I was recently talking to a software entrepreneur whose business had cracked $1 million in profit this financial year.
He’s self-funded and the sole owner of the company. To anyone else, that would be hugely impressive — people 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, he told me that 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 only 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, Instagram celebrities, artists, and musicians ... and anyone who makes, builds, writes, or starts anything.
Often, all they can see are the problems and the cracks.
It’s even the same with me. I’m focused so much on freelancing for start-ups and firms, working in tech marketing, and attempting to start a career as a writer that all I can see are the problems. To me, it often feels like my work is wildly inconsistent, my writing is total crap, 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, or an evolving brand, or a speaking engagement and think it’s all running smoothly.
What you can't see: the blind, clutching panic.
You can’t see me reading an article about a new software start-up and suddenly losing all faith in my professional services business, then 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, remember this: You may always feel like your life is in total chaos.
You're probably going to feel like the whole thing is held together with duct tape, Band-Aids, and a few well-placed staples.
Everyone's dirty little secret is that they feel this way too. Please believe that. No matter how successful you’ve been, every minor problem or small issue or inconsistency will probably always feel magnified a thousand times ... until it turns into Godzilla and you lie awake at night with a huge mutant lizard rampaging through your head.
It’s because you’re right there in the trenches. You’re slinging shit 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.
The hardest part is looking at everyone else.
The other entrepreneurs whose images look so perfect. The writers with Instagram feeds full of tastefully posed photos of manuscripts and whiskey. The “freedom businessmen," 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?
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 something, or 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 anyone else. You’re not alone in feeling that way. You’re one of us, and we get it. We’re not all #lovinglife or feeling #blessed. It may seem that way sometimes, but it’s not the case.
Rest assured: 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 the advice you’ll probably get when you tell people how much is on your plate. I say: Don’t listen to it.