BIZ BUDDY: MANAGING FEAR
How’s your week going?
It’s cold as all get-out in Wakefield (where I live), which, I’ll be honest, I’m feeling pretty resistant to (insert deep longing for shorts and flip flop weather here) but I’m trying to remind myself that it’s a great time to get some writing and planning done.
Anyway, where did we last leave off?
Oh, yeah, goals. And how I reached mine last year.
In the last post, I explained how there were 2 parts to the mindset I had to adopt in order to achieve the goal I set for myself, and I talked about how I try to keep myself motivated, and why I do that.
Today, I’ll share a bit about the other part of the mindset component, which is managing fear.
And, frankly, I sometimes simply call it: dealing with my mental shit.
There are lots of different ways in which we can get stuck.
I have friends who find self-promotion and social media a struggle.
It makes them feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.
They end up pushing it aside, not doing it, and that prevents them from sharing their work and from growing their businesses.
I have other friends who simply have a hard time following through on things. They get bogged down in the uncertainty of the outcome, or the size of the task at hand, and they create challenges for themselves before they’ve even gotten started.
Another way I see fear manifest itself in creative friends or small business owners is around decision-making.
A friend will be in a situation where a decision needs to be made - what colour should I make these earrings, should I use the cheap material or the more expensive one, how many of these cards should I have printed - and they’re not sure which to pick so they push the decision-making process aside.
They tell themselves things like: “I’ll figure it out later.” And while they sometimes do require a piece of information that they don’t presently have in order to make their decision, more often, they push the decision-making process aside because there actually is no clear right or wrong answer. And the uncertainty makes them uncomfortable.
So no decision is made, and everything gets put on hold.
For the record, I still sometimes fall into this trap.
At any rate, I thought I’d use one of my own fears as an example today, and explain how I try to manage it.
If you’re a maker, it may be one that you’ve also had to content with.
But don’t worry if it’s not.
I think what’s important here is not so much what our specific fears are as what we do about them when they show up.
My hope is that, in sharing one of my own hangups, there’ll be a little nugget that will help you with yours.
Or maybe it’ll simply offer a peak into my weirdo mind.
Either way, it’s vulnerability time!
There is one specific area of my business in which I seem to get stuck the most, and that’s around putting out new products.
I think the root of the fear is based in my desire for certainty, and wanting to make things as safe and as comfortable for myself as possible.
There’s also an element of not wanting to put something out in the world that the world doesn’t actually want.
I’ve had some luck in the past in that I’ve made some products that have been well-received by customers, and that have sold well.
And I’m incredibly grateful for that good fortune but a byproduct of it has been that it’s created some fear around putting out a new product that won’t be a “hit."
It’s irrational, I know, but that’s kind of the sneaky thing about our fears, isn’t it? They don’t generally make a ton of sense.
At any rate, there are times when this fear has been so pervasive that it’s prevented me from putting anything new out at all.
And that, of course, prevented me from growing my business.
As my coach could tell you, I’ve had some work to do around this issue.
Again, my specific fear may not be one of that you’ve had to deal with.
But I do think that, when we’re trying to grow, whether personally or professionally, we’re bound to get stuck on one thing or another, and it’s in our best interest, or in our business’ best interest, to figure out how to work through our sticky points as they show up. And, also, to do that as quickly as we can so we’re not wasting too much time stuck in our own mental muck, not moving forward.
Because I set this goal for myself last year, and I wasn't prepared to let myself off the hook, it’s the year in which I was most confronted with my fears. But it was also the year in which I figured out how to best manage them.
Now, as I move forward, I have more mental arsenal to help me work through issues as they come up.
So what is it that I actually did?
There are a few thing.
The first thing I try to do is simply to notice when I’m getting stuck.
It sounds obvious, and seems like it should be easy to do but it isn’t always. At least, not for me.
I know something’s up when I’m not doing the thing I said I wanted to do.
When I start pushing things aside and try to busy myself with other things instead.
Sometimes, I feel it in my body.
I get uncomfortable. My body feels tight or constricted. There’s tension in my face or jaw.
It’s often accompanied with a feeling of maybe-if-I-just-don’t-look-at-it-it’ll-magically-go-away-and-I-won’t-have-to-deal-with-it.
So, for me, step 1 is to simply notice that this is happening.
Step 2 is to try to work through it on my own.
Sometimes, being aware that fear has shown up is all I need to work through it.
It’s enough to make me go:
”Oh, OK, it’s just fear. That’s what’s going on here. No biggie.”
And then I can move forward.
But sometimes that’s not enough.
