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My top tips to make sure your business survives when life gets hard.

 In Blog, Balance, Work & Business

For many entrepreneurs building a business can sometimes feel extremely lonely, stressful, overwhelming and raw. It can also feel exciting, motivating, uplifting and energising.

It is like you are on an emotional rollercoaster.

The highs are so much fun, you throw your arms in the air as the ride takes you high above the crowd. You feel invincible, on top of the world and full of energy.

The lows can be terrifying and nauseating, so you whiteknuckle it, clinging to that safety rail for dear life and wondering why on earth you decided to jump on this thing in the first place. You remember that you are in survival mode right now though, so asking the big questions is not the best idea at this point.

Then, thankfully, you feel the exhilarating rush of fresh air on your skin once again, and remember all the reasons you took the risk.

But what happens when the whole thing creaks to a halt slowly, leaving you suspended between the ups and downs? As you sit there a little scared and very confused, you wonder what to do next, how do you get this thing moving again?

You want to keep riding, but it is completely out of your control. Life has stopped you dead in your tracks.

Leaving the roller coaster analogy there for now (but gosh it’s a good one isn’t it?) I would like to address a question that I faced this year in my own business and life…

How do you manage your business so it survives and thrives when the wheels fall off in your personal life? 

How do you keep moving forward toward the highs, even if you need to slow right down?

If you live in Victoria, and if you are anything like me, the word “lockdown” probably instils some sense of Dread.

2020 and 2021 feel like a mish mash of emotions for so many of us, and gave the term “emotional rollercoaster” a whole new meaning. As a mama of three and small business owner, I can tell you I felt all the things!

This is the story of the series of events that happened in my life during a painfully long lockdown, and some insight around how I coped with what I call the “pressure cooker” that was my physical environment.

For me, coming out of a challenging year with a smile on my face, happy clients, my family still wanting to be around me, and my health intact has been one of the biggest wins so far.

Did I move mountains? Nope.

Am I proud of myself? You bet.

Here it is:

“Babe, something is wrong! I can’t feel my left leg, I can’t even lift my foot. I think I am having a stroke”

These were the words my husband Scott uttered to me through tears over the phone when he called me while I was busy working in July last year.

I urged him to take a breath and try to keep calm as I assessed him over the phone. As a former critical care nurse I felt comfortable doing this. After realising that he appeared to be ok neurologically, I told him that I didn’t think he was having a stroke, but that I was concerned he may have hurt his spine.

One hour later, as we sat in the Emergency Department we began discussing the plan for the evening if he had to stay overnight in the hospital. We had three young kids at home that my mum had come over to care for while we went to ED, and we both had busy businesses to run.

After making the plan that I would go home and come back if needed, I left him there waiting for an MRI while I went home to feed the kids and get them to bed. I assumed he would call me within a couple of hours to come and collect him. That was at 6pm.

At 11.15pm my phone buzzed and I saw a number on the screen that I didn’t recognise. It was a neurosurgeon who had driven from the city on a Saturday night to see Scott as he was worried about the lack of movement in his left leg.

When I hung up the phone I sat in shock. At just 39 years old, Scott had sustained a significant spinal injury that had crushed the nerves responsible for allowing movement in his left lower leg. Without emergency surgery, he may never walk properly again.

An avid surfer since the age of twelve, he may never be able to coordinate his leg well enough to surf again. Surfing is Scott’s outlet, his passion and his happy place. This… this was the kill shot.

I felt like the ground beneath my feet was liquid. I knew how scared Scott would be, and I knew what life might look like for him if he was never able to be the active father and fit surfer he had always been.

Even with the surgery, he may not recover for one year. If at all.

We didn’t have him home with us again for 3 weeks after this call.

As Scott struggled post surgery with pain, nausea, and a significant new disability, he had to learn to walk safely without tripping over his “dead” left foot.

At the same time, I was at home juggling the businesses, all three children and to make matters more complicated, schools were about to close again for lockdown 6.0 in Melbourne. A quick “7 day snap lockdown” that turned into 12 weeks.

Safe to say that home learning with two kids, a one year old clinging to me as childcare had closed, my clients to serve and a husband struggling in hospital, something had to give.

I knew it couldn’t be my family, my clients or my health; those things were not negotiable.

I had to trim the fat.

