Elisabeth Young admits that she was never a great employee, as she was easily frustrated by unnecessary inefficiencies. Such frustration was a big factor in why she quit her corporate job and started working for herself creating custom wedding invitations. Initially, Elisabeth was excited to launch a new creative career. But, as many entrepreneurs have experienced first-hand, Elisabeth’s unquenchable passion for her business was almost squashed flat by the tough reality of working by herself day after day.
Elisabeth opens up about her struggles with depression and anxiety during her first year of business and how she learned to cope and to heal. We appreciate her candid conversation about a sensitive topic. We hope others in our QB Community read this post and remember that they, like Elisabeth, are not alone in experiencing the ups and downs of running a business.
[The following is based on an interview with QB Community Leader @LeslieBarber conducted at QuickBooks Connect in November 2017.]
Elisabeth, tell us how you decided to take the leap from working for someone else to working for yourself?
I was working full time in a real estate office. I knew at a certain point that I wouldn't be able to grow my side business more unless I gave it 100%. I also didn't like my job very much, so that made it easy to put in my two weeks’ notice and make the transition to working for myself full time.
What made moving from side hustle to full-time business owner so important?
Honestly, I’m not a good employee. I was not great at working for other people because I'm very, very efficient, so if I felt like something wasn't efficient enough in a corporate work environment, it would really frustrate me. I knew that since I had this passion and this fire burning, I wouldn’t be totally fulfilled unless I was doing something for myself, using my self motivation and reaping the reward that comes from that.
What was your first year working for yourself like?
Year one had so many incredible ups, but I also experienced the lowest of lows. Such a big part of being a small business owner is the state of your mental health, and people don't talk about that very much. When you work from home, you can get really lonely because you’re spending a lot of time alone. You really have to be intentional about searching for community and for connections and making sure you get out of your house.
How did that first year of working for yourself affect your mental health?
I had a really bad bout with anxiety and depression about halfway through my first year of business because I was shouldering so much responsibility. I was the solopreneur, the creative heart and soul of the business. I was wearing all these hats and doing all these different things. I would have moments when I felt very victorious and very successful. Other moments, the pendulum would swing the other way. I’d panic and think, "I have no idea what I'm doing. Why am I doing this?" I feel like it's never totally balanced, but it makes the journey fun and makes it an adventure, for sure.
Thank you for acknowledging the loneliness of running your own business. It was a tough time for you. When did you know you needed support -- and how did you get it?
I didn't have enough self-awareness at the time to realize I was heading down that path until I was already there. I was sitting at home, and even though I’m married and have two cats, as well as other people I know from church and in the community, I just felt this pit of loneliness and despair. It was scary to be there and not understand how I'd even reached that point.
From that time on, I had a lot of discussions with my husband and my friends saying, "I need your help." I asked my other creative friends, "Have you dealt with this before? How did you handle it?" I had some really hard months. In terms of productivity for my business, it was pretty low, because I was trying to do a lot of personal recovery. I spent a lot of time away from Instagram, away from Facebook and away from all these social media avenues because I needed to focus on myself and stay in my lane. I needed to focus on myself and get better.
How did “staying in your lane” help improve your mental health?
When you have a vision of what you want to do, you really have to put your blinders on. In your work, you might be 100 or 200 in a million because other people share your ideas and passions. You can be friends with those people, and you can admire their work. The problem is when you start getting that longing in your heart like, "I wish I had thought of this" or "Oh, I wish I had done that." That's when things can become really damaging emotionally. Staying in your lane is kind of like putting on your blinders, pursuing your goals and tuning out the noise.
I’ve heard that you love to-do lists. Is that a tool you use to keep focused?
Yes. I remember the first two weeks of working for myself. I was sitting at home at my desk, and I realized I didn't have anybody telling me what I should be doing. I didn't have a boss. I had myself, and I needed to be making work for myself. You're told your whole life, "Don't make things harder on yourself. Don't make more work for yourself." I had to entirely flip that whole perception.
I had to make work for myself, and that meant making to-do lists. I had to know every single day what my priorities were and what I needed to accomplish to consider it a successful day. The lists help me keep myself on track towards my goals and to meet my deadlines on time for my clients.
I want to circle back to this idea of loneliness. Is it because there aren't other co-workers around or is it because you have to make all the decisions on your own?
That's such a thought-provoking question. Actually, I don't think I've ever come at it from that viewpoint before. I think there is loneliness within the business because I don't have a coworker or a peer to help shoulder the responsibilities with me. I think a lot of the emotional loneliness can stem from that, too.
The other interesting thing is that I'm an introvert. I went into this thinking, "Oh, I'll never deal with loneliness. I don't need people. I prefer my pets." I quickly realized I'm still human. I still need connection with people.
The loneliness does come a bit from being a solopreneur -- I’m the boss of my business and the only person in my business. There’s also the element of being physically alone in my workspace.
Elisabeth, I really commend you for talking about the challenges of loneliness as an entrepreneur. We have these conversations every day in this community. The more we talk about it, the less lonely we'll all feel. Please remember that you’re not alone!
QB Community members, how do you deal with the loneliness, stress and/or anxiety that inevitably comes with running your own business?
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I've worked in print, broadcast and digital media for 20 years and managed to start a couple small businesses along the way. I love collaborating with and supporting creative folks who have great ideas. As Content Creator for the QB Community team, I’m excited to help other small-business owners be the best they can be!