“Fetola’s Strategic Head for SME Support Anton Ressel shares expert advice on achieving satisfaction.”
By Anton Ressel
A while ago, I wrote an article about the government and the small business sector, referencing a line from the song Traffic in the Sky by Jack Johnson: “If you keep adding stones, soon the water will be lost in the well”.
Today, I am reminded of the song because it’s a fitting analogy for how so many small business owners and entrepreneurs approach their own ‘well’ – namely their emotional and mental reserves and capacity. Too many of us keep adding stones to our well throughout the year and seldom do we pause long enough to take some out. This leaves one feeling depleted and unable to operate at the level needed to make smart decisions and think ahead, often with serious consequences for the business and for ourselves.
When my partners and I started our first business in our late twenties, we wore our ‘12 hour-plus workdays and hustling for sales every weekend’ as a badge of honour. Personally, I was proud of the fact that I never took a proper break, that the business was my number one priority. Even when I did take some time out I was never truly present, there was always an order, a show or a pressing HR issue nagging at the back of my mind.
I couldn’t switch off. After several years of filling my well with all manner of work-related stress and problems to be solved, I found myself hitting a wall of sorts. I was unable to pause and enjoy the growth and success of the business we had collectively built from a team of five, to a serious company with 120 staff and products being sent all over the globe. I was too busy worrying about the upcoming delivery to one or other of the major retailers we were now supplying. My well was dry. Classic business owner burnout.
Fortune is a fanciful beast, and as it turns out the drying up of one well led to the building of a new one, and a whole new career for me. The lesson never left me however, and I have come to respect and embrace the importance of busy and under-pressure entrepreneurs finding ways to remove the stones and keep their wells nice and deep. This is particularly pertinent as we find ourselves at the end of a year unlike most of us have ever experienced. It is fair to say that 2020 was the mother of all stones.
As we approach the festive season and some time off for many of us, we have a wonderful opportunity to reflect and recharge, and to build up energy and enthusiasm for the year ahead. More importantly we need to cultivate ways of doing this when needed throughout the year.
Most of the successful entrepreneurs I have worked with over the years are able to maintain their emotional and mental resilience for the long-term because they know how to switch off when appropriate. They keep their wells full, not in a yin-yang life balance kind of way, but more in a ‘knowing when to down tools and just enjoy what’s in front of you’ kind of way.
How we do this will differ, but there are a few common threads to replenishing your emotional wellspring that are universal:
1. BE PRESENT
Whether you are going fishing, playing golf, paragliding (like our Fetola CEO, Catherine Wijnberg), chilling with your family or just taking a stroll – when you do take time out, do it properly. Personally, I struggle with this, but one needs to turn off the voices in your head, put the cell phone on silent or away and just be present in the moment.
2. BE CONSISTENT
The entrepreneurial journey comes with serious peaks and troughs, periods of boom and bust, and finding ways to maintain your mental reserves and avoid burnout during hectic times can be nigh impossible. But remember it is about being present (see point #1) and not about just showing up, so even short sessions to replenish your well can be very effective. My ex-partner used to have 15-minute power naps under his desk, out like a light he was for that short time then up he would jump and be totally focused and ready to kick some ass. Find ways to consistently give your brain a rest – definitely on weekends and ideally some short stints during the work week. Make it a habit.
3. BE KIND
I have come to realise over the years that those people who seem to have the greatest reserves of emotional, mental and entrepreneurial reserves are the same ones who are able to empathise, support and inspire the people around them. It is almost like being kind makes you emotionally resilient (who knew?). The scientific explanation probably has something to do with neural pathways and dopamine excretion or similar, but basically, you’ll be far happier and emotionally tough if you simply be lekker.
4. BE GRATEFUL
Again one I sometimes struggle with under the weight of all the annoying flies in the ointment of life, but this is probably your strongest stone remover of all. Being able to appreciate and be thankful for your journey, your blessings and even your hardships is a gift that will serve you well your entire life. Read Catherine’s book, Sheep Will Never Rule The World, for some great insights into cultivating an ‘attitude of gratitude’.
At the end of a long year, remind yourself that while the entrepreneurial journey is supposed to be tough, nerve-wracking, stressful and downright insane at certain stages, it is also supposed to be stimulating enriching and fun. Yes, fun. You can only enjoy the great times as well as power through the not-so-great ones if you have enough fuel in the tank, or water in the well. Start tossing some rocks.
About the Author:
Anton Ressel, Fetola Strategic Head, is an experienced and respected business coach, consultant and mentor with a special focus on social entrepreneurship, personal development and business strategy. He has written articles on a range of topics related to entrepreneurship for Fin24, Mail & Guardian, Business Day and Bizcommunity.