|Head Games||| Print ||
|Written by Akiba|
|Monday, 12 April 2010|
I promised a while back to write an article describing what I’ve been through in starting a micro-manufacturing operation. There are a lot of books available to guide you through becoming independent, starting a website, and also starting a business. However there is a huge aspect to all of it that is neglected or just given lip service. It turns out that striking out on your own is a huge emotional and mental head game.
When I started down the micro-manufacturing path, part of it was to create a wireless tool set that I could use myself, and part of it was to create a business that could sustain myself and my family while I continued to work on open source software. While there was a lot of technical hurdles that had to be overcome, what I was completely unprepared for was the mental aspect of it all.
While I was trying to design products, build the website, figure out manufacturing, create documentation, generate content, understand accounting, source parts, and the millions of other things that it takes to start up a manufacturing operation, I spent a lot of time by myself and in my head. I had to confront a side of myself that I tried to suppress for a long time. It’s a very ugly side of me that is the culmination of all the emotional baggage I’ve accumulated over my lifetime.
When you go down the path of starting any business, there’s one huge thing you have to deal with: uncertainty. How you deal with it depends on a lot of factors. Preparation, experience, and skill level will take you to a certain point but you’ll eventually find that you’ll be facing situations that are completely new to you. This is where the head games start.
When you’re in a situation that you’ve never faced before, you naturally feel anxiety. People deal with this in different ways. Some people avoid it and some people go at it head on. When you’re on your own, you can only face things head on, but it’s not quite as simple as that. People also feel different levels of stress associated with being placed in new situations and that stress can manifest itself in different ways. The amount of stress that people feel is probably related to many things, but I think the major cause of this stress is insecurity.
There are a lot of types of insecurity: insecurity about your job, finances, self, skills, knowledge, age, body, and just about anything else you can imagine. The biggest part of starting the business for me was dealing with my insecurities. Will people buy what I’m selling? Are my skills high enough? Do I have enough money? Enough time? Are the products wrong? The features wrong? Am I wrong to be doing this? This is where it gets into the uncomfortable prospect of having to deal with yourself as your own worst enemy. I had to get past all the tiny voices whispering doubts into my ear and de-construct them. These voices are accumulated from various sources like my parents, teachers, friends, education, or traumatic experiences and in many cases are designed to protect me and my fragile ego. This protection eventually becomes a limitation that needs to be overcome which is a highly stressful experience. Getting past the insecurities, or at least feeling comfortable defying them is a crucial skill in becoming mentally tough enough to handle a business and one that I am still struggling with. All of these already exist in most people, but starting a business painfully exposes them.
I think it’s hard to explain this in a lot of detail, so maybe I can try an analogy. Imagine a game where you’re put into a room by yourself with the door unlocked. Other people are playing too and they each have their separate rooms with an unlocked door. There’s only one rule which is that the winner of the game is the last person left in their room. You’re not told how many people are playing or how long the game will last. There is no clock in the room or anything else. You just need to sit and be the last person to stay in your room.
I was basically socialized as a child through games and sports with very clear rules. There were clearly defined criteria for what was legal, illegal, how to advance, and what decided winners and losers. Unfortunately, life is not so kind and clearly defined rules and criteria are not as common. I don’t think the skills needed to deal with these types of situations are generally taught so I had to learn a lot of things on-the-fly.
Dealing with uncertainty was, surprisingly to me, one of the hardest parts of starting up FreakLabs and my micro-manufacturing operations. I had to face a lot of hidden demons that I didn’t even know existed inside of me. Fear of failure was a big one, but there’s also fear of not being liked, being wrong, being good enough, being homeless, being fat *sigh*, and probably a dozen others. And when faced with the unfamiliar situations that triggered these insecurities, the resulting stress ended up manifesting themselves in strange ways. There was avoidance, emotional hyper-sensitivity, ie: wild mood swings, depression, infinite mental loops, muscle pain (constant muscle tension due to the fight or flight response), panic attacks, and allergies. I was actually really surprised at seeing how stress and anxiety could physically affect me so much.
The good news was that since I was able to experience such a broad spectrum of symptoms, often simultaneously, I was slowly able to recognize them for what they really were. Being able to diagnose the symptoms of anxiety, differentiate my stress triggers, and see the underlying insecurities that cause them was extremely important because it made me more self-aware. As I became mentally stronger, going into unfamiliar situations became less terrifying because you can recognize the individual voices of self-doubt and deal with them much more easily. Eventually, the unfamiliar situations became familiar and those voices subsided.
It’s still an ongoing struggle to deal with a lot of the mental and emotional aspects of being a business owner and a manufacturer, and I think it’s an area that’s really neglected in the available business literature. There’s very little support infrastructure for people going through these types of problems and I had to deal with many of them on my own. It was a very painful experience and I hope that others that are either going through this now or contemplating it in the future won’t need to think they’re going insane when they experience something similar.
written by David Ryan, April 12, 2010
written by Lib, June 25, 2010
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