I was talking to a software entrepreneur recently whose business has cracked $1,000,000 in profit this financial year. That’s pure profit. He’s self-funded and he’s the sole owner. To anyone else, that would be hugely impressive. They look at his business and see an empire in the making, they look at him and see a millionaire entrepreneur.
But because he’s right in the thick of it, all he can see is the pressure and the panic.
It’s tough for him to step back and appraise his own success from anyone else’s point of view. He sees missed opportunities, a mounting pressure to grow, and the financial burdens and responsibilities of a steadily expanding team.
It’s the same with fitness bloggers, and Instagram celebrities, and artists, and musicians and anyone who makes, builds, writes or starts anything.
It’s the same with me. I’m focused so much on freelancing for startups and firms, and working in tech marketing and attempting to start a career as a writer, that all I can see are the problems. The cracks.
To me it feels like my work is wildly inconsistent, my writing is total sh-t, my marketing practices are badly thought out and managed, and my Dad was right about my lack of potential.
To anyone else, it might not seem like that. You might see a blog post every day, and an evolving brand, or a speaking engagement and think it’s all running smoothly. You can’t see the blind, clutching panic.
You can’t see me reading an article about a new software startup and suddenly losing all faith in my professional services business, and frantically texting my long-suffering girlfriend about how much of a mistake my entire life is.
You can’t see me sitting on the floor, in the corner of my work space, struggling with a panic attack.
Whether you’re running a business, writing a blog or trying to build a freelance creative career, you are always going to feel like your life is in total chaos. You are going to feel like the whole thing is held together with duct tape, band-aids and a few well placed staples.
This is the way everyone feels. Please believe that, no matter how successful you’ve been, every minor problem or small issue or inconsistency is always magnified times a thousand. Until it turns into Godzilla. And you lie awake at night, with a huge mutant lizard rampaging through your head.
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It’s because you’re right there in the trenches. You’re slinging sh-t every day trying to make it work, so to you every little aspect of your project seems so much bigger, so much more important. Every imperfection almost screams at you.
But then you look at everyone else. The other entrepreneurs, whose image looks so perfect. The writers with Instagram feeds full of tastefully posed photos of manuscripts and whiskey. The “freedom business” people, sunning it on a beach in Fiji with a laptop and a coconut.
And it looks perfect, doesn’t it? It looks like they’ve got everything under control? Surely, they’re running a smoothly operating, well-oiled machine?
No way. Don’t even think that for a moment. They are operating on the same level of blind, clutching, stressed out panic as you are. You can’t see it, but it’s there.
I don’t want to depress you. Or convince you that trying to make it, trying to start s—t, trying to build something is too scary to be worthwhile. That’s not true. What I want to say is this. You can’t hold yourself to a standard that doesn’t exist.
You’re never going to have a business or a project or a life that feels as perfect as everyone else’s looks. It’s not possible. Their world is as hellish and tough as yours, even if it doesn’t seem that way from the outside. But this is a good thing.
It means that when you’re panicking, stressing, and feeling overcome with self doubt, you’re not doing any worse than the rest of us. You’re not alone, in feeling that way. It’s completely f—ing normal. You’re one of us, and we get it. We’re not #lovinglife or feeling #blessed. It may seem that way, but it’s not the case.
You don’t have to be a machine. You don’t have to think positive. You don’t have to “just believe and breathe.” That’s all the advice you’ll get when you tell people how much s—t is on your plate. But you don’t have to listen to it.
All you have to do is get through it. Perfection is a game you can’t win, because the rules keep on changing and you’re only playing against yourself.