Dear Nick: I feel like packing it all in and sailing into the sunset
Life can be lonely as a sole practitioner and these anxieties are exacerbated by unappreciative clients and long working hours.
Speaker and mental health coach Nick Elston lends a helping hand to a stressed sole practitioner who wants to leave the profession.
Dear Nick: “I am a sole practitioner and have been for eight years. I am completely stressed, working seven days a week for, yes, reasonable money but for very unappreciative clients. I feel like packing it all in and sailing into the sunset and then finding a completely unstressful job that at the end of every day I can leave work at work and go home and forget.
“I feel like a complete failure at the moment. I don't want to discuss with my family as I don't want anyone else worrying. I can't describe it but I feel like I am in a constant state of anxiety wondering what the day is going to bring and what is going to go wrong. It means everything takes so much longer as I just cannot focus. It is affecting my health I know and I am not sure how much more I can take.”
I’m really pleased you took the time – and no doubt courage – to write. Your story completely resonated with me, even as someone from outside the accounting profession. I have labelled myself an ‘unnatural entrepreneur’ after a whole career spent being the best second in command that I could be.
Self employment is tough, tiring, frustrating and anxiety generating; however, to most of the outside world, we are believed to be ‘living the dream’. That in itself compounds our stress and confusion with a massive dose of imposter syndrome, as we then start to question where we are going wrong.
I’d really love to know your ‘why’ for starting out on your own. Often it’s the first thing we lose sight of. For example, when I first went self-employed I topped up my income (of £0!) by working for a supermarket delivering groceries for 30+ hours a week.
My ‘why’ was to have more time at home and have more personal freedom. After spending a full week doing my thing, then 30+ hours for the supermarket, quite the opposite happened. I lost touch at home and was constantly working. Because I never had my pricing figured out I was earning hardly anything after everything was taken out.
I craved the ‘simple life’ of employment again. And if I’m honest, not one month goes by where I don’t want to press that big red eject button and shoot off back into a simple job. However, the element that I missed was this: I had lost control of my ‘why’ and didn’t take time to lay the foundations. I just hit the ground running… and running… and running.
I spent around a year working two or three jobs flat out but not reviewing my business. I worked under the (wrong) assumption of doing more and more and more. It actually had a negative impact on my mental health to the extent I quit everything and took a step back. It was only then that everything came together, and this would be my advice to you too.
- Take a step back
- Get to know your ‘why’ again
- Question everything you are doing right now – does it need to be done?
- The stuff that needs to be done – can it be outsourced?
- Your customers – do you need to sack some of them? Seriously.
- Review your pricing structure to ensure it matches your worth – again be prepared to lose customers.
- As for the way forward – where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve?
- Only when you have done all of this – GO!
Only you will know if what you are doing will make you happy. Maybe you haven’t even asked yourself if you are doing this because you want to, or is it something you have always done?
In terms of managing anxiety, my top tips for you would be:
- Never assume: anxiety comes from the thought of doing something, not the doing it – try not to predict negative outcomes.
- What do you love to do? Schedule recovery time – every day – to ensure you are being positively distracted from the business and your busy-ness.
- Share your challenges: I appreciate you find it hard to talk to your family but I believe a trusted outlet would really help you right now – eg consider hiring a mentor, coach or a counsellor, even if it's temporarily, to get you through this period.
As a Country Music fan, I love the quote from a Gary Allen song called ‘Every storm runs out of rain’.
Sometimes, when we are going through these periods of life we lose hope, we lose inspiration and we feel that the ‘storm’ will never end. But it will end. Everything passes. And you will be stronger and more resilient for this experience.
I strongly recommend seeking professional medical advice or using resources such as Mental Health UK as an urgent resource if you feel that you need it.
- The question came from the Any Answers thread 'How many of you out there are sole practitioners?'
- If you have a wellbeing problem and you need Nick's advice, either comment below or send a brief direct message to Nick.
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Nick Elston is one of the leading inspirational speakers on the subjects of anxiety, mental health and wellbeing - from an experience sharing perspective - and delivers his talks to stages, corporates, boardrooms, factories, universities, schools and events worldwide. His coaching programme is called Life On Your Terms.