Riding the emotional rollercoaster of self employment

Life is like a box of chocolates as Forest Gump famously quoted.  And this is particularly so for men and women riding the emotional rollercoaster of  self employment and small business.  Helping to cope with ups and downs is the topic of this blog.  

To get a little philosophical, life is full of polar opposites to the whole.  Night & Day, Black & White, Happy & Sad, Rich & Poor, Tall & Short.  You get the drift.

I’ve been running businesses for nearly 18 years and driven down all the polar opposite roads.   From great success, confidence and  feeling totally invincible to crushing angst,  defeat and vulnerability.

I’m  betting most of you have, are or were on those polar roads too. Confidence is eroded and questions whether to hang in or jump ship are constant aching thoughts.

At the best of times being self employed or running a small business has plenty of ups and downs.

The last few years 

But the last few years of the pandemic, wars, environmental and weather disasters has added additional and unique challenges for many.    

Many self-employed, freelancers  and small business owners laid bare their economic, emotional, mental health  and sustainability issues and fears.  People stepped out with stories of vulnerability and fear. 

Similarly a bunch kept a  brave face no matter the reality.  The latter often would put extra effort into appearing as they had no challenges.  This is part of the human condition at any time.

Pretence and success hyperbole, both online and offline can also be a diversion from truth to take the heat off the shame and fear.

Glitter illusion and courage

All that glitters isn’t always gold.  Whom we think are thriving may not be and vice versa.

But when just one person dares to share their truth and story, countless others feel encouraged to step out also.  

That person can often be the voice for many. By virtue, it delivers contagion permission to speak up without fear and judgement.   I hope in writing this blog, I will do that tenet justice.

The rollercoaster reality

Self employment has more ups and downs that a roller coaster.  It’s  not all great freedom, a deluge of $$$, beers and skittles at the best of times is it.  

Of course, it can be and is often. But truth is it has more ups and downs than  rides at Luna Park

Financial pressures can swing the culinary gates from lobster and fine champagne to baked beans on toast and cheap white wine.  The often feast, maintenance  or famine lifestyle is one that employed people just cannot relate.  

I too have sat in the ponds of  great success and confidence next to swamplands of   mistakes, pain and regret.   

Never judge a book by the cover is a motto that rings personally true as few would realise my own roller coaster traverses despite a bold exterior. 

I have learnt to share my truth in a way that resonates and is appropriate. I am human as you are too.

Self-doubt, mental health, physical stresses and loneliness are well documented in small business.  Feeling that we are always on top of our game is a tight rope we grapple with as expected and unexpected pressures present. 

Business. humans and economic markets are fickle at the best of times. We  can all be blindsided and fall off the ride

Most sectors face varying degrees of disruption and competition. We are bombarded with digital media, technology and marketing service options  to navigate and choose.

Social media is both a friend and foe and can be a rabbit hole if not embraced with a broader media and marketing strategic focus.

The pressure to be seen to be smashing it with influence, popularity and success on and off social media can be gruelling. 

Vulnerability & Shame

There is a lot of comfort in taking in the work of Brené Brown. The world’s leading researcher on shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy, teaches that shame is highly destructive.

She defines the difference between shame and guilt as:

 “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful — it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore, unworthy of love and belonging. Something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. “

“Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive.

This definition flicks the switch off the heat of shame and fear and broadens self-awareness and understanding.  Brené Brown also shares: 

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” and “vulnerability is not a weakness but a myth which is profoundly dangerous.”

Denying vulnerability truly harms humans and businesses and necessitates removing the glitter and gloss upfront. There is an obvious demarcation between positivity and denial, and the swing is fluid.  

Hope is a far more practical and empowering perspective often than fairy tale positivity.

Sitting in a room without air

And for many there can be the extra layer of family financial demands and time pressures to navigate. But feelings of inadequacy and not feeling good enough (shame) can sabotage business and personal success and happiness.

It will display in many ways with the common thread of not wanting to ask for help and not being willing to be vulnerable.

Concealing feelings and the truth of situations is not a fun place to sit. It’s like sitting in a room without air.

There is a long line between the adage of ‘fake it till you make it’ and honest vulnerability. Butterflies in the stomach before a TV interview or nervousness before presenting at a conference is not the same space.

It sits in the ‘practice makes perfect’ and ‘I am always learning’ seat. That is a positive place compared to shame which is damaging and erodes.

Differences in responding

While coaching hundreds of men and women in their careers and businesses over the last 18 years, I have observed several common denominators where shame interplayed with negative consequences.

Men often struggled with asking for any help, preferring to sort things out themselves. Embarrassment about circumstances, when combined with a lack of self-worth, would cause immeasurable harm.

Fear of admitting they were suffering and had lost their sense of business direction or truth was common.  The shame feeling they were letting others down keeps many men closed off for asking for help in careers and life

Meanwhile, women often struggle with mild to polarising self doubt.   Feelings of not being worthy manifested in them struggling to market themselves and ‘put themselves out there’.

They felt shame if their work didn’t speak for itself, and hence it felt too vulnerable to champion themselves.

10 Tips to Cope 

1. Ditch the ‘so busy mantra’ in the hope it will build your credibility.  It is not only dull to hear, but potential clients will be lost—the same precept of wanting to appear much more significant than you are.   There are clever ways to position availability.

2.Sharing your truth and vulnerability permits others to share their own. Honest stories shared in the right way to the right people at the right time build trust and a calming sense that ‘you are not alone’.

3.Change and ramp up marketing and communication messaging.  Go as bold as you want. Be brave

4. Share when you are looking for new clients. Of course, you may want to frame it to your style. But admit it.

5. Don’t buy into the ‘ostensible successes of others on social media. People hide their truth are frightening levels. You do you ok and don’t compare yourself to others/

6. Hold your power in your business’s size and focus on marketing your value, not the gloss of the brouhaha that  ‘big and expansions’ is better’.

7. Find your biggest fans and ask them for a little pep session.  Who supports you is so important.  Listen to others who want the best for you.

But be mindful of people who do not appreciate and are on board with being self employed.  Their own fears can overlay  and not be helpful. Read more about this issues here in a podcast I did for Flying Solo 

8. Ask for help in understanding new technologies or business tools. Everyone has different learning styles and time frames of absorption. We are all different, and it’s okay.

9. Don’t be pressured into following what the masses are doing online (esp LinkedIn)  if it doesn’t feel authentic. Being vulnerable also means saying no.

10,.Be mindful that “reality statements are not value-judgements.”  

We are all human beings navigating our way through businesses and life. There is no shame in not having all the answers, not always smashing and being vulnerable.  

In a world where communication of our brand builds trust, genuine self-awareness through honest sharing and vulnerability can be a real superpower.   And it helps to cope with the impact of those roller coaster ups and downs.


Need some coaching and marketing support? Book a 90 minute consulting session with Sue 

For more tips download a FREE eBook   Navigating the Road out of Self Doubt 


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