Whilst I’m not overly religious, I’ve occasionally perused various texts from several faiths and philosophies. One I came across many years ago was from a mystical writer known as St. John of the Cross. He popularized a state of emotional, spiritual despair and desolation known as ‘the dark night of the soul’
This is a state where one feels completely and utterly alone, devoid of any hope, context, relief and drive in one’s spiritual quest. The term ‘dark night of the soul’ has always intrigued me, and I think it’s an apt descriptor of the trials and tribulations most entrepreneurs and business owners experience from time-to-time too.
What might ‘the dark night of the soul’ look like for entrepreneurs? Well, here’s some ‘dark night’ characteristics that most of us who have owned a business have confronted at some time:
– No-one (not even those closest to you) believes in your entrepreneurial dream (either they never did, or they no longer do)
– You’ve lost sight of your core business mission and vision, or never really had one!
– It’s become all about what value you can get from others, not what value others (e.g. employees, clients) can get from you
– You are getting pressured from all sides to go back to a safe 9-5 existence
– Constant, nagging doubts about the business are eating away at your very core, often from 2am-6am (if not 24/7)
– You just cannot fathom or stand the effortless, enormous success of other entrepreneurs “less talented than me”
– The phone never stops ringing from the relentless parade of business and personal creditors wanting their money, now or else!
– No-one is buying your ‘wonderful, disruptive, innovative’ products and services.
– A crucial client has just left you
– Your business is making you constantly anxious, depressed and therefore physically and mentally unhealthy
– You feel alone, lonely and with nowhere to turn. The weight of the world is on your shoulders.
I’m sure I’ve left a few ‘dark night of the entrepreneurial soul’ nightmares out, but you get the general idea. So, if you’re in an entrepreneurial ‘dark night of the soul’ right now, what can you do to reduce if not eliminate the damage and move on to a better, more prosperous and happier space?
Steps to overcoming the ‘Entrepreneurial Dark Night of The Soul’.
Get external help – speak to someone, others, anyone. Speak to a business mentor or coach. Speak to a therapist if you’re really struggling to function. Go and meet a person you really admired, an old boss or friend or family member that you can have a ‘safe’ conversation with. Speaking to someone else openly and honestly will immediately provide some relief. Then, the problem is shared by more than just you and that endless loop in your mind. A whole new mind or set of minds is exposed to your issues and it is the beginning of the fix or healing.
Reassess the reason/s why you wanted to get into business in the first place. Are those reasons still relevant to your life goals? Have your life goals changed? Do you have any life goals? If not, now is a good time to start articulating your life goals. Have you lost traction with your mission and vision? Set some time in the next 24 hours to isolate yourself and get clarity on your business mission and vision. Write it down, save it somewhere (e.g. in the desktop of your computer and/or on your wall where you work) and refer to them daily.
Cease immediately all unnecessary spending – business and private. No new widgets, gimmicks, cars, toys (business or home). The only spending you should do in a crisis is that which will fairly reliably increase revenues. Be brutally honest with your spending and cut out everything that is not bringing in extra revenue immediately. Look at your P&L – go through every expense line and cull anything not propelling you forward.
Outsource the things you don’t like to do or aren’t good at. Virtual labour is plentiful and not expensive. For a very modest cost we can outsource bookkeeping, sales calls, general administration, digital marketing, etc. Countries such as India and the Philippines have plenty of Virtual Assistants options, or you may prefer to use someone locally. Ultimately, if you think you have to do everything yourself you will not only struggle now, you’ll not create the foundations for your business growth. Outsource or peril.
Give yourself a ‘not negotiable’ timetable to quit. If you have been in business more than a few years without any sign that the business is going to pay your way in life and give you security for later years, it is probably fundamentally flawed in concept and/or execution. Or, you may be dealing with psychological, subconscious scripts and demons preventing you from succeeding, e.g. self-sabotage, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of hard work.
Work part-time until your business is sustainable. Why not look for part-time work (say 2-3 days a week) in a similar, aligned field that keeps you disciplined, sociable, sharp and may even open up networking doors for your business? Today, the options for part-time, flexible and remote working arrangements are more plentiful than ever. Buy yourself some time and regular cash flow — work two days a week and devote three or four days a week to your entrepreneurial dream. As your own business takes off, reduce the part-time hours until you are so busy with your own venture.
If all else fails and you’ve been miserable, depressed and anxious for a couple of years or more — quit the entrepreneurial dream. Lock, stock and barrel. Sell or wind down the business, go back to full-time employment and enjoy the feeling of a salary magically and reliably hitting your bank account every month, fortnight or week. No more slow debtors, no partial payments, no angry suppliers and creditors. Slowly rebuild financially and start living. Yes, you’ll have to eat humble pie but at least you’ll have the money to buy the humble pie. Feelings of failure, guilt and frustration will run out after about three or so of those salary payments have hit your bank account and those creditors calls become less frequent!
Being in your own business is meant to be fun and financially rewarding. An old saying has it that sometimes we fall down because there’s something down there we’re supposed to find. In the end though, don’t let your entrepreneurial ‘dark night of the soul’ turn into a ‘dark three years or decade of the soul’.