Extreme stress, lack of sleep, constant uncertainty, social isolation; these are things that entrepreneurs know all too well. This can quickly lead to a destructive cycle of toxic behaviour, which is the reason why entrepreneurs should be especially careful when it comes to their mental wellness.
At the final Entrepreneurship To The Point Session of 2018 hosted by Property Point, the Growthpoint Properties initiative, entrepreneurial wellness came under the microscope. Social entrepreneur and advocate for future business Lesley Donna Williams shared her personal story of dealing with mental and emotional issues as a result of work.
Lesley is CEO at Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, owner of Lesley Donna Williams Consulting and founder of Impact Hub Johannesburg in 2010 - the first in Africa and now one of over 100 Impact Hubs in major cities around the world. Together with her many successes, Lesley has also experienced failure, gone through difficult times, and struggled with balance and wellness.
She reminded the Entrepreneurship To The Point audience that even though many unhealthy aspects of business are glamorised – working around the clock, getting by on a little sleep and a lot of caffeine, winning at all costs, shouldering extreme stress – it is impossible to operate a business sustainably if your mental well-being is not taken care of.
Lesley Donna Williams’s eight tips for working towards entrepreneurial wellness, managing the stresses of entrepreneurship, and avoiding toxic habits:
Have an identity beyond your venture
We take our businesses so personally; they consume all of who we are so we forget that there are far more facets to us. Make time to express and nurture those other sides to you.
Make time for yourself
Give yourself space to breathe. Big holidays can be a big pressure, and it can be difficult to be away from your business for longer periods. Rather, aim to take small holidays such as a long weekend about every six weeks, if possible. Take that one day, whether you go away, have a ‘pyjama day’ or spend time in nature.
Mind your ego
It’s easy to get caught up, for example, in media attention or winning awards. It may not feel like ego because it’s nice to get affirmation and recognition when you work really hard, but be mindful of overexposure. Society wants a piece of what you are doing, especially when you are pioneering. Society wants superheroes. You don’t need to buy into that.
Listlessness is a red flag
When the things you are super passionate about no longer energise you, it’s a warning sign. For Lesley, this was especially telling, in retrospect. “I usually feed off the energy of people and love being in company, but I found myself withdrawing and saying no to invitations too many times,” she says. There’s a difference between taking time out for self-reflection and being listless for a long period of time.
Make space to mourn or deal with trauma
While we are running our ventures, life is happening. Family members may pass away, you may have a vehicle accident or be a victim of crime. “Beware of continuous suppression and parking issues,” cautions Lesley. “We often think that we can put off facing life’s trials because there is a business deal that needs to happen or we still need to show up for a meeting. But things pile up and become toxic in us if we don’t recognise them and deal with them.”
You don’t arrive at well-being
Well-being is not a one-off action. It’s a continuous thing. It is important to remember this because it is so easy to spin back into practices of burnout.
Beware of making critical decisions when you’re in a bad space
When you’re in a bad space, it’s easy to end up dating someone simply because they’ve shown interest; business partnerships are the same. When in a poor state of mind, we treat so many critical things in our business without taking sufficient time to reflect if it is a wise action, especially if we don’t have wise counsel around us. If you are not in a good space, you need to have people to call you out.
“This is a tough one. As overachievers and highly motivated individuals, entrepreneurs are often perfectionists and when things don’t go to plan we have a tendency to continuously focus on the shortcomings instead of celebrating what can go well and what has gone well,” says Lesley. So, how do you celebrate? Do something symbolic to high-five yourself, whether treating yourself to a sushi dinner or blasting your favourite song and dancing along. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but do it.