Today’s post is a guest post from Oliver Kaufman, the founder of The World Within. I met Oliver while doing outreach for another post on this site, and I’m glad I did! His words are thoughtful and speak to the heart. I’m happy to share this post below. Enjoy!
One of the unique challenges as an entrepreneur can be the anxiety you have regarding your ability to get things done. After all, much can hinge on your success: your ability to continue your business, the quality of life you’re able to maintain, the jobs of other people you hire, the kind of future you’ll have, and more. And even before you start your business, you can feel a pressure to follow through, to make sure that what you want to happen, happens. The fear of not doing enough, or of not doing the right things for your business, can plague you. But it’s important to remember that these states of fear can hurt you, just as much as failing might. As much as you might want to take care of your business, balancing that with taking care of your well-being is an essential part of being both an entrepreneur, and a human.
In order to take care of your well-being, you need to be able to take the time to assess and work on your feelings. For this, you’ll need the same kind of diligence and forethought that you might approach a problem in your business. You want to be able to feel balanced, courageous, peaceful, as well as resolved and at ease with your decisions. Whether you take a break or buckle down, every choice you make comes from some sort of reasoning inside you. So, working on your well-being is essentially taking care of the quality of your own choices, which will apply to every aspect of your life, including your work. Thus, you can reserve some of the time normally reserved for your business to work on your feelings, since the two are integrally linked.
In this article, we’re mainly going to address the anxiety that you can face as an entrepreneur. That said, there are more resources for various inner ailments on my website here: – you may find something equally helpful.
Step 1 – Identify your Anxiety
In order to work on anxiety, you have to have a sense of what your particular anxieties are about. Is it fear of failure? This can be the biggest one, and can feed into smaller anxieties about what might happen as a consequence of that failure. Whatever anxieties or worries you have, create a list of them. Big overarching threats, as well as relatively minor things that bother you. Your list may be long or short – just try to include the things that actively can scare, worry, or bother you on the inside.
Examples: Fear of failure, fear of not doing enough in a given time frame, fear of not getting enough success, even fear of success and what that might mean.
Step 2 – Gain Awareness
Now it’s time to dig a bit deeper into what gives these anxieties their power, and find a little bit out about what they’re made of. You want to get to things like your motives for being anxious, so that you can properly address the anxiety without just ignoring it. As you may know, the surest way to keep a problem from going away is by ignoring it. So instead, look into the issue deeply until the solution reveals itself.
First, try visualizing your anxieties. You can chose all your anxieties at once, or particular ones. Try to go with whatever ones are strongest for you. When ready, close your eyes and picture what those anxieties look like. Do they appear like a black, staticky cloud that clings to you? Are they another part of you entirely, a creature or person whose anxiousness has been influencing you? Maybe the entire area around you is a swirling black abyss, filled with fear.
Whatever you find, do what you can, within the visualization, to separate yourself from it. Let yourself be as much at ease as you can, even as you hold the anxiety within your awareness. Observe it as though it were an entity separate from you, and do so without judgement. This is not your enemy, this is not something to be discarded. It is just, there. And maybe you will be able to do something to transform or calm it.
Step 3 – Connection and Understanding
Every part of you, every subconscious behavior, has its own reasons for doing what it does. In a similar way to how we can connect with and understand other people, we can do so with these parts and behaviors. What makes them tick? The answer to this will inform how we can find a personalized solution.
For this, try to have a conversation with this part of your inner reality you’ve identified as your anxiety. You may find it represents something else entirely – such as love of freedom, childhood innocence, distrust of self – but for now, you know it as your anxiety.
To have a conversation like this, you have to be willing to consider what a feeling inside you might say. Even a swirling storm can have a voice. There’s a little bit of acting and imaging to this, but certain words will likely feel right to this inner entity, and it’s those words that you can respond to.
So, either in your visualization or written down, try imagining what your anxiety might say to you. If they have a lot to say, really give them a chance to speak. Hear them out. Then, give your response (again, on paper or within your visualization). Likewise, let it reply to you, and from there, just continue to go back and forth with patience, switching between listening openly and responding genuinely. Try to understand the dilemmas being faced by this side of you. Learn what it wants. Be a student of this living part of yourself, a part who is obviously having some trouble emotionally. Practice empathy and compassion, but also be genuine in your interest to resolve what’s going on, because the anxiety is still going to be disruptive in your everyday life.
Note: if you’re having trouble conversing in words with the anxiety, try experimenting with more active responses. Lend your imagination to how you’d approach or try to understand this aspect of yourself. Would you shine light on it? Would you tell it to calm? Follow your intuition and work with the force of your anxiety directly, until you find a resolution.
Step 4 – The Resolution
At some point, you’ll reach a form of resolution. This could be verbal agreement between you and the part, or it may be a marked change in the way what you visualized appears. In either case, you ought to feel a distinct calming down of the anxiety. It’ll feel like, on some root level, something important fueling the anxiety has been addressed. Learning, understanding, and negotiation all may have played a part. And there still might be things unresolved. But, at least by making some progress, you can move forward with that experience under your belt, and with new tools in your arsenal to approach future issues of anxiety.
