World Mental Health Day: Meet an entrepreneur that has overcome unbelievable odds to make her business a success
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By Kay-Dee Mashile
Entrepreneurship can be quite taxing and, literally, depressing. It's an isolated journey that one has to walk through to fully understand. It's often when you reap the fruits of your labour that you have an audience, thus making it look simple from the outside looking in. No one sees the sleepless nights and the tears you cry when you just can't anymore but have no choice but to keep going. If you have financial responsibilities towards your family, you have to do all this with an additional pressure. Failure and mediocrity aren't options, you simply have to excel and do so consistently. All while feeling absolutely alone. I know.
In this article, I will share some of the dangers to mental health that small to medium enterprise owners can encounter on their business building journey and how one can overcome or find help to overcome them. Most of the examples are from my personal experience and may differ from yours. However, you should be able to apply the principles in your own business and situation.
Some entrepreneurs struggle to work alone and this can become quite a struggle for them. If one also struggles with self-esteem and confidence in their product, working alone or being isolated can pose a risk to the growth of the business and the mental health of the business owner.
While we are still in the middle of the pandemic, it can be helpful to look for public places where you can do some of your work. Even if you decide to do admin at a restaurant every month or go to the local park to make some of your products. Whatever works for you. Another option is to reach out to close friends who can come to your house and help you with some of the work in a "fun" way. This will help you get feedback on your product in a relaxed atmosphere while also helping you carry the load of your work.
If you feel sad or uninspired for an extended period of time, do a self-check in to evaluate whether you're tired or actually experiencing signs of poor mental health. Seek help where necessary.
I remember my first meltdown as an entrepreneur. I had been pushing hard for 6 months as an entrepreneur. I had no back up plans, I just had to make it. Rent was due. Food had to be bought. And nobody understood why I would leave a "steady job" to start a new business. While I knew that I hadn't made a mistake, I still had the burden to prove to everyone else. Until one day, I just heard of my grandmother's passing and I just couldn't move for a whole moment. I remember feeling like I had nothing else to give, I felt depleted. I was too tired to even grieve.
At that moment, I decided to go off of WhatsApp (my main communication platform with clients) and just take a mental break. During that time, I evaluated my life for things that I needed and those that I just wanted. Consequently, I downgraded my lifestyle to reduce the pressure I had to make a certain amount each month. Thereafter, I communicated with people who depended on me that I couldn't help them anymore while I grew my business. I had to come to terms with where I was and make the necessary adjustments to help me stay alive to get to where I want to be.
The first thing to do when you're exhausted is rest. I promise you, your business will be better off. You can get a lot more done when you're rested than when you're exhausted. Take a break, schedule it if you must. This year, I decided that I wouldn't work on Saturdays. That has helped me build the necessary boundaries to allow myself time to rest. Maybe a whole day is a bit far reaching, try starting with an evening. Reach out to friends and do things that refresh you. At the end of the day, you're your most valuable asset.
In the past year, not only did I have to worry about the pandemic and the financial implications thereof; I've also had to face a client who just wouldn't pay, another who decided that I was too young to deserve her respect and another who decided they didn't want or need the product I had spent 5 hours on in the middle of the night.
As an entrepreneur, your clients are your main sources of income. In this day and age where things are happening online, anything can happen. And these things can really become stressful and take a toll on one's mental health.
So, how do you deal with such? My best advice is: walk away. There will be more clients and more opportunities to make money. Walk away as soon as possible.
Financial strain and stagnation
Granted, money is a real issue when you have to actively make all the money that you earn. Feeling stagnant or as though your business is not growing can cause a lot of anxiety and stress.
The solution for this is quite simple, diversify your income streams. When I am not releasing a new book, I make sure that I am working on content and looking for other partnership opportunities to make an income. In times and seasons when all my streams are making a profit, I save. Saving is the best thing you can do in your peak seasons as an entrepreneur. This will also afford you the opportunity to rest in the future and take the necessary risks you need to grow your business.
Inability to find time for work at home
Lastly… this has been a real struggle for all of us, both self-employed and employed people have had to work from home. From having to balance chores, children and work to having to make time to eat and rest, this can be quite a high mountain to climb.
The solution looks different for everyone. For me, it means cleaning the house before bed and making sure that everything I will need in the morning is done before I sleep. This also gives me time alone while my family is sleeping. I used this time to unwind and plan the next day. Or just rest from work. Next, I give myself one main task each day. This allows me to work without putting myself under too much pressure while also getting to all I have to do within the week. Lastly, I schedule everything! This helps me structure my day. Unless I'm chasing a deadline I can't do much about, I stop work at 6pm and spend time with my family. As I mentioned before, I'm intentional about not working on Saturdays and going to church on Sundays.
At the end of the day, we need ourselves the most. It is up to each of us to take care of ourselves. If you need help, reach out to a friend or someone you trust in your professional network. Look for volunteers to help you with the work if you need practical help. Whatever it is that you do, you never have to be alone.
Kay-Dee Mashile is an artist, author, publisher, active citizen and an advocate for the rewriting of the African narrative. She is also part of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers Network, a network of over 4200 young people equipped to drive change for the public good.