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The business of being human. Coping in a crisis.

May 19, 2017

I am not writing this to tell you how to cope in a crisis and neither do I want to come across as some life coach or guru – I’ll leave that to others more suitably qualified. What I am going to do is just tell it as it is.

Sometimes life gets complicated and work stops.

Silver lining

In late March through to the end of April this year something bad was happening and I stopped being able to function.  The idea of emailing or phoning clients to explain the situation I was in was difficult because it wasn’t exactly ‘my’ situation to tell, it was something personal and challenging involving my family who were in the middle of a crisis, a crisis which came to my house, the house where my office is located (I had no problem with this by the way, I was happy that I could help).

Anyway, I did what I could to let people know what was going on but to be honest most of the time I was just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the extra 6 weeks on the projects left hanging would go somewhat unnoticed.  For the most part I was not even able to think about work much as things were just too crazy, both in my head (processing the trouble) and in reality. I found myself with zero capacity for creative thinking and with about only 20% capacity for repetitive and predictable tasks.  My mojo had been well and truly squashed.

As one would expect my income dried up during this time and while I had a bit of cash to keep me going I was not only earning nothing but having to spend more as I played my part to absorb this problem. It wasn’t long before the stress and adrenaline rush that I’d been experiencing because of a situation external to my being started to become stress and adrenaline about my ability to pay my own mortgage and other bills.  There was no way I could go down with this ship, I realised that I was the ship, a ship with more passengers than I had previously given credit for.

By the way, I’m sorry for the cryptic nature of this but as things are still playing out with this drama I don’t want to say too much.  Suffice to say that it was not nice.

Anyway, things pretty much exploded then changed on the home front before my business shat its self (which it didn’t, thankfully) and after a day in recovery I literally dragged myself back into it, answering emails and tackling things one by one.

This was neither easy nor pleasant.

That whole week I felt strung out, exhausted, over-whelmed and deeply burdened by a to-do list that I couldn’t even face writing for fear that it would just make me feel worse.

I was able to detach little by little from the family situation,  enough to fit more and more work in,  first 4 hours per day then 6 and then 8.   I’m two weeks into it now and can finally stay awake for long enough to do an 8 hour day AND function as a person.  That feels good.  What feels even better is the energy boost that the last couple of days have given me – new work coming in,  old projects going well,  all customers now dealt with, mortgage paid and tax payments almost covered (almost….)

But to do this I’ve had to draw on an almost super-human inner strength and block out those niggling ‘I can’t do this any more’ feelings.

So what has this got to do with you?

Well, I just wanted to say that guys, if you have a business or want to own a brand some day, shit happens and if, like me, you rely on having your shit together (sorry for the language) then these times are going to hit like a brick.  I am not sure you can prepare or rehearse 100% for those unexpected scenarios where you can’t work for a period of time but I am convinced that there are some small steps you can take to give yourself breathing space when needed.

These are the things that I think have helped me, in this situation, this time. I can’t say that they would help again or are relevant to you but hey ho. I hope it doesn’t sound too preachy.

  1. When times turn bad it is great if you can be surrounded by people who know you and have your back, even if you feel like running away and curling up into a ball,  You can’t. I am lucky to have that in my husband, children and some close friends and extended family. I am grateful I didn’t totally neglect those relationships while building this business as when you need them, you need them bad 🙂
  2. As a business owner you CAN choose your company culture, your client base and your modus operandi with regards to contact.  On the whole my customers have been amazing,  so very supportive. Indeed, after a little bit of explaining and then demonstrating my re-gained competence all of my customers came through with me. Sure I had to face a bashing for a few days and sure, some of them might not come back (crazy woman has a life that sometimes gets in the way of her work – that is true) but that’s OK because on the whole we did it!
  3. Be fair and open in the good times, not just to build credit for dramas down the track, but because you are a fair and open person.  I have had customers that have gone through problems or got distracted during their time working with me and as hard as it has been sometimes I’ve tried, on the whole to bite my tongue when things got annoying, to re-write those smart email responses for something more giving and loving and generally keep communication channels open and respectful. It is all too easy to be rude and walk away from people but do it too often and the word becomes a nasty place.
  4. DON’T THROW IN THE TOWEL JUST BECAUSE YOU FEEL JOYLESS ABOUT YOUR WORK FOR A WHILE.  There have been many times when I’ve thought ‘stuff it, it is all just tooooooo hard’  but I’ve realised that’s just my doubts and fears coming in again.  Running a business where you NEED the money to keep coming in is seriously scary and can feel extremely lonely. No wonder that when things go bad in other areas of life you feel like calling it a day.  The best way I’ve found to get over myself in these moments is to just put my head down and do it, starting with something simple and building up with something more rewarding.  Eventually the joy of why you do what you do returns and you thank your lucky stars you didn’t apply for that job on a checkout at Aldi 🙂
  5. Take care of your mental health by being kind to yourself.   I’ve had to pick myself up and get on with it a few times in my life and this has been no different.  But carrying on like nothing happened is neither realistic or healthy. The best way that I’ve found for me to deal with life’s downers is to set up some rules of engagement and then exercise discipline in sticking to them.  So for example, I might allow myself an hour in the morning to dwell on said issue, do some googling, mull over it with a friend over coffee or go to a therapy session or for a walk or whatever but the rest of the day I just get on with work – shift my focus.  Easier said than done in the beginning but over time I’ve found it easier.

We are all human and while I do think that clients should be treated with a professional distance and not put at a disadvantage when things go wrong there are times when it just can’t be helped. In those times it is often what happens next that makes the most difference and how you move forward is easier with a plan.

I wish I had have found it easier to pick up the phone earlier and kept more people in the loop but that’s my own personal issue to deal with and deal with it I am.

I just wanted to put this out there because I know that some of you are business owners too and I wanted to stand in solidarity side by side with you and explain that I know how it feels when you just can’t do it any more.  This too will pass x

 

 

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