I felt like I was running on a treadmill at full speed with no off switch, and no visible sign of it slowing down. I began to develop skin irritations, terrible stomach pain and headaches, as well as a feeling in my chest that felt like a pressure cooker was whistling away in there.

Anxiety… I suspect.

I was trying to hold it all together so that Scott could recover without worrying about me and the kids, and it was exhausting. While time ticked on, and the days all smooshed together in my mandated 5km bubble, I began realising that the lockdown was affecting me deeply also.

I had pushed through 5 previous long and strict lockdowns, including during my pregnancy and post natal recovery period, and this time I was worn completely down.

Cracks were beginning to form in my physical and emotional health.

I knew that if I didn’t make some changes in the way I was operating, I would burn out in no time.

I leaned on my sister Fempire coaches to help me recognise the things that I could let go of in my business in the short term to survive, and from that day forward I did only the things that were required to make sure I showed up for my current clients, my family and myself.

Here are the top 5 strategies I recommend for managing your business and life when the universe throws you some major curve balls.

1. Ask for help.

Now this particular piece of advice is one that I once found extremely unnatural. Until recent years, asking for help was something that didn’t come easily to me. We have been raised in a society where a woman should be able to do everything on her own and do it well!

I didn’t consciously realise this, but for a long time, asking for help was a sign of failure and weakness to me. As though I was somehow not enough to keep all the moving parts in my life moving smoothly if I did.

In more recent years I have come to know that the need to do everything without help is a trap that we set for ourselves, and that society has set for women since long before I was born.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Only through being vulnerable and honest are we able to reach out for help from those around us, and there are no two stronger qualities than vulnerability and honesty.

I accepted that I could not possibly honour the commitments I had made to my business, as well as manage my increasingly stressful home situation, and I was honest about this to my Fempire colleagues. They kindly offered to take some admin tasks off my plate, and also offered advice about what areas of my business were less critical to continue for the immediate term.

I had been so clouded by the pressure I was feeling internally that just having experienced business women supporting me, to point out a simple path for me was extremely powerful.

I was lucky to have those incredible women at Fempire to lean on for support in both the hands on running of my business, and also to ask for advice about what to focus on when I had rare moments to dedicate to it myself. If you are struggling with business and life balance, I strongly suggest trying to find a group of supportive, experienced women who have walked the path you are currently on.

Asking for help quite literally saved my business, and possibly my sanity.

2. Lower your expectations:

A huge part of letting go of what I felt my year “should” have looked like and embracing what it was came down to absolutely lowering my expectations.

Both of myself and of my family.

Home learning and long lockdowns were brutal for all of us, let alone supporting my husband to heal. I figured out very quickly that putting pressure on myself or my family to meet previously high expectations was only going to make matters worse.

I did a whole lot of letting go.

I adopted the mindset of ‘good enough is good enough’.

That applied to meals I threw together (which was often a toasted sandwich), whether the children got dressed in the morning or stayed in their pyjamas all day, whether I managed to get through my list of things to do or not… whether the house was vacuumed or not.

For me, letting go of how I wanted things to be and lowering my expectations of what I could achieve under these circumstances was incredibly liberating.

My relationship with my family became less strained, and I reminded myself daily that as long as I was able to get through the most important things in my business, that the rest could wait.

The most important thing was that Scott was able to take the time he needed to heal, and to come home to us. He had been through so much, and while I couldn’t do anything to change what the outcome of his injury would be, I did have the power to show up for my family as best I could under the circumstances.

If you find yourself in a situation that feels so overwhelming that you don’t know where to start… lower your expectations and let go. As entrepreneurs we often set big goals, which is usually amazing, but in times of crisis, these need to be revised and adjusted based on what we can realistically handle.

This might mean saying no to business opportunities that come your way in the short term, or finding a way to do less yourself by leaning on others for support. You will find this helps clear the fog and helps you see what to focus on.

It is also an act of compassion – for yourself and those you love.

4. Stop. Breathe and ask yourself “and then what”?

My mentor and Fempire CEO Marnie LeFevre often likes to use the “and then what” strategy when she feels overwhelmed or stressed. Marnie taught it to me and it has proven very helpful.

The idea is that you look at your current situation and consider the absolute worst case scenario… you then ask yourself… “and then what”…

You continue down this line of questioning until you reach a point where you (usually) realise that at the end of the day – as long as you and those you love are safe, with your basic needs met, that things will always be ok.

