This is a personal finance site. And while creating a plan to pay off debt, building a better budget, and increasing your income are all amazing ways to live a better life and finance your dreams, you won't live your personal “best life” if you're not a healthy, happy functioning adult. What follows below has nothing really to do with finance and everything to do with my own struggle with entrepreneur depression: how it's affected my life, my earning power, and what I've learned along the way.
Working for myself is the hardest thing I've ever done.
I wrote in my 2016 recap that I didn't hit any of the business goals I set for myself, like any good business owner I took some time off over the holidays to really examine the “why.” Why wasn't I hitting my goals? I'd invested in myself and my business, I'd been taking course after course, and implementing and testing things over and over again. Nothing seemed to “move the needle,” not even in the slightest.
I'm not saying I have all the answers, but a big conclusion I came to over the last few weeks is this: you can maintain a business if you're not emotionally whole, but growing a business while you're struggling to overcome a personal obstacle is damn near impossible.
And while I'm certainly still exploring the tactical things I can do to grow a blog, I got to thinking that maybe the answers to these “why not” questions aren't in spreadsheets or online courses.
Maybe some of the problems are inside ourselves.
When You're Not Thriving
I know I'm showing my “basic b*tch” card with this one, but I just finished A Magnolia Story, the super cheesy book by Chip & Joanna Gaines. I like them and Fixer Upper a lot, but for whatever reason I did not want to like this book.
Yet, lo and behold I found a lot of what they were writing about really resonated with me. I also really dug the fact that they weren't overnight successes and the book details their journey. In fact, it was by tiny, incremental actions along the way that their careers led them to somewhere big. I love that.
In the book Joanna Gaines writes, “Most people think that you start off not thriving. Then you get a TV show or some other amazing opportunity, you get fame, you get fortune and then you thrive……But what's interesting to me is that Chip and I got to a place where we were thriving – as a couple, as a family, as business partners – before any of this new success unfolded.
Which got me to thinking about what it means to thrive in all areas of your life, including your business. It's hard to bloom professionally if you're not thriving in other areas: mentally, emotionally, physically.
And even if you do manage to eke out some big successes “in spite of” what may be going on in your personal life, you won't be able to enjoy them. Which honestly, isn't really thriving either.
Here's an Example from my Own Business
I'm no graphics wizard, so here are some lovely ones I generated in Excel.
The top is my 2015 income and the bottom is what I made in 2016. No, you can't really see amounts, but the point is that you could lay these two graphs over top of one another, they're basically the same.
I actually made slightly less in 2016, and although I did pivot the model of my business from writing to more passive income streams like products and affiliates, there wasn't any growth despite it being my second year in business, when I had the benefit of not being so green.
I looked at these graphs and I asked “why?” and deep down I found a nagging voice inside that knew the answer.
It has nothing to do with hustle, the amount of hours I work, or A/B testing links and email newsletters.
Why was I failing to climb higher when I was putting so much energy and effort into what I'm “supposed” to be doing?
The answer actually comes from somewhere much deeper.
I don't feel comfortable disclosing to the internet at large exactly what happened, but I will say that in the late summer/Fall of last year something happened that completely changed who I was inside and out.
I examined it all and realized I'd been living a very unhealthy life for quite some time. It pre-dates my time as a solopreneur, and even pre-dates when I started this blog in 2012, likely with roots in my childhood and adolescence.
That level of brokenness, the inability to be fully happy even during the seasons of joy in my life, raises the biggest “why” question of all.
The distraction of all the heartache kept me from growing the business. More importantly, it's keeping me from living my best life.
I learned in 2016 there really is a cap to how high you can go if you're building a business as a broken person.
With all of this in mind, when it came time to set business goals and New Year's resolutions this year, I left the page blank.
No business metrics to meet. No wish-list of press outlets to pitch.
I only set one intention and priority for the year ahead – to be the happiest, best version of myself.
And hopefully this will keep the “entrepreneurial depression” at bay for a bit.
While focusing exclusively on this inner work may mean a third year of stagnant earnings, I know that this is the most important work I'll ever do and the best way for me to spend my time over the next twelve months. I also think it will be fun to see if this change in my personal happiness and satisfaction levels leads to greater success.
And if you're (maybe) in the same boat and struggling through some of these feelings, I really want to encourage you to join me every month as I blog it out.
The Action Plan to Beat Entrepreneur Depression
Unfortunately, taking care of your emotional health isn't something you can outsource the way you do with other parts of your business.
So, I hired a wellness coach. And honestly, some of what she asks me to do makes me roll my eyes, but I'm trying to be a good sport. I have to accept that I don't always know what's best and don't have all the answers. You know what else she encouraged me to do? To write out my feelings.
So, here it goes.
If 2018 is the year you’d like to start feeling better emotionally or spiritually, these are the five books that had the most profound impact for me.
5 Books for Emotional Healing
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find (and Keep) Love by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
This is the book that kind of kick started the entire “journey” for me so to speak. I'll be honest…my entire life I've struggled in relationships – romantic, with friends, and with my own family. This book finally put words to some of the difficulties I was having, the feelings I was feeling and (best of all) how to deal with them. Although it's been a minute, I can still clearly remember spending each day of (most of) my twenties walking around feeling like this big, gaping open wound that everyone could see. I used to feel very weak, vulnerable, and exposed. All day, every day. At work, online, when I went out and most of all with my boyfriends.
This book helped me learn that it isn't about me, it's about my attachment style and I shouldn't feel guilty or ashamed of it.
This book also helped me be more successful in the relationships I do want to foster. I'm now in a healthy relationship, we're getting married, and when we fight it's in a healthy way. If what I'm writing sounds familiar to you, you need to get your hands on this book – ASAP.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Before I made the decision to go back to work last June, this is the book that really, really made a difference in how I felt about the decision and why I felt it was absolutely necessary for my own well being. For anyone in a creative professional who feels stuck or in a rut, this is a great book.
I recently finished this one and while it covers a lot of topics (death, money, confidence) I love the biggest message in the book, which is this: if you love yourself, amazing things will happen. I've taken this mantra to heart and have seen unbelievable shifts happen in my own life once I began truly loving and understanding who I really am. Also, there's this newfound sense of confidence and even other people have noticed. Read this and you too will start walking around like you're a badass.
The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein
This book builds on something my good friend Carrie always says to me and spent years trying to get me on board with believing: the mantra “things are always working out for me.” I would say the mantra, and sometimes I'd almost – almost – feel it working. But reading this book helped it to sink in, and best of all, helped it to stick. Perhaps the biggest difference vs. a year ago is that I have actual spiritual beliefs now, one of those being that I do (quite firmly) believe the universe is working for our personal best good and will.
As an added bonus, this book has lots of meditation exercises which are a great place for beginners to start.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Sensing I was a bit adrift, my dearest friend Mo sent me this book saying how much it had helped him and he thought it would be useful for me too. I read this after I read “Universe” and I have to admit, I found the book itself to be rooted in a bit of restlessness and sometimes it triggered me. However, I loved the month where she focused on her money habits (and they weren't around saving vs. spending on better budgeting), it was a profound and honest conversation around our attitudes towards our money.
I also found it inspiring how small shifts, even for just thirty days, can make all the difference. This book is inspiration fuel at it's finest.
Deep down, I can feel that I'm different now than I was a year ago. In short, the last 18 months have been a long, amazing journey. Every day I'll do something differently, or react to a potentially triggering situation in a way “Old Lauren” would never, and I realize just how far I've come since I made taking better care of myself a priority. I feel a lightness of being that I've never had in my entire life.
Cheesy, but true. Hope you enjoyed this list!