I've written quite a lot in the past about mental health and my own history with it, so I won't go down that route again.
But, a bit of self-reflection during Mental Health Awareness Week is acceptable. Just recently, my biggest demon has been imposter syndrome. I was told by someone last year that I say: "It almost seems like I know what I'm doing," a lot. I don't notice I do it but it comes down to the fact that, like many business owners, I'm learning as I go along.
And sometimes I feel like I'm not good enough/ qualified enough/ well enough connected to do what I do. Despite having the highest level of journalism qualification you can have and a 12-year media and marketing background where I've helped businesses to turn their reputation around, I still feel like I should be working for someone else who is more qualified than I am and not for myself...
My other bad habit is over-thinking. I've always done it - even before I was self-employed. I think it's the curse of the blue-sky thinker. If you don't have someone in your team to pull you back down to earth, you can get lost in the clouds and that's often overwhelming and then you find you can't think at all. Call it brain-freeze, writers' block, what you will, it's all the same thing. You can't see the wood for the trees.
I have a zillion ideas buzzing around in my head all the time. This week so far it's been: Should I change the name of my business? Should I change the direction of my business? Do I even like my business? What services should I offer? Am I doing a good enough job? What are my clients' expectations of me? Should I outsource XYZ? How do I do that? Can I afford to? Maybe I could employ an assistant. S**t, what are we having for dinner?
And that's just my business... I also have to think on behalf of other businesses too. I have to find ways for them to tell their story. And that's what I'd rather be thinking about.
One of my clients asked me the other week if I ever stop. The answer is no. I don't. I have my best ideas when I'm driving, swimming or somewhere I can't write them down and I get so lost in them I often miss my exit or bump my head on the side of the pool (much to the amusement of the lifeguards).
I take too much on. I know I do. But the truth is, I don't know what I'd do if I ever stopped. I'm just not that kind of person.
So, for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, I decided to compile a list of things to do to help me beat my imposter syndrome (and stop over-thinking it) and I thought I'd share them here...
1) Take a day. A day off. A day to yourself without distractions such as work, partner, family.
I took one this week and it was amazing. I didn't plan it (which I think helped) but I checked my diary one morning and thought "if I took today off, would the World end?" It didn't. I did check and reply to emails but that was it. I went and bought some lunch, ticked off a couple of personal "to-dos" and spent a few hours in the garden planting vegetables. And I started thinking. Surprise! But the thoughts were rational, clear and sensible.
2) Exercise in the morning. I'm a morning person so if I don't exercise then, it won't get done. Unless it's cycling or walking to the pub... I manage that.
I used to be a member of the gym and enjoyed going to classes but they changed the schedule and none of them worked for me. So, I signed up for the Les Mills On Demand service which I can stream through the TV and I do a class at 7.30am. For MHAW18 I did Bodybalance every day and incorporated the relaxation and mindfulness aspect and I felt amazing. Tired. But amazing.
Alternatively, walk, run, cycle, garden - get outside! It's spring, people.
3) Get some headspace. Talking of mindfulness, one app I have found to be worth every single penny is Headspace. It doesn't matter where you are if you're feeling overwhelmed you can pop on a 10 or 15-minute mindfulness/meditation exercise and calm down. I forget to do it (especially when I need it the most) but you can set reminders on your phone to take some time out.
4) Talk it out. If you work on your own like me, you can bottle things up. So, this week I planned a chat with a good friend and fellow solopreneur so I could air my thoughts/feelings. And I felt much better for it.
You'll often find all business owners (even the ones you think are owning their industry) go through exactly the same thing. We're all human. And we all have a game face. I'm often told that it looks like I'm doing really well and my go-to response is: "Good. That's the impression I'm going for." Why can't I just say: "Thanks! I am!"?
5) Cut the dead weight. Clients, social media accounts, etc. If it's dragging you down, cut the cord. Easier said than done, I know. But sometimes if you free up some time by ditching one client (or saying no to one you don't want to work with) then it can lead to bigger and better things. Trust me.
When it comes to social media, just remember that people (and that includes other business owners) are putting on a show. They want to seem happy/successful/supportive to attract new clients but if by doing so, they're making you feel inferior or not good enough, unfollow them or take a break (take a digi detox if you can). And remember that with the tables turned you could be impacting another person the same way, so stay humble and be genuine. I'm making an effort to do so too.
6) Find a support group. This is where social media comes into its own, especially Facebook groups. While some groups can feel a bit preachy or cliquey, others are wonderful communities of like-minded professionals who support each other. I'm in a couple of amazing freelance/PR groups and if I ever need to ask fellow professionals a question about my day-to-day business, then I know I can and they'll either support me or give me some great ideas on how to change the situation. Speaking of...
7) Change the situation. Again, easier said than done but if a situation is making you doubt yourself or making you stressed, do something about it. Approach it like you would any other problem, take a step back and work out a solution that methodically works for all involved. I recently felt that a contract with a client was naturally coming to an end but I didn't want to let them down. I had done all I could for them but instead of just cutting the cord, I found a solution that would work for them moving forward.
8) Celebrate your successes. Because if you're not going to, who will? This week I turned in an article I was asked to write. As in, they approached me and offered me money to write an article on a subject I'm passionate about. I nearly fell off my chair.
It's a huge thing to be recognised as a go-to person on a certain subject. And I loved every second of researching and writing that article. I'm proud of it. So I decided to celebrate it. I hope it's the first of many.
9) Ask for feedback. Or testimonials or something that will boost your self-confidence. It's something we put off doing a lot of the time because we don't want to seem egotistical (or we're afraid the feedback will be bad). But sometimes all we need is for someone we've done a good job for to say "well done" or "thank you". I received a thank you card a couple of weeks ago and it made my week. Which brings me to my final point...
10) Take joy in the little things. This is something I'm taking forward in my business and the blog. It's the little things that make a big difference; to your business, your attitude and your mental health. By doing little, proactive things, we can grow and succeed and enjoy being the amazing business owners that we are. So watch this space...