture your work, make it grow, give it life and then you have done all you need to do to put a dent in the universe.

5. Everyone must be looking at me and thinking how stupid I am for even trying to do this.

Maybe, but how would you know unless you asked them?  And let’s just say you did ask them, and they did say you were stupid, does that make them right?  In fact, how do they really know about what you are doing at all?  If your entrepreneurial dream takes all your time and all your effort to succeed in, it has far more complexities than any person can guess by a casual observation. So are you really going to walk around feeling down because of opinions you can’t be sure exist, you can’t control, or if they do exist, would be missing many of the salient facts needed to make the right judgement call on what you are doing anyway.

And here is another thought for you to mull over.  Just like you fantasised about your dream before you started living it, other people wish in their hearts to be following their dreams too. There is a good chance that people looking at you are wishing that they had your courage, so they could pursue their own dreams. So rather believing the worst, think of ways to inspire them. That would be a gift worth giving.

So what next?

It is not an easy thing to stop the voices in your head from making you the worst version of yourself.  The fact that you have doubts and insecurities means that you are not a fool and you are sensitive enough to the understand nuances and complexities of being an entrepreneur. And that is a good thing.  So keep the dialogue in your brain two sided and even when it is tough and you are feeling at your worst, try to find a small measure of light and hope to keep you going. You may be on the cusp of success or even greatness and the world needs entrepreneurs and innovators just like you to give it your best shot.

A feminist’s fight in a boy’s club culture

This is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time.  Ever since I saw this great tweet during the 2016 presidential race, “Hillary (Clinton) is proof a woman can work hard, rise to the top of her field & still have to compete against a less qualified man for the same job”. (Tweet from @erinruberry) Brilliant, right?  It truly encapsulated everything that I was feeling about the blunderingly ridiculous tongue tied performance of Donald Trump during the presidential debates.  The rambling word spew when he was trying to talk about his strategy for dealing with ISIS and the war torn Mosul was unprecedented in a candidate aspiring to be the leader of the free world.  It would have been terrifying to think that a man running for president actually couldn’t articulate a response to a question that most 10th graders could have managed, except for the good folks at Saturday Night Live who managed to make us laugh at the absurdity of it all.  And boy did we need a laugh.  We still do.

But I digress. For intelligent, capable, hardworking women in business, the concept of the proverbial glass ceiling is an all too familiar one, and many have experienced it first hand in many ways. I am never surprised to hear stories from other women about how they have had to fight for recognition or been passed over for promotions they more than deserved for a less deserving male candidate. I am surprised but pleased to hear men say that they never understood the glass ceiling until they saw my wife/partner having to deal with it.  Comments like that have the wonderful effect of stopping the disparaging self talk, feelings of isolation and the second guessing of yourself which is all too common.

Conversely, I have come across one woman who said she didn’t believe in feminism and thought that all men were really lovely and didn’t try to hold her back.  She also flirted obviously with her married boss and said she would never be a feminist because she still wanted men to help her carry her bags and heavy luggage. I’m still puzzling over that one. Hopefully you understand that feminism is a movement to promote gender equality and fairness. Feminism does not mean you hate men or think they are evil.  Feminism does not mean that women can’t interact with men in a loving and cordial way. Feminism does mean that you don’t have to use your sexuality to vie for favours or acceptance from men.  Feminism means there are no double standards based on gender.

So this story begins in a large corporation, lead by an unmistakably boy’s club culture.  I first suspected the new management may have boy’s club culture when all the women on the senior leadership team were replaced by men, except for a lone female in HR.  Within months of the new VP arriving, we had gone from a 50/50 gender split on the leadership team, to one woman.

I knew for certain that it was a boy’s club culture when I worked on a launch plan for a new product acquisition.  I compiled all the background work on the product and the prospective market.  I had the numbers analysed and a strategy formulated. I had done all the work including the presentation without assistance and had been complimented for my thoroughness and skill.

However, I didn’t get to present any of this work to the clients because the meeting was held on a bike riding trip up a mountain and I wasn’t invited to attend. I had to dutifully hand over all my work and be ready to answer questions if required.  Yup, couldn’t have been more obvious if it had walked up and slapped me in the face; women were not to be included in the inner sanctum.

Things really came to a head when a new role was advertised internally to lead a sales and marketing team in my department. I had been seeking a promotion for a long time and was eager to progress in my career. The new role had 5 key criteria; 10 years experience in the field, an MBA qualification, sales experience, marketing experience and experience managing a team.  I was elated!  This was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I possessed all the criteria and as this role was advertised to go to an internal person, I knew that no one else in the organisation had the criteria required so there was a really good chance that I could be successful. Furthermore, the role was on the leadership team and if I was successful, this would mean two women on the leadership team.

