The Emotional Weight of Entrepreneurship

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I've run my business for fifteen years and take great joy in sharing advice and war stories with aspiring entrepreneurs. The question that consistently comes up in these conversations is: What's the hardest part of running a business?

And while there are a hundred ways to Sunday to answer this question, I'd like to offer an answer that has taken me over a decade to learn but sits front and center with me in my role as a business owner - emotional endurance.

I think it's important for aspiring entrepreneurs to understand one important statistic before starting a company - 96% of companies fail within ten years.

While most aspiring entrepreneurs know the well-documented fact that the success rate of a new business is low, I've found that most attribute this to the financial stress that business ownership carries. And while this is true, I would argue that in a ten year window of running a company, it's not just the money that will bring you down. It's the emotional drain that comes along with it that will.

I'm talking about the day-to-day grind of the uncontrollable highs and lows. Any given day can feel like a meditation session followed by a roller coaster ride washed down with a bad break-up.

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs isn't to ask whether or not they're prepared to run the various areas of their business - it's to ask whether or not they believe they have the emotional endurance to tackle the grind on a daily basis.

For context, here are three examples of challenges I face that consistently drain my emotional endurance tank.

Business is very personal.

I am the first to acknowledge that I take business personally. In fact, I'm not really sure how people don't. To have any form of success in business, you pour your heart and passion into the business and strive to create amazing relationships with those around you. How do you not take these relationships personally? This past month alone, I've laughed, cried, fumed and fainted. I've supported and rallied around employees dealing with personal health issues only to turn around and find myself in their shoes as I learn about personal health issues within my own family. It's gut-wrenching stuff. But business doesn't stop. And the personal and the professional can't be truly separated. Because the day I receive this gut-wrenching news is the same day I go into the office to try and win that next big piece of business. This is what I mean by emotional endurance.

Your values are always challenged.
I was raised to believe that you should always stand up for what you believe in. But as my business has grown, I find myself saying more and more frequently, "It's not worth it." From sleazy landlords to deadbeat customers to deceptive vendors, very bad people squeeze their way into your business life no matter how hard you try to steer clear of them. They are a time-consuming menace, and I've come to learn that it is in my best interest to get them as far away from me as possible, as fast as possible, at all costs possible. But no matter the outcome, these people carry a substantial emotional cost. They challenge everything you believe is right - and if you're like me, you believe justice should be served upon them. What's right is right, right? Yet when you look at how many hours there are in the day and your responsibilities of running the company, you often swallow your pride, take the punch to the chin, and move on because it's the financially prudent thing to do. This is what I mean by emotional endurance.

You only tell part of the story.
I care what my employees, my family, my friends, and even strangers think of me as it relates to their belief that I am a person of good character. I make a lot of decisions throughout the week, and yet in a company of our size, most people won't have the chance to understand how I came to make a specific decision. They just see the outcome - and I hate that. They don't see the information I have in-hand that I'm not at liberty to discuss openly. There is no question that when people understand why a decision is made they are far more amenable to the outcome. But as our company grows, there is a speed and scale of decision-making that I must maintain - this is a firm reality. It's well known that entrepreneurship is a lonely track but aside from the loneliness, there's a level of vulnerability you experience when only a portion of your story is told. This is what I mean by emotional endurance.

These are just three examples - trust me, there are many more. None of this is meant to deter people from taking the path of entrepreneurship. It's been one of the most rewarding decisions of my life. Rather, my intent is to prepare them. Because like a marathon, only the prepared survive.