An example of this, that went through my mind:

‘Scott never walks again’

  • And then what?

He feels miserable and struggles mentally

  • And then what?

I feel overwhelmed and freak out

  • And then what?

I get some help with the house/kids/business

  • And then What?

Scott gets really depressed and withdraws

  • And then What?

We get him help and I support him

  • And then What?

I love him anyway and we will get through this together.

You see, no matter which path my “and then what” took, it always led to us getting through this together.

Our ego has a sneaky way of making us spiral emotionally when we feel uncomfortable or stressed. The truth is though, that most of this drama exists in our mind, and often we have made up a story about what ‘might’ happen.

I also like to ask myself if I will still be affected by this situation in a year from now? In two years? In ten?

Mostly, the answer is no. Situations that we allow to completely interrupt our peace today, we often can’t even remember in a few months time.

I come back to the mantra “This too shall pass”. It always does!

We can only control the way we respond to the things that happen in our lives, we cannot control the outcomes. By taking some time to stop, breathe and remind yourself that this is not permanent, you allow yourself to reframe the situation and find some peace again.

5. Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings:

A wise woman (my mum) once said to me… feelings are for feeling, not ignoring, judging or shaming.

Unfortunately, we have been led to believe that there are “good” and “bad” feelings.

Happiness and joy are for feeling, but anger, frustration and sadness are for ignoring.

The truth is, all feelings are valid and should be felt entirely. It is not our place to judge our feelings, and doing this can actually lead to a lot more destructive self-judgement and shame.

I find it helpful to observe my feelings like I am watching cars pass by. I acknowledge when I am feeling angry or frustrated, or anxious and allow that feeling to sit with me for a while with the knowledge it isn’t permanent. In time, it passes, and a new feeling emerges and so on.

I find that there are things I can do that help when I feel emotionally drained, like going for a long walk, meditating, sitting down on the floor and just doing nothing for a few minutes, taking a shower, listening to music and giving myself permission to cry if I need to.

This isn’t about getting rid of unpleasant feelings, but more about just helping myself move through them more easily.

It is not our responsibility to try and control the feelings we have either, but it is our responsibility to choose how we respond to them. I find it helpful to explicitly tell my family “I am feeling kind of angry at the moment, and frustrated, so I need to take some space so that I can move through it. It’s not about you at all… I just feel angry right now”.

I am actually not the biggest crier typically, not because I don’t want to – it is just not something that needs to happen for me too often. During this tough period though I often sat in the shower, let the water run over my face and had a good cry.

I wasn’t afraid to show the kids that things were hard for me too, that crying when you feel sad is totally normal and that sometimes life just sucks a little bit. I have long stopped trying to hide every emotion I have from my children –  I now choose to show them how to allow emotions to come and go rather than to get totally carried away by them or to swallow them down.

6. Focus on the positives:

One thing I have learned in my 36 years is that there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for. Even if it is pretty damn hard to see.

For me, that huge mess of a year has so many positives and things I am grateful for that I sometimes can’t believe it. Here are just a few:

  • I drink freshly ground black coffee each morning on my verandah with my husband Scott. A new routine I look forward to every day.

  • I have spent the first year of my business in lockdown, with children home and I still achieved a huge amount. I am grateful for the skills I learned, and I know that if I can do this… I can do anything.

  • I was able to spend time with my family that I never would have had otherwise. Sure, they drove me crazy most days, but reflecting on it now I really got to know my kids a lot better in the time that we had in lockdown.

  • I found the support that I needed and sought help when I needed it.

  • Scott has been in rehab for his injury and has come out the other side stronger than he was before the surgery.

  • I have so many women around me that have had my back.

  • Now that the lockdown is easing, I take pleasure in the simple things, like having coffee while writing this blog in my favourite cafe… I have a new appreciation for this.

I will wrap up by saying that Scott is doing absolutely amazingly. He is walking with minimal pain and if you didn’t know he had sustained the injury, you would never guess what he went through.

His intense rehab is coming to an end and he can walk the dogs with me again.

He can lift our baby, and drive the kids to school.

I am amazed at his resilience and strength. I know sometimes he feels frustrated at the time it has taken him, and he is yet to get back onto his beloved surfboard, but I know he will!

And me? I am doing really well too! I have a thriving business, my husband is nearly recovered and my kids are back at school. I learned how strong I was this year and I am so proud of what I have achieved.

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