How a mentor changed my life

There are a lot of things that I can find to be thankful for in life.  I’m sure everyone can and if you really dig down deep enough, the sheer number of things to be grateful for can be downright staggering. I have people that love me, I am very healthy and I have had all the benefits of a wonderful education and a very comfortable life filled with rich experiences and wonder.  And one of the things that I am most thankful for is that by fortuitous dumb luck, I came across a mentor early on who shaped and changed my life for the better. I say ‘dumb luck’ because at the time this person graced my life, I wouldn’t have understood the implications or even identified this person as a mentor.  It is only with the gift of hindsight that I have been able to grasp the good fortune that a chance meeting has bestowed upon my life.

In the modern world of business there has been much written about mentors and the role that they play in shaping careers and providing opportunities.  According to leading business thinkers you should definitely find yourself a mentor because it will lead to greater success and better overall wellbeing.  Articles have been written on how to find a mentor, what is the power of having a mentor, how to leverage the relationship and more. I find very little to disagree with in any of these articles. I would also note that it is not an easy thing sometimes to find a mentor, because like all relationships, there is a certain chemistry that is needed to get the flow just right. Many people I have spoken with shy away from finding a mentor due to the awkwardness of having to approach someone and ask them.  I totally understand that.  It would seem trite and a little strange.  I have been fortunately spared that awkwardness when I have found mentors, purely because I blindly stumbled into the situation and only discovered what was happening much later. My mentors however, canny individuals with more foresight than I possessed, seemed to select me. Why entirely I will never know. But I am eternally glad of it.

All mentor relationships are special and bring different things to your life.  However, I don’t think you ever forget your first. 🙂 And that is the one that I am reflecting upon right now.  Maybe there is someone like this in your life right now and you haven’t noticed and are blind to it as I was.  Maybe these musings will stir memories for you and help you to feel that relationship more deeply. But mostly, I would like to pay homage to an amazing man who had an amazing life and despite his passing away, will never be forgotten by me.

I met my mentor, lets call him Ray, when I was still in my late teens and working in a coffee shop/kebab takeaway. Literally the most unglamorous of venues, opposite a massive pub in the town of Brisbane, Australia.  Brisbane back then was no more than a little country town and the chance of meeting people from a vastly different background and life experience was rare.  Possible of course, but unlikely as people tended to swim in the circles they were familiar with and there was no need for extending your acquaintances. Most people were born and bred in Brisbane, lived happy and fairly uneventful lives under the gorgeous blue sky and warm sun of a lazy oasis. Things moved slowly and Brisbane was unlikely to take the centre stage in a milestone political event any time soon.

I went to work on minimum wage on the slow Saturday and Sunday shift, where most of the people that lit up the night drinking at the famed local establishments were sleeping off their hangovers and resting in preparation for the coming nights festivities.  So days were just Ray and I.  Chewing the fat and serving the slow trickle of slightly vacant patrons who needed caffeine, carbohydrates and fat to soak up the alcohol.

The America we want to deserve

I will never forget the first time that I realised why America is the leader of the free world and what that really looks like.  Sure, I had been on holidays to the United States before just like lots of other people; shopping in New York, theme parks in California.  But it wasn’t until I was part of the winning team of the John Heine Entrepreneurial Challenge in 2009 and was chosen to represent Australia in the Global Moot Corp Competition held at the University of Texas, that I truly understood the American impetus for driving business innovation and technology and how that in turn drives business globally.

The competitions that I speak of are aimed at MBA graduates who develop a business idea and plan, one which they intend to launch and pitch this idea to a panel of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The pitch is comprised of three parts; a written business plan, a business plan presentation by all team members for 30 mins with additional Q&A from the panel and a 60 second elevator pitch to an open audience by one team member, which was me. These competitions are not comprised of fluffy pronouncements about projected earnings or promises to produce the next best mousetrap.  The tech needs to be solid.  The financials need to be credible and stand up to the scrutiny of some very experienced investors like the Melbourne Angels. And the pathway to launch needs to have sound logistics. We fought hard during the Australian rounds and beat all the other competing Australian universities and we were confident in our prep work heading over to Texas for the global competition.

We had beefed up our pitch to focus on a larger launch plan encompassing the global markets, which would not only increase our potential earnings but would accelerate the path to market.  I had memorised my presentation and could say it verbatim in my sleep. I was there to win and so was the rest of our team.  Each member had worked hard and was willing to go the distance needed to win.

Our team was comprised of our founder and CEO, who had licensed the technology we were pitching from the CSIRO.  A finance expert who had been involved in many significant IPO’s on the ASX. A logistics expert who worked in plastics technology and design for a leading Australian manufacturer.  Our academic advisor and seasoned entrepreneurial coach. And me, practicing the dark arts of marketing and sales and highly proficient in jazz hands for presentations.

