For those of you that haven’t seen the movie “Black Swan” starring Natalie Portman, I promise I won’t give away the ending. The plot follows the life of a ballerina as she struggles to embody the dual role of the white swan and the black swan in the Russian ballet Swan Lake. Mastering this duality takes a mental toll on Natalie’s character and the results aren’t pretty.
After seeing this movie, it struck me that the stressors experienced by Natalie’s character are similar to those faced by entrepreneurs on a daily basis.
Stressor 1: Duality
Successful entrepreneurs play different roles within their organization. Some of us have a natural tendency toward a particular type of activity, such as sales or operations or general management. Staying within our skill-set comfort zone is a luxury that can seldom be afforded. We need to step outside of that role when the business requires it. This creates a tension between our preferred role and the necessary role. Many entrepreneurs are brilliant sales people but poor managers. Others are experts at managing operations but dread speaking to a client. While we should focus on our strengths and hire people that complement our talents, we can’t assume that this absolves us from the required duality of a successful entrepreneur.
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Stressor 2: Being on stage
If you have the feeling that everyone is watching you, it isn’t paranoia; they are. Your family, friends, employees, former colleagues, college buddies—everyone—is watching you. In many cases they watch with bated breath to see if you can accomplish what you set out to do. Most people lack the courage to become entrepreneurs. When someone they know does take the risk, they live vicariously through them. It’s just like being on stage. You are vulnerable because any mistakes you make will be out there for public consumption.
Stressor 3: Constant competition
We all know that failure rates for new business ventures are very high. Nobody starts a company expecting to fail. You are assuming that you’ll be in the small minority that build a self-sustaining business or gets acquired. You are constantly competing against your competitors, against time, against your personal weaknesses and against the statistics that say you’ll most likely fail. Even after closing a round of investment or securing a large client, it’s not over. The brief joy experienced is soon overshadowed by the need to continue performing at that level. This lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
Stressor 4: Pendulum between self-doubt and self-confidence
This pendulum can also feel like a roller coaster at times. It’s healthy and natural to have some self-doubt. But as entrepreneurs, we also need to be highly self-confident. There just isn’t any other way to deal with continual rejection from potential customers, investors and employees. Hearing “no” for months on end can shake anyone’s self-confidence and lead to intense bouts of self-doubt. Did I make the right decision? Should I adapt my business model? Should I change my price? Maybe I should just get a job? Swinging back and forth between self-confidence and self-doubt is exhausting.
For the sake of our businesses and our personal sanity, it’s essential to find ways to manage these stressors. When managed properly, they can bring out the best performance in us. When dealt with ineffectively, they can lead to our personal destruction.