If you don’t feel this sense of calm or resolution, it may be an indication to keep going. Maybe there is still more to understand about your anxiety, or maybe there’s something misguided about your approach. Are you being too impatient and rushing things? Do you have a fixed outcome in mind that you refuse to let go of, even when it stops you from finding a more balanced solution?
In addition to the exercise above, I wanted to offer some of the following points that may help you with alleviating anxiety:
- In the pursuit of accomplishing things, it can be all too easy to attach oneself to the outcome. The truth is, whether or not we accomplish what we specifically want, we’ll always be able to readjust to the outcome we get, and adapt. By trusting in your ability to handle what comes in life, you can be more at ease with fluid outcomes, failing to hit your targets, and in general with not finding the level of success you want. No matter external outcomes, an undaunted spirit is always going to be more beneficial to you than success itself. More failure may always happen later, even if you find success now. So doing what you can to be unhindered by that failure, even before it happens, can help you be centered and at ease in this moment. Peace of mind, clarity, and flexibility are all possible for you, here.
- One exercise to try, in this regard, is to imagine how you might handle each failure that frightens you. Really imagine if it were to happen, and think through how you’d handle it. This can aid in your ability to trust yourself to handle failure, and feel centered in your capability.
- Be careful not to entrench yourself with your goals. Especially when it comes to starting your own business, it can be all too easy to make your business and its success part of your identity. After all, you will end up telling other people about it, you’ll work hard on it, and it will consume much of your time. But the goals you choose are never you. Ideally, you want your goals to be natural expressions of your being, things that are always genuine to who you are. In other words, you must remain open to those goals changing. Maybe, two years into working on you business, you feel that it isn’t right anymore, and that some other goal calls to you. It may take serious introspection to really decide on changing direction, but try to give yourself that time. By doing so, you make it so your goals are not a prison, but an expression of you in your freedom, as you grow and change as an individual. Never let the things you create yourself bind and chain you.
- If you’re unsure of whether or not you really want to do something, you can always try to find confirmation in parts of you that are without fear. Ask yourself: what you would find important in your life if you were without fear? Asking this can be extremely helpful in seeing past your coping mechanisms, and getting on a path where bravery can lead you to something satisfying. If you want to go past your fears, you want to make sure that what drives you is true to what you really want. Make sure to lead this process with your heart and feelings, rather than your thoughts. Thoughts can always go astray, but by feeling it out you can get a stronger sense of what answer personally feels right to you. And remember, you can always reevaluate your answers.
It’s important to remember with anxiety that it focuses a lot of its energy on controlling things, specifically to make sure things “don’t go badly”. It’s an over-investment in things going well, that can stem from a fear of them not going well. But every time things don’t go well, you always have options. Consider the overall journey, and that there will be many times when instead of in a safe haven, you will be in the midst of uncertainty. Can you trust yourself enough to handle negative outcomes, to redirect your path when you find yourself far off-course? In other words, finding that self-trust and surrendering control are both essential for anxiety.
Control is a huge trap to fall into as an entrepreneur. The success of your business is a specific goal in mind, and if you could control outcomes, you could get there. But control is essentially your fear coming through in the form of desire and attachment to escaping what you fear. And that fear can come from a lack of understanding of how to find what you want. After all, if we don’t understand how to find a job we love, it can be scary to have to deal with the downsides of job we hate. That suffering can make us attach to things like entrepreneurship as an opportunity to escape what we hate, and can lend a sort of blind frenzy to what we’re doing. And as you can probably surmise, that approach can lead to swift failure, since blind, impatient decisions are not going to lend themselves to success with something as difficult as starting your own business.
The antithesis to control is openness and receptivity. After all, there’s so much of the world we don’t control, and if we can become at peace with those aspects of the world, it can allow us to engage respectfully with it.
In business, for example, relationships are key. If you can’t be open to what other people’s priorities are, it limits your ability to engage positively with them, which in turn hurts your business. Control lends itself to the idea that business has the goal of a one way funnel, of money, time, and attention from other people, towards your business. In that vision, your only role is to do everything “right” to master and manipulate the world into giving you as much as you want with that funnel. But in surrendering control, we can come to understand business as two-way. We put ourselves in a mode of giving freely, while our audience, whoever they may be, will respond to it. If they don’t, we perhaps haven’t found the right audience, or maybe that demographic is smaller than we think. Maybe the way people respond to our offerings can inform us about what their priorities are, and we can adjust in ways that still fit ourselves, but perhaps present things in more fitting ways for them.
Fear, on the other hand, leads to compromise. We become desperate for attention, for money. We can end up adopting practices that rely on manipulation and trickery, and find ourselves treating other people’s unwillingness to pay us as something we must defeat. You can see how problematic this is, since it sets up your intent as counter to other people, when businesses should be about bringing something of value to others. It’s what you want, after all, when you spend your money with a business, right? Whatever you buy, you want it to be of value, and given from a good place. You don’t want to be met with aggressive selling tactics, gimmicks, or be given customer service run-around. You want it to be a true exchange.
