Taming Your Ever-Present Entrepreneurial Anxiety

Years ago, when I still owned my agency, I went to work one Sunday afternoon so that I could get something done without the usual interruptions. I was anxious to catch up on our billing because receivables were dropping as clients paid and I needed to turn some WIP (work in progress) into some AR (accounts receivable). I hated the accounting nature of that part of my job, but it felt so good to generate $100,000 of invoices in just a few minutes.

I finished and felt like I'd accomplished something. I was satisfied because I was suddenly caught up, in this one thing, for this short time. It almost felt like I'd earned all that money in a few minutes!

But not for long. That next morning I started the week off and I kept thinking about how high our high receivables balance was! When would some of that client money start coming in? I knew why it was high--I'd just bumped them up to that level the day before--and I knew that none of it was due yet, but I could see this underlying anxiety in myself. Yesterday it was because receivables where low; today it was because they were high. Crazy.

Do you see that in yourself? Always worried about something? It's a curse and a blessing, really. You're never satisfied. You never rest for long. It's always this or that on your list of tasks. You're very hard on yourself. You believe that your firm's success will hinge largely on you, no matter how good the other people around you are.

We understand why a newer business warrants this attention, but what about your business? Over the last decade of success you've survived a screwed up insertion order, a terrible printing mistake, the loss of a client that represented 41% of your billings, that client-connected account person who left and took a key account with her, and all of the "on-hold" emails in late 2001 and then again in 2008 when the economy cratered. Oh, and you successfully split with your partner.

But somehow, you think some looming gotcha will take you down next month. You see yourself pushing a cart on Madison Avenue while the special people live charmed lives as people keep "liking" their Facebook posts.

However unrealistic that fear may be, you use it to drive yourself forward, to innovate, to take smart risks, and to build a firm around you that people admire when you run into them at parties. But here's the downside of that anxiety and why you might talk with a therapist about it:

  1. You don't celebrate success like you could. Big climbs start at a base camp, but there are additional staging areas along the way where it's appropriate to stop, rest, take some pictures, check your gear, and call home on the sat phone.
  2. You take things too seriously. If someone doesn't demonstrate the same level of insane commitment to your cause, you might gravitate away from them because they can't do as much for you as someone else when in fact they're just being a more balanced human. Relationships are interpreted based on how someone can help you through this crisis.
  3. You are hard on yourself, all the time, every day, without fail. You think more about that one person who is disappointed in you than the hundred people who admire your work.
  4. You're self-interested and not very self-aware in the process. You see the world through a special set of glasses that turn everything into your company colors. Your singular focus is wearing people out.

Hey, we need people like you. But that's why you're going to have to slow down at times so that we have you for a long time.

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