Sometimes it takes me time to process the situation, time to notice that something’s off, to pinpointing or name what the issue is, and figure out how to deal with it.
If I’m not able to figure out how to deal with it or how to move forward, I go to…
Step 3, which is to get a new set of eyes on the situation.
Sometimes those eyes are attached to the body of a friend, sometimes they’re my coach’s, sometimes they’re the eyes of every single person who’s close to me.
Frankly, there’s nothing I’ve thrown at my coach that she hasn’t been able to help me with but, if you don’t have a coach, I think just talking about it with the people closest to you, the ones you trust, will often lead to a solution.
Seek out people who may have dealt with whatever it is you’re dealing with, and ask them if they can offer advice.
Though not especially glamorous or exciting, another way I try manage fear or keep it at bay is to regularly remind myself of certain things.
I try to watch my thoughts.
When my mind starts going down a path that doesn't serve me, which, frankly, it does more than I care to admit, I try to bring it back to thoughts that do serve me.
There are some things that I frequently have to remind myself of when it comes to work.
And reminding myself of them seems to appease some of my fears.
These are some of those things.
If I want my business to be a viable one, I have to do what it takes to run a successful business.
I have to be who it takes to run a successful business.
And a major part of doing that is working through my blocks as they come up.
And, occasionally, doing things that make me uncomfortable.
It’s my job as the head of my business.
Nobody can do that for me.
I need to accept it and take responsibility for it.
Making excuses or justifying why I am the way I am is not helpful.
What is helpful is to pinpoint what’s not working, what’s preventing me from moving forward, and to find solutions.
If I don’t do that, I’m just wasting time.
Something that I didn’t used to do, that my coach suggested, and that’s been helpful in getting myself unstuck is to ask myself:
“Who do I need to be in this situation? Who do I need to be in this moment?”
As small business owners, we wear a lot of hats.
We’re designing and making things. But we’re also selling, marketing, planning, and pushing forward.
In big businesses, different people are doing those jobs, and these people are bringing their different set of skills, knowledge and energy.
As small business owners, we’re generally doing it all, alone, with whatever given skills, knowledge and energy we have.
And all of those roles - maker, strategizer, marketer - need us to show up as different versions of ourselves.
When I’m designing something, it isn’t helpful to be the hard and tough version of myself who’s focused on deadlines.
Pressure to succeed and to perform stifles my creativity.
My best ideas come when I’m relaxed, having a good time, when I let myself explore and play, when there’s no pressure or judgement.
The opposite is also true.
When I’m planning the year or month ahead for my business or, say, when I’m doing my bookkeeping, the soft, playful version of me doesn't serve me. I need the no-nonsense version of me. The powerhouse version of me. I need the blind faith me.
It seems obvious and simple to say but asking myself: “Who do I need to be right now?” has been an invaluable way to move through different tasks, and frankly, to move through my life.
It’s the very act of doing something that brings clarity. / Clarity comes from engagement not thought.
Oh, man, if you knew all of the time I’ve spent trying to predict outcomes, trying to avoid anything bad from happening, trying to keep myself safe - it’s a lot.
I’m a bit of a control freak.
I’m not proud of it but the tendency for it is very present in me.
Sometimes, it serves me. But not always.
So I’ve been working on it.
And I’ve been trying to recognize that there is a time for planning, strategizing and letting nothing slide but there is also a time for loosening my grip and letting the chips fall where they may.
There’s also a time for remembering that I won’t know where the chips fall unless I actually let go of them.
So I try to keep that in mind.
And the more I do it, the easier it is.
The more I step out of my comfort zone, the bigger my comfort zone gets.
No one cares that much.
This might sound harsh but I find it helpful to keep in mind.
One thing I’ve learned over the last 10 years of running a business is that no one, aside from me, cares all that much about it.
People have their own lives to worry about.
And what I mean by that is not that people aren’t happy for me when I succeed or that they don’t feel for me when I struggle but, ultimately, my successes and failures don’t have much of an impact on anyone’s life but my own.
I constantly have to remind myself of this because my nutty mind would have me believe that a small misstep is a disaster.
That a product that isn’t a massive hit means that I should completely reconsider what I’m doing with my life.
But those things simply aren’t true.
No one really cares.
And that’s liberating.
It means that, even if we screw up big time, we can just dust ourselves off and keep going.
Learn to say no.
Part of the process of reaching my goal last year was also figuring out what wasn't working for me.
Sometimes when we start a creative business, there’s a tendency to see it as a hobby, and invest our money because we simply enjoy doing what we’re doing.
And I think it’s totally OK to do in the beginning. Your maker business likely will start as an extension of one your hobbies, which you’d be paying for anyway.
