Growing up we would take a family trip every year to an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio called Cedar Point. I always looked forward to this trip and I could hang with my brothers on most of the rides. However, there was one ride that terrified me and I practically had to be dragged onto-- the Demon Drop. If you aren’t familiar with the Demon Drop, it’s a ride where you are standing upright in an elevator-style car that is vertically lifted 131 feet into the air. The view from the top was pretty amazing. I could see the whole park, Lake Erie, and Sandusky Bay. So, when I was up there dangling in the sky, it was easy to forget for a second that without warning the car could drop sending me and the other riders hurtling straight toward the ground at 60 mph.
I’ve heard many people describe the entrepreneurial style as a roller coaster ride in the past, but right now it feels more like I was forced onto the Demon Drop. Although we struggled the first couple of years to get the business off the ground, we have been fortunate to continue to grow the business year over year and we had been slowly inching our way to the top. The view was great from up there. We were finally seeing the blood, sweat, and tears we had poured into the business start to pay off and I felt more secure and excited about where the business was heading and our future than ever before.
Right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company was having its best month to date and we were on track to exceed our goals for the year. But just like the ride, with no warning, the floor was pulled out from under us and it felt like we were plummeting to the ground while watching the beautiful view slip away. We have sacrificed so much over the years for the business with the promise that one day it will all be worth it. Many times over the years while I was playing single parent and managing the household while Jeff worked 16 hour days or traveled extensively or when I was anxious about the risk we were taking on and unknown outcomes of the business or during the times of financial and personal sacrifice we chose to make for the long term benefit of the business, I held onto this belief that it was all for a greater purpose. I would tell myself that I was putting in my time and doing my part for the dream of what the business and our future could be. I believed that one day the challenges and sacrifices of entrepreneurship would all pay off in a big way. This belief was often the lifeline that got me through the difficult times we faced. However, recently I have been questioning all of that. Were those dreams just an illusion I created in my head? Was I naive to think that someday we would get to a point where we would be completely secure and content with where the business is at? After all, everyone knows that entrepreneurship is filled with extreme highs and extreme lows. Is all the stress and sacrifice of owning a business worth it when after 10 years of pouring your heart and soul into building up the business something completely outside of your control can shut it down overnight? I’m not sure and these questions have caused a constant knot in my stomach since the crisis began.
As a spouse of an entrepreneur, I am sure you are well-versed in riding the waves of extreme highs and extreme lows that come with starting and running a business. I am sure you are also acutely familiar with risk and uncertainty and I know you have also sacrificed a lot over the years for the great good of the business. It’s possible that many of you have survived a crisis or ten during the course of your business’s inception as well, but what we are experiencing right now with COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis of colossal scale for many of us. Maybe, like me, you are feeling like the floor just dropped out and you are hurtling to the ground at 60 mph. Maybe you are also questioning if it is worth it.
Yes, it’s true that many of the business stressors fall on the shoulders of our entrepreneur, but you as the spouse are also helping to carry this heavy burden along with everything else you have on your plate. You are probably working from home or possibly lost your own job that was helping to support the family. You are taking care of the household, teaching school, entertaining your kids, trying to maintain your own mental health, and supporting your family through this crisis. It's a lot! In addition, the success of the business is tied to your hopes, dream, and future as well as your entrepreneur-spouse, so it can be devastating if you are standing by watching it struggle or crumble.
In my last post, I talked about how you can support your spouse during this crisis because I know for most of us that role comes naturally. It’s what we tend to address first, but don’t forget you are going through this crisis too. We have to appreciate the amount of stress we are under and remember that we have to put the oxygen mask on ourselves so we are able to help those we care about.
It is well documented that stress can take an enormous toll on our body, resilience, and overall well-being. Many articles have been written and podcast episodes recorded about what business owners and entrepreneurs can do to weather the storm and stay resilient during this time, but I couldn’t find one written directly to the spouse who is also going through many of the same struggles. Here are a few things that are helping me during this time and I hope they can provide a little relief for you as well.
1. Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
Practicing gratitude on a regular basis has amazing benefits for our mental and physical health. In fact, research shows that gratitude is linked to increased happiness, improved health, better sleep, stronger relationships, and less stress. You can cultivate an attitude of gratitude by making it a daily practice to write down three good things that happened and the reason why you believe it happened or what those good things mean to you. There are a lot of difficult things going on in the world right now and many of us are struggling, so we may have to search or dig deep for these good things. However, no matter what is going on there are always things we can be thankful for. Often they are just the simple pleasures of our days--our child's laugh, a text from a friend, a funny meme, a good meal, a sunny day. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is something that has really helped me remember all of the good things in my life and helps me keep an optimistic mindset through tough times.
