My partner Chris laughed at me. “You need a vacation,” he teased.
“I can’t, I’m an entrepreneur,” I countered.
By the time I realized he was right, I no longer had a business.
The importance of a work-life balance and fair wages is a priority and a must for the modern entrepreneur in staffing policies — yet not with ourselves. As the business owner, we’re the end of the line. Without us, there is no business. Yet we continue to neglect ourselves, our finances, and our relationships. We put ourselves dead last, almost like a new parent. When we do treat ourselves, the guilt is overwhelming, almost like if we’re not working a 60-hour week, we must be doing something wrong or failing.
Furthermore, the amount of snark in the culture of small business does nothing to help this martyrdom and self-neglect. How many times have we overheard “so and so of restaurant X is on holiday,” only to be met with “that must be nice” by other business owners in the room. I have been guilty of this behaviour a few times myself, although in retrospect I can see my comments were made out of jealousy and not malice. However, this kneejerk reaction is toxic and it needs to stop.
My business burnout / nervous breakdown was like a major earthquake. On the surface, everything looked perfect and successful. However, deep-down the tectonic plates were shifting. I knew it was happening, but I buried my head in the sand and continued to project my image of success so no one would see how scared I really was. I drank too much, (even on business hours, not my proudest moment), had panic attacks on the daily, and barely slept.
As small business owners, we’re taught to never show our weaknesses for fear of someone, somehow, using it against us.
One day, all the plates shifted at once. Everything came crashing down around me. I was advised that if the CRA didn’t close me first, my landlord would. My lack of self-care had cost me the thing I loved the most: my bakery. Within 24 hours, I had cleared out of the place. I was just another failed entrepreneur the city was buzzing about.
If 60 per cent of all new restaurants are failing in their first three years, why isn’t failure and recovery part of the conversation before and during business ownership? We need to do more to help business owners manage their stress and workload, as well as have frank discussions about the possibility of failure right from the business plan phase.
If you’re currently running a small business, I offer you the following suggestions to help with your stress levels and mental wellness.
- At least one day off a week: This means off-off. No cell phones, email or Facebook. No calls. No business chores. This day is all for you. Leave your phone at home if you can’t handle it, and make sure you are unplugging and doing something for yourself. Rolling your eyes because you don’t have time or can’t? Find the time. Here in Ottawa, a lot of our food businesses are closed on Mondays. If it makes it easier for you to have a day off when your shop is closed, pick a day and make it happen. You have too much to lose if you’re not rested and on your A game.
- Push notifications off: Our generation of entrepreneurs faces one of the most helpful and daunting tools for food based business: The internet. We are now available online 24 hours a day for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Turn off those push notifications. Do you know what won’t help? A bad review popping up on your phone in the middle of a busy lunch and ruining your mood. Know what will? The real live people in your business right now with money
- to spend.
- Hang with other entrepreneurs: Friends and family are great, but a fellow business owning friend will understand and sympathize with the unique challenges and stresses that you face. Go for lunch or beers and trade horror stories, strategies and share your fears. You’ll feel better having someone who lives a similar life to you.
I had a nervous breakdown due to business burnout. I’m now on a mission to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Let’s put ourselves first. Losing our health, sanity or even our lives over a business just isn’t worth it. / BJ
Amanda Lunan is an award winning Ottawa based food business coach and consultant at This Charming Mandi. She is the first business coach in Ontario to put the mental health of entrepreneurs into the forefront. In her early twenties she founded legendary Ottawa bakery Auntie Loo’s, the first vegan bakery in eastern Ontario. You can read her blog and follow her journey at www.thischarmingmandi.com or on Instagram @thischarmingmandi.