But as they grow, our businesses need to be profitable. Otherwise, they're just expensive hobbies.
For me, that meant cutting out a couple of products that were selling fairly well but that were kind of annoying to produce, time-consuming to package, and that weren’t bringing in much money.
I also started to do less craft shows.
It’s a lot of work for me to pack everything up and set up at a craft show or market.
I always envy jewellers at craft shows. They just show up a half hour before it starts, with one small bin, and then wham-bam, they’re ready to go.
My set-up is time-consuming. My products are bigger. It’s a production.
So as more money started to come in last year, from sources like wholesale and my website, packing up my kit and caboodle and trekking it across town for a few hundred bucks became less appealing.
I started to say no to smaller shows, and I mostly stick to the bigger ones now.
Figuring out which shows will be profitable for me isn’t always clear but I'm comfortable in my resolve to let some things go to make room for others.
My point is: it might feel scary at first not to jump at every opportunity available to us but it’s OK to say no.
Follow your intuition.
I feel like I could write an entire post on intuition, and maybe I will at some point but for now I’ll just say this:
Our minds are powerful things, and they serve us in a million little and big ways.
But intuition - the little voice inside that has a hunch or feeling about something - it’s important too.
It’s not something that’s frequently talked about in our society.
We’re not especially encouraged to trust it or give it much weight.
But I think it’s a powerful tool, and one I’ve been trying to consider more when it comes to decision-making.
Having a maker business means that your work is public.
People can go on to your website, your Etsy store, your social media accounts or come to your booth at craft shows and see what you’ve been up to.
And some of those people will give you their opinion on your work, or offer suggestions.
In fact, the bigger your business gets, the more unsolicited advice you’ll receive.
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me: “You should make a shirt with such-and-such on it”, I’d have a lot of dollars.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually do like getting advice and feedback.
A lot of it has been helpful.
But some of it has not.
Before I made the first batch of SEX, DRUGS & LOBSTER ROLLS t-shirts, I had a friend tell me that he thought no one would buy them. His thought was that I should put the graphic on something small like a sticker because people wouldn’t spend $30+ on a joke shirt.
He was wrong. Like, really, really wrong.
Those shirts have been one of my most popular products.
My point is this: consider the advice of others but, ultimately, listen to your gut.
It’s your business.
Even if you end up screwing up, it’ll be your own screw-up (and you’re entitled to them), not someone else’s.
When I fall off the horse, I need to get back on it as quickly as possible
I'm going to screw up sometimes.
Some things are going to work, and some are not.
The sooner I accept that as a given, the easier everything will be.
If I'm interested in growth, which I am, accepting the possibility of failure is part of the process.
There are only 2 options:
Don’t try, and stay safe.
Or try, and also accept that there will be both hits and misses.
Stay in your lane.
This one can be tricky in the age of social media.
And to some extent I do have to look around and be aware of what other people are doing, if only to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.
But it’s not helpful to put too much focus on what others are doing or not doing, what they have that I don’t have.
So I try to stay in my own lane. Keep my eyes (and focus and attention) on my own work, and my own life.
I try to keep my time on social media to a minimum because, when I don’t do that, I always end feeling the same way: kinda shitty about myself.
Lastly, something I figured out back when I was hairdresser and I spent my days having heart-to-heart talks with clients:
Almost everyone has something to contend with.
Almost everyone has shit to deal with.
And the only reasons I say “almost everyone” as opposed to just “everyone” is that there are a few special unicorns who do actually have quite easy and ridiculously lovely lives. They’re healthy, they’re families are healthy, they like their job, they make a decent salary, they have no addictions or mental health issues, they’ve never suffered any great losses, etc.
But those folks really are rare exceptions, not the rule.
And it’s easy at times to forget but it’s true.
Everyone’s got something.
Not everyone talks about it or shares it.
Certainly not publicly.
Being vulnerable doesn’t come easily to a lot of people
And a lot of people keep their cards very, very close to their chests.
But where there is growth there is always some amount of discomfort, messiness, and hard things.
Not talking about it doesn't mean it’s not happening.
These days, when I’m online and I see someone present a beautifully curated, seemingly perfect life, I try to switch my thinking from feeling like they’re doing way better than I am to something that sounds more like: “Hmmm, they’re holding on pretty tightly to this idea of perfection. I wonder what’s really going on there."
OK, I think that about covers it, pals.
Is there anything you have to remind yourself of regularly to keep yourself moving forward or, simply, to keep yourself sane? If so, feel free to keep the vulnerability and sharing going in the comments below.