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Mental health of a not so new entrepreneur

Threads to hang on to when your startup is pushing you to the edge


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sana sabah

3 years ago | 5 min read

Your own cosy office space. Cute furniture. A small setup for tea/coffee breaks at your workplace. The bliss of being your own boss. Absolutely no one to rebuke you when you’re late, and no one making you stay late on a weekend. These are some of the shiny aspects of running one’s own startup.

But what shines isn’t gold. Right?

Or is it?

When one decides to run a startup of one’s own, the sense of adventure, the adrenaline pumping in one's blood makes it hard for one to realise that at some point the throbbing blood in the veins starts to boil and leads to immense stress.

No one warned you about the constant self-doubt that will keep your vision clouded. Nobody told you that the rate of success is going to be so gradual and so thin-stretched that you won’t be able to appreciate that it happened to you.

It’s surprising that our magazines, news channels, and newspapers are strewn with happy success stories. You read those interviews of young entrepreneurs and immediately start questioning yourself, what are you doing wrong.

Not realising even for a second that nobody wants to hear stories of a rainy day, so everybody has to come up with the beautified version of their narrative if not for gaining momentum in sales, then at least for some validation among relatives and friends.

But, here I am writing to tell the world, that running a business is the most difficult scenario you can put yourself through. It’s like having a baby. People might not be a parent, but do have an opinion on how to raise YOUR BABY. Constant judgement is hell.

If you’re the owner of a cosy office space, then you have to keep it clean, including the restroom, all by yourself. Those tea breaks are followed by washing the dishes on your own. If there’s nobody to make you be on time, you have to rebuke yourself to get things in order.

If you have a small reliable team, then you’re responsible for their well being. Those meetings that you’re able to bag in fancy, glossy buildings, are spooked with people doubting you with every word you’re uttering.

And then there’s your beloved family, that is also trying really hard to be supportive, but you’re aware of how difficult it is getting for them. Social life? What..?

But if running a business is so difficult, what makes people stay back, and not quit to join a safe job that pays better, and cushions you by letting you have a relaxed, guilt-free weekend.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that your job might pay a lot but is also very challenging. But let’s be honest here. At least there’s a nice paycheque waiting for you at the end of every month. That is surely better than having to choose whether to spend money on buying a new harddisk for the office, or to get a new pair of jeans for yourself.

Guess what? I’m here to answer the above question. This answer you can forward to your friends and relatives who know just one business-term and can’t stop asking about it, “So what’s your turnover”? The question might be a single one, but there are many answers.

Answer 1: It’s not just about money

(Okay, this one is more focused on the social entrepreneurs working for profit. I promise the next answers will be more inclusive. I swear.)

The primary reason that social entrepreneurs are often (more like always) confused as an NGO is because the goals of such organisations are actually focused towards social welfare.

The money making intent for such organisations often takes a backseat. For example, my organisation, Shuruart strives to help student artists from small towns sell their paintings online. Sounds simple, right?

We sell the paintings and we share the revenue with the artists (I remember once being called a Dalaal, in a meeting, by an ex-diplomat of UNO. Freaking UNO). But selling is just one aspect of what we do. We strive to help the artist learn to become an art entrepreneur once she leaves college.

This involves rigorous grooming of a crowd that lacks digital knowledge and basic English communication skills. In this scenario can you really compare the joy of seeing an artist start her own YouTube channel with the money we earn by selling her art?

C’mon, tickle that SRK from Swades that’s in you. Putting in simple words. Being able to make someone’s life better even when you’re not exactly swimming in money is always, always a better feeling.

Answer 2: It’s moving like a sloth, but it is moving further

You have invested the prime of your life to your work. You have made those mistakes that you were supposed to make. You have spent that money. But now your focus has become narrower.

You might still have a hard time finding a lot of buyers, but at least you now have a product that some organic consumers have paid for, used, and loved even. This means that you must be doing something right. You just need to keep digging. You have come this far.

You now have the experience, more knowledge, you’re more resilient now, you’re well equipped to handle that money flood when it’s going to happen.

After all this hard work, after all the bad things that happened to you, the only thing that lies ahead is GREATNESS. You might brush it off as naive optimism, but it’s only true. You’ve become better than when you started.

Answer 3: Your team

The real asset. I’m only mentioning this now for dramatic effect. One of the prime challenges of running your own startup is to find the right people who can help you reach your goal. After a lot of people leaving you for better or for worse you now have a team that shares your vision. Trust them.

Trust them more than you trust yourself. They’re next to your family. Value them. They’re going to help you reach places you never imagined you had the potential to. If not for them, going to the office where work pace resembled that of a tortoise would have been such a drag.

It is because of this camaraderie that you’re able to enjoy your work. It is because they’re there to tell you if you’re wrong, and they’re there to hold you if you fall.

Unlike the corporate space, you work hard to make each other successful. Celebrate your colleagues, for it is because of them that any challenge seems worth taking up.

Answer 4: It’s you dummy

You’re sticking to this dream of yours because you know how amazing a human being you’re turning out to be. You’ve become a living example of how hardships make us better.

You know you couldn’t have achieved this growth while working somewhere else. You couldn’t have worked on yourself at this extent like you have while running your own company. Those judgemental meetings have helped you to get rid of your arrogance.

The pressure of taking care of your colleagues has taught you to respect people, no matter what their age or qualification.

Cleaning your own space has made you more responsible for yourself. Washing those dishes after tea is totally worth the warmth exchanged while having it. Those self doubts constantly remind you to do better. Those doubts make you outdo yourself every single time.

As you’ll continue to grow (and you will), the challenges would only become more difficult. But you’re better prepared now. Remember, that you only came this far because you faced all the odds. You can face all the odds.

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