2. Make Rest & Rejuvenation a Priority
I have to admit that this one is hard for me! Most of us are typically required to run on all cylinders, but our workload and stress are even more amplified right now, so it’s often hard to find the time to rest and rejuvenate. I also think it can be easy to fall into the pressure related to the idea of “making the most of this shelter in place time.” Meaning, we should be uber-productive, get ultra-fit, be the best teacher for your kids, etc. I personally tend to have feelings of guilt or feel I’m being indulgent when I’m resting or taking time for myself. However, rest and rejuvenation are critical to our well-being and resilience, so it’s important we treat it that way. This is especially the case when we are experiencing a lot of stress, which I know most of us are! I know that being outside connecting with nature and doing something to get my blood flowing is rejuvenating to me. Therefore, every day I have been trying to get outside for a walk or run. Often, I have my kids and dog in tow but it still feels like a mental break. I also aim to be in bed no later than 10:00 PM because my kids are always up early and I feel so much better if I am able to get a good night's sleep! I challenge you to make rest and rejuvenation a priority by scheduling in at least one thing each day that helps you restore your mental and emotional battery. Also, make sure that you are giving yourself a hefty dose of grace. It’s okay if your house is a mess or your kids are watching more TV than usual or you are off your normal routine. We are all doing the best we can with the circumstance we are in, so let’s not make it harder by beating ourselves up or trying to adhere to impossible standards! What prevents you from getting adequate rest and rejuvenation? How can you schedule more of it into your day?
3. Focus on Your Strengths to Help You Through
We all have signature strengths that showcase the best of who we are and allow us to get through challenging situations. All too often we focus on our weaknesses or the things we don’t like about ourselves. However, research has shown that pulling on signature strength--the best of who we are--can help us get through challenges, feel more energized, more motivated, and more successful at what we want to accomplish. Start by thinking about another challenge you have faced in your life and what strength you used that helped you get through it. How can you best utilize those strengths right now? I also highly recommend that you take the free empirically validated survey that will assess your top strengths at www.viacharacter.org. It only takes about 10 minutes and is very helpful! Check out my blog post on strengths to learn more about the impact focusing on strengths can have on our energy levels, motivation, and resilience!
4. Ask For What You Need
As great as it would be if it were true, our spouses are not mind readers. I am guilty of forgetting this fact and I often expect my spouse to know exactly what I want and need. In the first few weeks of the crisis, Jeff was going through a lot and was working around the clock to figure out how to keep his business afloat and keep his staff healthy and employed. Therefore, I was pretty much taking care of everything else related to our house and home and was acting as a single parent. This not only completely wore me down but also built up resentment toward him because I felt like he should know it was too much for me to handle and I needed more support. When I finally verbalized that I was overwhelmed and I needed more emotional support and help with the kids during this time, he was more than willing to step in and help out by shortening his work days during the week and giving me some time off on the weekends. In addition, I shared my worries about the business and the doubts I've been having about if all the challenges are worth it. This served to open up a dialogue about our individual hopes and dreams for the business and we realized we needed to revisit and recommit to our goals as a couple to ensure we stay on track for what we both want for our future. Are you asking for the help and support you need from your spouse or are you expecting them to read your mind?
5. Find a Way to Connect with Others
Relationships are an extremely important part of our resilience. The problem is, it is a lot harder to connect with people right now. This is true because of social distancing protocols and the inability to physically be around our friends and family, but I also think often there is an added layer of distance we can experience as a spouse of an entrepreneur. It can sometimes be difficult to convey to friends and family the additional mental and emotional toll the stress and worry about the business is taking on us, our spouse, and our relationship. If your friends and family are not business owners themselves, it can feel as though they can’t possibly understand what we are going through and the additional pressure we are under. The waters are even more muddled if your family and friends are investors in the business because sharing too much may affect their view of the business or cause further anxieties. With all of these factors in mind, many of us are probably feeling alone.
So, how do we stay connected? First of all, continue to be vulnerable and share these difficult things with your close friends and family members. Although they might not completely understand or know what to say to these tough things, I am sure they want to support you the best way they know-how and you need the support! Find creative ways to stay connected to those you love. I am not usually someone who likes to talk on the phone, but I have forced myself to make calls to those I care about and I have found that it has been so nice to connect that way. In addition, each week I have been doing something special for a friend or family member such as sending a card or dropping off a care package or surprise at their door. Second, connect with at least one other spouse of an entrepreneur who understands exactly what you are feeling or going through. Being able to share and discuss common challenges and obstacles you are facing and realizing that you are not alone is extremely helpful. Lastly, remember to stay connected to your spouse and lean on each other during this difficult time.
I don’t have it all figured out, but implementing these simple things have helped to keep me grounded and focused on what matters most. We will get through this and I’m looking for the opportunities that will allow us to come out stronger on the other side. As always, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear other ideas of how you take care of yourself during times of crisis in the comments below.