This is why openness can help. The more we become at peace with reality, able to surrender control over success, the more we’re able to think through the problems in front of us, and come up with something genuine and good that serves others. Something that involves others, not merely to prey on them, but to have a genuine exchange with them. We’ll end up having more satisfying success, and feel more at peace throughout the process. In that sense, if building a business is consistently stressful, if you feel like you’re struggling too much, you may need to consider where you’re trying to control things too much.
And as far as truly releasing control, exercises like the one earlier in the article can help – you want to get to the root of controlling behavior, which can be present in something like your anxiety. When confronting such behavior, remember openness, and that there are other ways to get what you’re truly looking for.
Lastly, another small exercise you can try would be to consider the positive aspects of what you might want to escape. The job you may hate, your own lack of money, your feelings of being lost or powerless – what are the good in these? Even unfortunate situations like that can have aspects you can appreciate. Being lost can mean opportunity to find new direction, a “lack” of money can just be a reminder to reevaluate your approach, as can a sense of powerlessness. And even a job you hate earns you money, sustains you even as you figure out other approaches you might rather take. In that manner, you can always look for the good, even while admitting the bad. Both can exist side-by-side, and, by admitting that, it can give you a sense of peace as you look forward.
I touched on this a little bit, but it’s extremely important to trust yourself in order to handle anxiety, or rather, to handle life. Anxiety reveals a kind of insecurity or uncertainty about your ability to handle outcomes you didn’t aim for. The word “failure” itself, can conjure up a sense of a dark, unfortunate pit – a scary place you must avoid at all costs. But missing a shot with your bow-and-arrow of intention doesn’t mean you can’t shoot again. It also doesn’t mean you can’t stop and consider why you missed the shot in the first place. Maybe there was an aspect you didn’t consider, maybe you neglected something in the basics – like your stance, sense of balance, or point of focus.
Even pits of failure can be gotten out of, even if it’s not as simple as just trying again. Sometimes, we stop trying because we have insecurity about whether or not we’re even good enough to succeed. Our failure can spur on guilt, especially when we have a vision of ourselves and what life would be like if we succeeded. Those visions are a double-edged sword – able to give us a sense of hope and vision, but at the same time can be used to justify self-punishment, guilt, and shame when we don’t “measure up” to that vision. The feelings we face in our failure can be some of the most intense, but that only makes them all the more important to address. Indeed, moments of failure can be catalysts for some of the most positive inner transformation, because it can force us to confront our own dark insecurities and shames that have been lurking and ready to strike at such moments. To find your way through those dark moments, do what you can to remember kindness, compassion, empathy, and love, and find willingness to give it to yourself. Remember your sense of your own dignity, and how being held to an impossible standard of success isn’t fair. You can climb out of the pit, and try again. You can trust yourself with failure, success, and everywhere in-between. The whole process of trial, error, and learning is yours to explore, and there’s no shame in any part of it.
These kinds of affirmations and considerations can help, but in particular exercises like the one earlier in the article can have the most impact. But the details in this section are still important because the parts of you that are hurting may need to be reminded, by you, of things like kindness, love, and empathy. Affirming the value of these principles beforehand can help you remember them when confronted with inner pain, and guide how you respond effectively.
Hopefully, this article has provided you with some tools and perspective with which you can approach your anxiety in a proactive way. In turn, this may not only help your business, but help you with knowing what decisions feel best to you, personally. This should help you to live your life in a fulfilling way, regardless of what that looks like on an external level.
In working with yourself, there can be many different outcomes: you may find a renewed approach to your own business, you may find that it’s time to focus on other priorities, you may find the strength to let go of something unfulfilling (in favor for something that is), or you may just find peace and affirmation with regards to your current approach.
Whatever happens or you decide, hopefully this article helps you find a greater sense of ease on the inside. And when new issues emerge, you can always re-approach whatever feelings come up. You may find that those feelings, even the chaotic, painful ones, help you understand what you want to do, in a way that may be innovative or unusual. Feelings can bring up issues that we may not have even thought of, but it is precisely a consideration of those issues that can bring us to a more balanced and fulfilling life. To consider them can be what deepens our experience of life beyond what relatively static or fixed visions we might have.
Remember that the unexpected can contain what we fear, yes, but it can also contain unexpected beauty and situations that are affirming, inspiring, or open up something new and extraordinary. Our life isn’t only about our goals or starting and succeeding in a business venture. It can be about our ability to handle failure, to adapt and change. It can be about what we learn, how we grow, and what we uncover about ourselves and the world around us. Rather than just bringing your dream to life, always consider what can bring you to life, whether that’s your dream, or something else you never even considered.
All the best,
org/ailments/anxiety/] – this is a general article about anxiety on my website, and goes over many of the points above and more. There are links to related pages at the bottom.
Explore your Inner World [http://www.theworldwithin.
org/exploring-your-inner- world/] – a list of guides to other techniques you can use to work with and explore the forces in your life that are a part of your inner experience.