Why you should never start a business

Updated to Life on July 11, 2019.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

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Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

You knew the timing was right.

Your friends said it was a great idea.

So you took the leap, hung up your shingle and started a business.

And then…

Somewhere along the way the hours got longer, nights got shorter and then there was the gnawing feeling of overwhelm and endlessly falling behind.

You, my friend, are experiencing the curse of entrepreneurship: your success will be at then end of a long, often discouraging, road of pain, frustration and set-backs.

I’ve been there – maybe still am – many times.

When I started BlogWorks, my current company, I was stepping into a world of providing social media, but not as an experienced expert.

The first year was exciting as I designed programs, found clients and build a skeleton team. The second year was struggling to find clients by wasting money on failed marketing, following gurus who made their money by telling everyone how to do it better than they ever did and occasionally hitting a home run.

The third year I wanted to quit.

Sales were stagnant, costs were up and it had become painfully uncomfortable to tell people what I did.

It’s the curse of entrepreneurship.

That’s why I don’t think you should start a business.

Instead, I think you should start to work on you.

Let me explain…

If you are going to enjoy the sweet success you dream of it will change you irreparably. You will undoubtedly be braver, less susceptible to criticism, staff quitting or losing your “perfect client” to a competitor.

You will also be a better leader – more decisive, less distracted and will have mastered the art of reaching decisions, but doing it in a way that your team owns the decision and all the work that comes next.

You will be a different person – better, smarter, stronger and much, much more disciplined

So, why not start today?

1. Develop more Discipline

If you want to design a more successful day, nothing is more important than your routines – your habit muscles. Start with your sleep, waking, morning routines and then experiment. Maybe you need to go to sleep at the same time, or wake up earlier or build writing or exercise into your morning routine.

The goal is to enjoy the benefits of better habits (like less sugar, more water) AND to build the natural growth of discipline that comes from repeating routines and avoiding temptation. In this article I lay out the three habits I would most recommend for any entrepreneur.

You need stronger habit muscles to fight for your business success. Now’s the time to start building them.

2. Reach for Risk

At some point in your start-up growth you will come face to face with risk. Why not start today?

The experience of risk is all about loss and choosing alternatives. After my first year with BlogWorks I risked hiring local talent to help grow my capacity. Maybe for you it’s registering for a conference, getting a coach or investing in a better website.

By definition, taking a risk doesn’t always end well. On the other hand, taking no risks gets you nothing new.

3. Think like a CEO

Being a good consultant, coach or speaker does not (this includes anyone who speaks on these topics) make you a good leader. It took me years to learn I was a micromanager, control freak and workaholic.

Worst still, I was teaching leadership!

When you think like a CEO you think about growth and capacity and empowering others. You also get comfortable trading a different approach (and occasional mistakes) for getting stuff done.

Your success as an entrepreneur will be completely unique (and wonderful) and undoubtedly not at all what you planned.

And that’s okay.

What you can plan for is you will be a different person – wiser, stronger and more resilient to what life throws at you. A better version of you.

Why not start changing today?

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash