The Momentary Breakdown (and Breakthrough) of a Successful Entrepreneur

Every so often, I have a break down. Stress gets to me. I feel overwhelmed. Like I can’t breathe. That everything I’m doing is too much. I look at the path I’m walking and I conclude, temporarily, that I must have been kidding myself when I thought I could run my own business. I let doubt creep in, and then consume myself with it.

I worry. I worry too much. Even though I’ve been at this for nearly three years, I always wonder if the next client will come, or if I’ll be able to deposit the next paycheck. They keep coming, and I keep getting paid, but I still worry.

You see, I’ve tasted success. Success beyond what I ever expected of myself at this age. Maybe ever. And I never want to let that go. I never want to take my finger off the pulse of what I’ve created. The life I’ve helped to create for my wife and I.

As Jill Felska said in this very poignant post a few months back:

“…The thing is, we don’t stop. We continue to go and go and go. To us, I think the only thing scarier than not succeeding is the thought that all the work we’ve done to get ourselves here would go to waste…”

So I push hard. Then I push harder. I take on new challenges. I decide, on a whim, that I think it’s time to train for a marathon. Yet another responsibility to add to my already full plate. It’s this little game I play with myself called, “How much can I take on before I explode?” – So far, no explosion, so I can keep taking things on, right?

And yet I still believe it’s going to get better. My wife asks me every couple weeks, “When is it going to get easier?” to which I respond, half-heartedly, “Soon”. Because you have to work more to work less, right?

What you hear about entrepreneurship is how amazing it is. How intoxicating the freedom of answering to only yourself can be. How incredibly rewarding it feels to take ownership of your accomplishments.

Hell yes. It’s all of those things, and then some. But what you don’t hear is about the constant stress and pressure of having to be “always on”. What it’s like to forget what a a “real” weekend is like. That with accomplishments, comes failures, angry clients, missed deadlines, proposals denied. All of which fall directly to you. It can be a tough pill to swallow.

Entrepreneurship puts you in the drivers seat. It gives you great power. But with that power, comes great responsibility. Responsibility you’re not going to be ready for, until you’re faced with it. Until you have to be. Until you’re forced into making a bold decision, in the moment, that’s going to feel impossible to make.

Don’t let the aspirational words of wisdom and motivational “you can do it” mantras of bloggers and self-help gurus fool you. As much as you can, you can’t. And you shouldn’t. If you’re forever trying to keep up with someone else, you’ll realize that you’re never, ever going to be satisfied.

I read this post by my friend Nicole yesterday, in which she describes her breakdown after the realization that she couldn’t afford her son’s medicine It wasn’t so much the story, but her final conclusion, that resonated with me:

“…I realize that we are all fighting a battle in one way or another. Whether we have no money, or too much money, or too much pain – we are all battling our own version of the system – large and small…”

We all struggle. In different ways, shapes, and forms. This shit is hard. The whole, life thing. Whether you’re running your own business, working in an office, or unemployed. We’re all struggling. But we’re all succeeding. 

Nicole faced first-hand how much of a bitch our healthcare system can be, but no doubt realized and realizes how amazing it is to have a beautiful little guy in her life to take care of and call her son.

Jill had a breakdown a few months ago, but after a few tears and some dark chocolate, realized that she felt stronger and more empowered than ever before.

This weekend I wrote a $20,000 check to the IRS. My “tax return”, if you will. It felt like someone shot me in the stomach, kicked me in the nuts, then shot me in the stomach again. I was legitimately depressed. But then I put some things in perspective. Last year my wife and I traveled to new places, we bought a house, my company grew exponentially, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and life is good.

I surmized that it wasn’t always easy and it’s never going to be. But it was and always is totally worth it. I didn’t say goodbye to half my life savings, I said hello to a clean slate of building on the success of last year and making this year that much better.

Which just goes to show that in the midst of our breakdowns, comes breakthrough…

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