work + life
5 steps to using gratitude to survive the grind of running your own business
by Brittany Taylor
published November 23, 2017
updated May 30, 2018
¶ Three years. That’s how long I’ve been in business, and I don’t for a single second think I’ve got it all figured out.
Truth time: None of us do.
What I treasure most about content marketing—blog posts, social media, email newsletters—is that it lets other professionals express what goes on behind-the-scenes of their businesses. It turns out that bosses I admire are burned out, depressed, unsure of what to do next, worried about alienating their audiences, terrified of a big investment.
I haven’t seen the kinds of success they’ve seen—yet—but I’ve felt all of these emotions. Knowing they do, too, makes me feel like I’m in good company, even when I’m writing to you in my pajamas from the squashy warmth of my bed.
Community is a major part of what gets me through tough times. Being able to talk to other bosses about what we’re going through together lets me know that no matter what’s going on now, I can figure out how to make it work. Nobody in my “real life” gets it. Nobody I see face-to-face understands exactly how hard this is or how deeply the failures cut or how essential the presence of my peers is, even when I can only talk to them through Facebook groups or emails or messenger platforms.
So, thank you all for that.
What else gets me through? Food, mostly chocolate and potato products. And history. What I’ve worked through powers my journey forward.
Here’s a closer look at how that works—and how you can make it work for you, too.
I love the holiday season. But as New Year’s approaches, every day reminds me that another year has passed without me reaching my big business goals.
I haven’t made what I wanted to, I don’t have the number of clients I aimed for, the products I’ve brainstormed are still stuck in my head—there are all sorts of things I intended to do on January 1 that I have yet to accomplish.
And just as I’m planning my Thanksgiving menu and wrapping up gifts, I’m thinking about how much I’ve failed. I’m quantifying it. How many dollars did I not earn this year? How much content did I not produce? How many followers did I not get?
It’s no surprise that when the holidays approach, my emotions are all over the place. I’m psyched for Christmas, but I’m also tying myself up in knots. And it’s no wonder that my productivity tanks this time of year: I’m in no mental place to create great work.
For me, depression snowballs. If I let it keep rolling down the hill, gathering momentum, it will get to a point where I won’t be able to stop it. That storm of negative thoughts will steamroll me.
Gratitude is one of the tools I use to cut off that train of thought and redirect my energy toward positive things.
And you know what? It’s absolutely saving my holiday season.
Pretending the shit doesn’t exist won’t help anything. The longer you ignore it, the more emotional fall-out it will cause. My advice: Package your shit up, get as much work done as you can, and then reserve a day to unpack.
This is what unpacking could look like for you. I’m a list girl. I tend to write everything down anyway, but I find a shit list is particularly good for letting me get analytical—and, later, strategic—about my weaknesses and low points. Scribble out everything you’re feeling not-great about, be it big or small.
Now, it’s time to feel all the things. I’m a crier. Maybe you rage. Maybe you scream. Maybe you bake. Maybe you sulk. Maybe you cuddle the stuffing out of your favorite teddy bear. Whatever form your emotions take, allow them to take you.
Don’t get lost in them. Instead, focus on processing whatever pain or disappointment or sorrow or dejection that’s coursing through your mind and your body right now.
Ready for some sunshine? This is it. Tilt your face up to the sun and feel the warmth every moment you’ve had, professionally, that makes you smile. It could be a brash, ballsy, boundary-setting email you sent. It could be a salary or contract negotiation. It could be an innovative design, a challenge you conquered, or a milestone you ran past.
Let those feelings of “yeah, I did that” seep into your brain. Then, write down every moment that made you feel that way in the last year (or whenever it was that you last checked in with yourself). Go on. Write ‘em down. Every stupid little thing and every monumental moment, too.
I believe we can learn something from everything we’ve been through, whether it was a triumph or a downfall. Maybe it’s simple (“don’t say that during a meeting”). Maybe it’s deep (“the more intensely you feel a project, the better the end result will be”). Whatever it is, acknowledge it.
And now? Gratitude.
Whatever you’ve been through has forged you into the creature you are today. Whether you’re killing it or not, you’re not the person you were on January 1, and for that, you should tip your hat to every shitty and shiny moment you’ve persevered through. It’s corny, sure, but even I can point at my worst boss and say, “you know what? I hated every moment of that experience, but I’m a lot tougher now than I was when I started, and I’ve learned what’s reasonable to put up with and what isn’t.”
And yeah. Write all those lessons you’ve learned down. You don’t want to forget them, right?
One of the best things I’ve done for myself and my business this year is to make teeny tiny changes to how I do things, try them out, and stick with them if they’re working or drop them if they’re not.
You don’t want to add too many bullet points to your to-do list at once. So, to create resolutions you’ll stick with now and in the new year, limit your list to three-to-five must-dos. Pick items that seem insignificant but will have long-lasting impacts; one of mine was to change my invoicing system, which will help me get paid faster and look more professional.
As you’re crafting your resolutions, be sure to keep them do-able, not dreamy. Remember: resolutions aren’t the time to be aspirational. Choose action—and then do it!
Making resolutions? There's no time like the present! After years of failure, I figured out how to make my resolutions stick. Grab the secrets to my fought-for success.
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.
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