The best thing you can do when it gets tough in small business

Have you ever felt like quitting your small business? 

I have. 

Sure, the hard work, long hours, and constant uncertainty are trying. But the one thing that can be the hardest to bear is the space and time to think. The time in between exciting events is where the real battle lies. It happens within us when we are alone with our thoughts. That time should be used to be productive, but often we make it destructive. Instead of planning our next moves, our minds can go to dark places, full of doubt and fear. And it’s often in those moments when we can convince ourselves that quitting is our best option. But it’s not. 

Waiting is. 

What do I mean? Waiting is the act of sitting around, not doing anything drastic, just quietly being. That’s right, owning a small business is often like sitting around at a bus stop. And I hate it. I don’t do it very well. I pace around, get impatient, mumble “What’s taking so long?” sigh loudly, sometimes scream. It’s embarrassing but true. But I didn’t say that waiting patiently was vital. Regardless, waiting, patiently or not, is critical to surviving. 

Here are a few things I picked up at my bus stops. 

Practice patience through pain.

Going through pain is terrible. It makes you want to do stupid things to make it stop. You may look for any way to end the suffering, make a hasty decision, or look for a quick fix just to get some relief. But entrepreneurship is a journey filled with agony. It’s a marathon that doesn’t stop after 26.2 miles. You keep on running until the business stops, you quit, or some sort of exit is found. So it’s essential to linger in the pain. You have to accept it as part of owning a small business. And when you can do that, there is an incredible pleasure. Not in a sadomasochistic way, but you can see what you started to grow, evolve, progress. And you can see the same in yourself. Pain is the fertile soil that blooms greatness.

Create certainty in uncertainty.

We all want to be able to see around the corner and up the street and around the next corner. Am I right? But running a business is like wading around in a dark opaque sea. You can’t see the bottom, any land, any help, or anything other than this dark water. Nothing is certain other than you being uncertain. And in those moments when you can’t control anything around you, you can control yourself. Sit in the uncertainty. Don’t panic, tread water too fast, or desperately try to find something to hold on to. But, it’s better just to lie back and try to float—and relax. Create certainty in your actions. And as you drift, you will see the direction; you might glimpse land yonder, or find some driftwood, or mermaids might even pick you up and take you to Atlantis. You are on an adventure with long periods of floating around. Wade in it until you find the next step. You could find a magical place.

A couple of years ago, I really wanted to quit because I was burning out. But I didn’t rush a decision. Some people told me that it was time to stop. Others may have even wished for my demise. But I waited. I let the burnout burn out. It took a year or two, but eventually, I got better and have been reinvigorated. Waiting helped me to rest and get the time I needed to find my way back out of the darkness I was in.

Outlast embarrassment.

There are times when you will face embarrassing difficulties. The pressure of what other people think about us is real. Most of us cringe at the idea of looking like a failure to our peers, and that can cause us to crumble. The thought, “What will so and so think?” invades us more than we’d like to admit. It’s sad but true. And we may want to run, hide, quit, self-destruct, make a hail mary to get ourselves out of our troubles just to avoid the embarrassment. But I advise otherwise. More often than not, the best thing you can do is ride it out. 

Fear doesn’t expire; neither should you.

Fear still grips me even after more than a decade of doing this thing called small business. And I had to realize that fear will never entirely go away. So I better learn how to deal with it. Anything can cause it, a bad meeting, a phone call, a client forgetting to pay, a bad meal, gas, whatever. And it usually happens at night. “Why do I keep on suffering this pain, uncertainty, and fear? Am I stupid? Maybe I should quit?” I ask myself as I rest my head on my pillow. But I sit in it and float until sleep takes me. And the next day, I wake refreshed and ready to take on the new day. And all of the negativity is washed away by the waves from the morning sun. These days I know that those nights will haunt me again. It’s been happening since the beginning. And I just need to keep on keeping on and continue to wait, for the dawn isn’t far.

A lot of people think that you should find a way out of the problem. And there are times that that is true. But more often than you would think, there is little you can do. And the battle isn’t out there. It’s here, in you, in me. 

It’s the battle others can’t see, but it is waged nonetheless. 

And it’s a war of waiting. 

It’s a war you can win. 

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