Despite the throngs of people, the University of Texas was just like any other university campus that I had ever seen more or less (Go Long Horns), just bigger and maybe a little bit prettier. It certainly didn’t create any degree of intimidation in me, just the joy of the buzz of all the competitors from leading universities around the globe who were just as determined as we were to win the competition for their respective countries.

Behind every Wonder Woman you find?

I unashamedly loved the new Wonder Woman movie. Loved it! Ha! It was exciting, action packed and the lead character was confident, intelligent, sassy and beautiful. Not to mention fit as hell with legs that went on forever. Gal Gadot oozed charisma on the screen and played one of the most iconic female superheroes like a boss.

However, perhaps like some others, I did approach the movie with some trepidation.  Would it turn out to be another failed attempt at mollifying feminists, stripping the plot and characters of their fun and relatability? Or would it be cheesy and lame with bad gags and a one dimensional leading lady who acted dopey in an unsuccessful attempt to be more sexy. What a revelation it was to see that it was none of those things. It was authentic, fun and delivered on what is demanded of the genre.

And there was one thing even better than seeing the movie. (Which is saying a lot because what is better than geeking out on a superhero movie? Am I right? 🙂 ) The thing that was even better was seeing the reaction on social media and the loads of fans who reasonated with the strong and cool female lead. The public gave the movie a huge bravo and the box office records responded in kind. Awesome.

Which got me to reflecting on female characters in current movies and TV. It goes without saying that there have been approvements in leaps and bounds in the last 10-20 years when it comes to how women are represented in pop culture. Previously there was basically no female roles other than the doe eyed, sweeter that sugar, brighter than a summers day, non-offensive, non-threatening, non-opinionated damsel in distress, that simply swooned with pleasure at a mere glance from the handsome leading man. And you know what? I’m a realist.  There are women who are genuinely like that.  They are not really women I tend to be friends with and I sometimes uncharitably question whether they are for real or if it is just an act, but there are most certainly women that conform to that archetype. What used to stick in my craw was the monotony of it.  There was no other role available it seemed and it got very boring, real quick. Other than the transcendent Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of the rebel warrior Princess Leia in Star Wars, there was basically meh, meh and more meh.

For the feisty, spunky girls who wanted nothing better than to slay and change the world, Hollywood and pop-culture used to provide no more inspiration than a diet of cardboard…or kale.  Thankfully those days are long gone.

Writing out loud to rekindle inner voice

Embarking on the 30 day writing challenge seems like a counterproductive solution to being overwhelmed with launching a business, but bear with me through the thinking on this one. I find myself smack bang in the middle of launching a business, with an aim to support myself and work towards achieving the life I want. A lofty goal and one which fills me daily with fears, reservations and self doubt…. all things that induce anxiety at best and cause paralysis at worst.

So in the midst of trying to figure out just what should be done to motivate me and push me to the next level, I was listening to a Fizzle podcast and heard from a Fizzler, Jonas Ellison who launched his blogging career, purely (sort of 😉 ) through doing the 30 day writing challenge and posting his thoughts online to build up his writing mojo. And like most things that come to you in the form of the proverbial bolt of lightening, inspiration and creativity, my brain shouted “Eureka” and that was that.  I knew how I was going to take the next step forward. A blog.  Musings, thoughts and spontaneous writing about things that I want to write about, for me… and maybe for you if you are reading this. Unlike journals which are private, a blog is the type of writing that forces you to compose your thoughts and make them at least somewhat intelligible for the reader.  Hence the training. Hence the discipline.  Hence the process (hopefully) to spur me onto action.

Culture shock in the Paris of the East

Moving to Shanghai, the so called Paris of the East, has been a bumpy ride filled with many new experiences, mostly all counterintuitive to your basic gut instinct of how things should function. I had heard of the term ‘culture shock‘ prior to moving here, but had never really embraced the full implication of the term. When I worked at the Queensland Ambulance Service, someone “going into shock” after an accident was dazed, confused, irrational, capable of walking into oncoming traffic and not really able to understand that this was essentially a poor life choice.

Culture shock as opposed to traumatic shock is like the more chronic version of it’s acute level cousin. You think you are perfectly fine, whilst stockpiling toiletries until your home resembles a WWII bunker and you can’t get in the front door.

Are your actions rational or productive? Not really. But unlike walking into oncoming traffic, you can get away with them for quite sometime before the sane part of your brain or peer feedback kicks in and forces you to reassess.

Now the upfront disclaimer here is that we are living in the very swanky Former French Concession Area.  TripAdvisor rates it as #11 of the places to visit in Shanghai because “it is appreciated for it’s cafes, tree-lined avenues and tudor houses”.  All true and if there is one place that is more of an oasis in a city of 23 million people officially or 27 million people unofficially, depending who you speak to, the Former French Concession Area is a place of relative peacefulness and cleanliness in the never ending peak hour debacle that is Shanghai. Or just China in general.

However, to truly appreciate the factors that lead me to my months long culture shock, I need to tell you few stories.