I had one of my worst days recently. It was one of those days that one disappointing thing happened right after another. The hits just kept on coming. By afternoon, when I got yet another message about bad news, the camel’s back broke. It was the last straw, and I had a very difficult time staying positive.
I frequently read articles about how successful entrepreneurs are able to handle tough situations with grace and style. Or at least, the advice is to maintain a positive attitude and learn from failure. These entrepreneurs don’t miss a beat. They are always upbeat, nothing gets them down, and they can handle problems under fire. Or perhaps — that is the ideal.
I used to think that I couldn’t be a successful entrepreneur if I wasn’t always positive and upbeat. But the reality is that how entrepreneurs handle negative circumstances isn’t about always staying positive. It’s about grit.
I still think there is benefit to remembering why positivism is important. But I learned a long time ago that I am human, and humans have ups and they have downs. As much as I aspire to be like the ideal, I am not. I am human, and I have flaws as well as assets that I bring to the table.
I recently heard Effie Brown, a film producer, speak at the 99U Conference in New York City, and she gave her advice to creative leadership. Her first piece of advice — know yourself. I reflected on this idea for a long time. Who am I, and what character assets and flaws do I have?
My team actually had a chance to talk about this is one of the trust exercises we did earlier this year. We did an exercise where everyone talked about the assets and flaws they bring to the team, and then each person had the opportunity to agree or disagree and explain why. This was an extremely difficult and eye-opening experience for me. It takes a lot to be vulnerable in front of other people.
Some of my team members called me passionate because I am passionate about my company and what we do. I truly believe we are making a difference for our clients, for their customers, and for our own people. That passion drives my high energy levels when I talk to people about Standard Beagle. And my energy levels affect the team. When I have high energy, everyone feels it.
Unfortunately, that passion has a dark side. When I feel low, my energy and passion reflect this just as strongly. And this also affects my team. I would love to say that negative events and disappointment bounce right off of me like I’m rubber. But sadly — not so.
I believe the mark of a successful entrepreneur is someone with grit and determination. This is what I strive for. My grit is my resilience– not lack of emotion. I’ve learned to accept that I feel disappointment and low energy. I’ve learned to accept that I have bad days. I’ve learned that part of who I am is that passionate being who feels upset and needs to feel every negative emotion so that I can bounce back.
So if you’re like me — a person who has feelings and flaws and has bad days — know that there are things you can do to help yourself pull through even the darkest days. Because sometimes you’re going to feel like you want to give up. Rather than ignoring it, here are some of the things I do to pull through:
Let yourself cry
This is really hard for me. Crying feels like a sign of weakness. And the worst thing in the world is for me to cry in front of other people. But I try to tell myself that crying is just a release of intense emotions. It’s an effective way to empty your emotional wastebasket. And you gotta empty those emotions out so you can fill yourself up with happiness. There’s a reason why crying feels better. So let yourself do it. And the sooner you let yourself, the sooner you can move on.
I go to my car and cry. This way no one sees me, and I can still get it all out.
Talk it out
Fortunately, I have a great support network of friends. Unfortunately, I shy away from talking to them when I feel low — when I need them most. Again — I have a hard time with this because it feels like a weakness. Here’s what I have learned to do: trust certain individuals with knowledge that you need them when you want to talk the least. Do this before it happens. Then, when you are down, let them know. I have friends that understand I have a hard time talking, so they fill the void with positive thoughts and hugs and just waiting for me to open up.
Find something to focus on
This can seem impossible when you’re upset. I find I am incapable of high-level thought because my mind is so focused on the sadness. So what I do is focus on a small task that doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power. It can be cleaning up my desk or organizing the contacts on my phone. Something.
Go for a walk
Exercise is a great way to get out emotions, but when I am really upset I have found that all I want to do is sit and stare at a ceiling. Going to a workout class is the last thing I want to do. But I can and will walk. I put on my headphones, blast music in my ears, and walk my dog all over my neighborhood. By the time I get back, I’m feeling a little better.
Remove yourself from the room
This is related to going for a walk, but has more to do with protecting people around you from toxicity than self-care. I am well-aware that my mood affects my team, so when I am really upset, I stay away until I’ve had a chance to regain my energy. I work at home or from a coffee shop for a while — whatever it takes to keep my toxic mood away from the team. It’s not hiding — it’s protecting everyone else from me. It usually only takes a few hours of working remotely to restore my mood, and the team benefits greatly.
I would rather have all great days and nothing but smiles, and most of the time — that’s what we have. But just as in life, business has bumps in the road. Being an entrepreneur is about grit. Know who you are and how you navigate the tough times, and you already have an advantage.