When I talk to business owners, I tend to hear “business is great”–a lot. “We closed a bunch of new business! My employees are rockin’ it! Going to work feels like I’m on vacation!” But then, if I get the privilege of working with them, I hear a different story. “How do I start making some money? Why are my employees so frustrating? When do I get to take a vacation?” The reality of our lives isn’t always what we share when we meet other business owners.
Of course it makes sense. In a way, we are always “selling”. We want to make a positive impression to everyone just in case that person might buy from us or give us a referral. You never know who will be in a position to buy, or to refer a talented employee… So we lie. Some would prefer to say we embellish the truth, or polish the apple. But no matter how we dress it up to ourselves, it comes down to the fact that we aren’t telling it like it is.
And that always has a consequence. When I lie all day about how my business is going, at the end of the day I’m sitting with the truth–all by myself. Talk about feeling alone. There’s not much worse than carrying the weight of the world (when you own a business, your business is your world) on my shoulders and feeling like there is no one around who can help me. That feels terrible! I know I can’t carry all that. I can’t do it all. I’m so afraid of failing, of disappointing everyone, of revealing what a fraud I was all along…
It feels pretty bad, doesn’t it? But I’ll tell you a secret: we all feel that way. We all feel alone. We all feel like frauds. We all need help. (Even–and sometimes especially–the “successful” ones.)
Who do you call when things are bad?
If we are going to keep going in this life of a business owner, we need to have some people who know the truth (and believe in us anyway). I wish that my spouse or significant other could be that person. But if they are dependent–to any extent– on us “bringing home the bacon”, they can get threatened when we talk about our fears and shortcomings. Our spouses are not ideal for this.
I’ve tried to talk to my friends about my fears. They can be helpful. Some of them have practical advice to give. Plus–if they are good friends–they know me and can see strengths I have, or ways I’m growing, that could solve some of my problems. But ultimately, if they aren’t business owners, they always end up saying, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just get a job?” Where this piece of advice comes from doesn’t really matter, because “just getting a job” and/or returning to corporate life is NOT the answer for me!
I’m lucky. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve built up a good community of people who know me. People I can be honest with. Other business owners who have seen me in good times. These are the people who aren’t going to doubt me because I am having challenges today. But it has taken me years to find these folks and learn which ones are safe and which ones aren’t.
Beyond business problems.
It’s bad enough when the problems I have are just business problems. But when my problems are with my family, my health, or my sanity in general, my circle grows even smaller. The trouble is, if these are the issues I’m struggling with, my need for perspective is even greater. For these issues I need to turn to people I really trust; people who have proven themselves “safe” over time.
No matter how successful or healthy I am, “situations” come up. Life happens–the good, the bad, and the ugly–inside and outside of my business. I need to build the relationships now that I will be able to call on when the time comes. That doesn’t mean I get all utilitarian and look at each relationship in my life in terms of “what I can get out of it”. I can’t (and don’t) categorize people into “likely to bring me business” and “a waste of time”. But–as my father would say–I “should dig a hole before I need the water.”
Recognizing the value of relationships with people who can really empathize with and understand my life as a business owner, means I understand that I need friends. I need true friends in the business world.
And so I’m intentional about building friendships with other business owners (with whom I’m not doing business). I invest in those friendships, knowing that down the road I may need to call on them for perspective, encouragement, honesty, or just an understanding ear.
Today, in a group of business owners at a networking group or an educational event, or even in a more structured environment like Vistage, I’m looking not just for prospects and referral partners, but for friends. I invest in relationships with a small handful of folks regularly. We have meals together. I talk with them about issues or problems (small ones at first) and I pay attention to how they respond. Can they be vulnerable too? Can they relate? Can they listen? The ones that can, well, I cherish those folks. They’re gold to me.
Where is your gold? Who can you talk to who knows you and understands what life is like for you as a business owner, and as a whole person?
Photo credit: Muffet