In small business, the hours can be more flexible and the rewards more satisfying, but the stakes are higher. The fear of business failure can be a constant anxiety, as Matthew White explains.
I’ll be honest, running a small business scares me. It keeps me awake at night (which is ironic, considering I’m in the business of helping people sleep better). I’m scared of failure; I’m scared of not being able to provide for my family.
I suffer from responsibility anxiety.
When I was younger and living and working in London I was anything but anxious. I never really thought about the consequences of not being able to pay the rent. But when I got married, then had children and then started a business, wow, it hit me. I had more responsibilities in my life then I knew what to do with – a young family to feed, bills to pay. I felt the pressure to perform.
So I got a corporate job for a large multinational. And I gained a lot from the experience.
Until one day, I did the unthinkable and quit. I needed to find the work/life balance that had been so elusive for me to that point. I wanted any time away from my family to be more meaningful and rewarding. The solution? Become a soloist – start a business I was passionate about and work more flexible hours. And so far, so good. I’m working harder than ever before, but I have more time with my kids, and it’s paying off. Phew!
Except now, the responsibilities are even greater and there’s a whole lot more to lose.
I’m a very positive person, and feel positive about my business. But I just can’t escape the niggling feeling that one day, for reasons beyond my control, or worse, because of my own actions, everything could go pear-shaped. What then? I dread to think. But I do think about it – a lot. Probably too much if I am honest.
Lots of people feel the pressure to earn a decent living and be successful in their chosen path. It’s not just men, or just married men for that matter. Every parent, couple, employer, single woman and man has responsibilities – a mortgage, rent, kids, debt, employees and families.
But men aren’t supposed to admit it scares us. Societal expectations decree that we accept our responsibility to provide for our families and then just get on with it. Hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work we go.
In a small business like mine, I can’t replace myself when I stuff up. And I can’t just change jobs as I might have done in the corporate world. In switching from being a small part of a large corporate to a large part of a small company, I’ve traded frustration at working long hours with a fear that my hard work won’t pay off.
And the more I talk about this with male friends, the more I realise this type of anxiety is more common than I’d have guessed. Is it any wonder that so many men silently suffer depression and anxiety and try to pretend everything is fine?
So today I’d like to share some simple things I do to deal with my responsibility anxiety:
- I take deep breaths. Frequently. (Other people may like relaxation techniques, meditation, exercise or yoga.)
- I prioritise good sleep: I try to take control of my anxiety at night to avoid the vicious circle of sleepless nights turning into stressful days, leading to less sleep, more stress and so on.
- I think positively. I look at my family and smile. I remind myself that everything will be ok. And if everything comes crashing down, we will just find a new way to be ‘ok’.
Perhaps the most important thing I do, however, is talk to people. And I’m always amazed how many of my male friends feel the same as me, both in Australia and the UK.
And that’s why I’m talking about responsibility anxiety today. The more honest we men are about the anxieties we feel about being the ‘provider’, the more we can all look out for each other. And the better placed society will be to drop the expectation that our men’s main role is that of provider rather than father.