As an entrepreneur, I have undergone a great deal of personal and professional stress over the last 10 years. My devotion from the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey has always been to the clients. I swore to myself from the very beginning that I would do everything correctly, and never make a mistake. Like during my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I knew that if I did my homework correctly, aced all the tests, and never missed a class, I would undoubtedly make an A in the class. I approached entrepreneurship the same way. Just as in school, I crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s.
I gave it my all. For a while I lived in my office because I was afraid to take a salary. As a matter of fact, I did not draw a paycheck for three-and-a-half years. I made 30 cold calls a day and I sold, sold, sold. I always answered the phone; I put myself last, and yes, the company got what it needed. However, my mental and physical health drastically suffered.
My teeth grinding became exacerbated to the point that my jaw would freeze shut. My anxiety levels became unbearably high, to the point I developed migraines. I gained weight, lost patience with my employees, and in many ways became an unpleasant person. There came a point where something had to give.
I have a strategic partner who believes strongly in branding oneself. She has her own website, writes books and gives speeches. Essentially, she is a role model to others in the industry. Following her example, I thought to myself, “If I am going to brand myself, I must care for myself, and I must like myself.” This led to a profound paradigm shift.
In retrospect, my high stress levels and subsequent attitude had alienated some employees. My thoughts ran faster than they could work, and this made some employees feel as though I did not respect their time. I was short with them, and this led to bad attitudes. The bad attitudes ultimately led to the turnover. It became obvious that the first step in my self-care needed to be transforming myself from the inside out. My transformational journey can be summed up on the following steps:
1. Decide upon a leadership approach.
I decided to at least attempt becoming a transformational leader — that is one who provides a nurturing environment where employees are encouraged to learn and transform themselves as well as the company, in a professionally structured work environment. In doing so, I changed the lighting in the office, brought in a refrigerator with food and drinks, started offering paid vacation to people on salary, and began offering continuing education to the staff.
2. Work through your managers.
I decided to adhere to the corporate hierarchy already in place and work through my managers rather than going directly to employees. This forces me to respect their time and not disrupt their flow of work because it is the manager who discusses matters with the employee according to the employee’s schedule, and not me. In many ways, this makes me “the good guy,” and perhaps makes me more approachable. If an employee has a legitimate concern, they might feel more willing to approach me with a solution.
3. Hire competent people.
In the beginning, I had people in positions who were not qualified. As the business grew, it quickly became obvious that these individuals were in way over their heads, and everyone suffered. My stress levels skyrocketed, and my anger reached a boiling point. As the company grew, I upgraded my staff, allowing me to loosen the reins and put more responsibility on others.
4. Do not hire people who think they are doing you a favor.
I have learned that if someone says, “I don’t need the money,” or “I am just working here to help you out,” they need to be shown the door immediately. Entrepreneurs need people who need to work, who want a career and who want to transform themselves as well as the company. If these motivations are not there, then employees develop bad attitudes, leave early, and remind you constantly that they are doing you a favor. As business owners, we need to pat ourselves on the backs and realize that we create jobs and we create opportunities for professional and personal growth. Employees that are money-motivated, and motivated to better themselves as well as the company, become a substantial asset. Anything else is unacceptable and needs to be cut loose. Employees that think they are doing you a favor by working for you merely increase stress levels in the long run, and demotivates other employees. Keeping your employees all on the same page in terms of motivation is essential to keeping stress levels under control, and entrepreneurial self-esteem at the forefront.
5. Respect your own time, and then others will follow suit.
I simply had to start making clients respect my time. In making myself constantly available, I allowed clients to essentially manipulate my entire day. While I treasure my clients and tell them they are welcome to call me at any time, I have learned that I am not always able to answer or drop everything to come and see them. I have a schedule of dates and times that often are scheduled out weeks in advance. I also blog at scheduled times, exercise, and spend time with my family. All of these activities are critical to self-care, and once I started respecting my time, others did also. This predictability in my schedule has contributed to much needed down time, where I am able to decompress and return to work refreshed.
6. Start exercising and eating right.
The stress of my career completely exhausted me by the end of the day. As a result, for many years, exercise of any sort remained completely out of the question. Consequently, I gained weight and became very physically uncomfortable. As part of my entrepreneurial self-care routine, I started working out with a personal trainer three days a week and made these times non-negotiable. While exercising, I do not see clients and I do not answer the phone. As a result, exercise has become an integral part of my life, and my stress levels have gone down substantially. Additionally, my adoption of a low-carb, high-vitamin-B12 diet has lowered my stress levels and literally changed my life for the better.
In conclusion, the starting and maintaining of a healthy business ultimately requires a physically and mentally healthy person at the helm. While the conditions of entrepreneurship make it easy, and sometimes even preferable to let yourself go, it simply is not healthy for the entrepreneur or the business in the long run. Entrepreneurial self-care is ultimately a requirement for the creation and sustainment of a transformational working environment. By choosing a leadership style, refining it and then bettering yourself as a leader, your business and entire entrepreneurial experience will be better for everyone involved. Ultimately, clients, as well as employees, will be encouraged to transform themselves and the opportunities provided by the business will become an overwhelmingly positive experience. Following the self-care steps outlined in this article will lower stress levels for everyone and lead to an overall happier, healthier company.