Eight years ago, I changed careers and opened a boutique fitness studio.
The vantage point of many, when they hear this, is to express admiration for having the “courage” to follow my dreams, or to express regret that they themselves didn’t follow theirs. Most often, I hear about how nice it must be to “set your own schedule” or “take vacations when you want.”
I usually just nod, smile, and reinforce. But here’s the truth about about being an entrepreneur:
Yes, I get to set my own schedule. But I do this in the same way a parent “sets their own schedule”: it’s “my” schedule based on the load of how much I can bear before I break.
Sure, I can take a day off for vacation, or an hour off to attend something at my son’s school, but the work doesn’t go away. The responsibility doesn’t pass. I’m not getting paid during those hours I’m doing “what I want.”
I write Facebook posts or send texts to my clients from my bed. I mop the studio floor while I’m on the phone with a friend or a client. I’m eternally carrying, transporting, dropping things off, or picking things up on the way to here or from there.
I’m forever “reinvesting” money into sanity-saving contractors or new equipment for projects like you would invest in a hobby. I don’t get paid for conferences or meetings or networking events: I have to pay for them, and the fact that it’s a “tax write-off” isn’t the same thing as expensing those perks.
I’m constantly juggling two things at once, in a way that salaried employees don’t really ever have to. And I know, because I’ve been one.
I truly love what I do, and it has deep meaning to me beyond a paycheck. So I reinforce people’s ideas about what it “must be like,” because telling someone that I go home after a workday to work sounds like I’m complaining. I’m not complaining or I would simply close the business, but I also don’t want to break other people’s dreams about entrepreneurship.
People with children do the same thing: “It’s a love you’ve never known before,” they say, but with no accompanying warning that it’s also “a pain and challenge that you’ve never known before.”
The mental load of entrepreneurship is every bit as heavy as raising a child—the only analogy I’m willing to give to strangers—and it’s sometimes heavier.
I have had sleepless nights when I haven’t been able to quite sort out where the life jacket is coming from while the boat appears to be sinking. “Sleep when you’re dead” worked for a few years, and then I was sick so much that I burned out. Death may have been occasionally preferable in those years.
I have had paperwork pile up for months as I hold the guilt because it isn’t done, because my core job is being with clients and not sitting at my desk.
When my office was broken into, it was my full responsibility to manage every aspect of the financial and physical impact, just as if it were my own home.
The concept of the ability to do what we want—it’s so light compared to the truth.
I remember sitting in my living room on the five-year anniversary of my business, with a sheet of blue paper and one of my son’s Crayola waterproof markers. I was making a decision about whether I wanted to renew my lease or close. I cried in front of my friend: “I see why most businesses don’t last past five years—the owner quits.” My tears made the yellow ink run on the blue paper.
That was three years ago.
Later, a women’s entrepreneurship expert told me that just five percent of single-mother-owned businesses survive beyond five years. I still see why, but nowadays my pros list is four times the length of the cons. Here are just some:
>> I never get up and dread the fact that it’s Monday and I have to go to work.
>> I never have a client walk in who doesn’t perk up my day and bring life to my brain.
>> I never wish I was somewhere else when I’m in my studio with a client.
>> I never prefer that it’s the weekend or that I could be on vacation when I’m not on vacation.
>> I never feel like I’m sacrificing my dreams.
>> I never feel like my life is on hold for the next weekend or retirement or vacation.
>> My clients feel like my family.
>> I help people and change their lives. I get letters every week telling me what a difference I make in the world.
>> I have freedom to do what I want all the time, not just some of it.
>> I have authentic alignment of my life and a balance in my values and desires that I never had as an employee.
>> I have deep satisfaction in my life’s mission, my work relationships, my goals.
>> I get to be authentic in who I am and not create a work persona.
Everyone who knows me at work would know the same person in any other context—my work is an extension of my life. I get to do self-growth and self-work as part of my job. This is hard, but I would rather be able to do it than have a broken soul at retirement and wonder where I went for the 40 years I waited to get here.
I love what I do. I get to create my own job, based on my skills and passions and interests. I can integrate the experiences I’ve had into tools to help others.
Entrepreneurship is the most raw and authentic experience I’ve ever had. It’s more exposed than anything I’ve ever done. It’s not actually about courage or freedom; it’s about a need for this level of intensity, growth, challenge, authenticity, depth, and passion. Courage and freedom don’t even begin to touch the tip of the iceberg.
But if I simply nod and smile, now you know why.