How to Cope with the Worst Part of Working Alone

Back before I started a copywriting business, I was working in a nursing home. My job was literally peeling potatoes. It was right around the time of my dad’s illness. He died while I was working at that job. And that job helped me so so much. I don’t know what would have happened to my business if I’d been running it during that period of my life.

But being in that job? Oh my god. It saved me. One day, towards the end, I was headed into work. That morning my aunt had been round, and she’d uttered the words ‘I don’t think he’s going to come home’. And that was when it hit me. That my dad might not come home. That he probably wouldn’t come home. I hadn’t allowed the thought to enter my mind until then – instead was just determined to ride it out and see what happened, taking things as they came – but I couldn’t hide from it any more, not after my aunt had said those words.

I started the walk to work. As soon as I was alone, crossing through the park on a weekday morning, the tears came. Great gasping, heaving sobs, my eyes flooding my cheeks, tears streaming down my neck. I’d never cried like this before. I couldn’t contain it. I couldn’t stop it. Juddering breaths broke between nightmarish wails. The walk to work was only fifteen minutes. The closer I got, the more I thought I can’t do this. I can’t go into work like this. I can’t do it. I need to turn around and go home.

But then I thought, I can’t go home either. I knew going home would be worse. Because at home, I couldn’t escape my feelings. Wherever I went, they would be with me, consuming me. What would I do? Sit around crying all day? That would be unbearable. I didn’t want the people at work to see me like this. I knew if they hugged me it would make it worse. But it would also make it better. And peeling those spuds, chatting shit to Donna in the kitchen, then taking coffee round to the old folks and chatting shit to them, too, would bring sweet relief from my dark thoughts.

And here’s the really tough part, the part that might make starting your own business feel like the worst decision you ever made.

You don’t get that kind of sweet relief when you run your own business, because you are always inside your own head. You have to engage your mind, you have to think everything through, because your brain is what allows you to do the work. Everything seems so much harder. Because you are the one who has to make things happen. You can’t just show up to a shitty job and peel potatoes, because the fact is, you don’t actually have to do any of this. It’s up to you to do the work when you run your own business. It can seem impossible that you’ll ever do anything productive ever again.

The opposite can also be true though – working for yourself, having something to focus on that you care about, can help in these dark times. And make no mistake: there are dark times ahead.

I’ve had my fair share of dark times since starting this. And I do think that in many ways the dark times are easier to handle when you have a regular old job to go to. Because going to a regular old job is easy. You can just show up, and even if the work you do isn’t particularly great, you’ve shown up. And that can be enough. You’ll still get paid. And let’s not forget that just being surrounded by people can help too. Work can be a distraction from the shit that’s going on in your life.

When you run your own business and bad shit happens, you feel like you’re spiralling out of control and you don’t know how to grasp the threads that will hold your business together. Take me: I had a rough couple of months not too long ago. I had to move house. My dog died. A relationship ended. I made some pretty huge life-changing decisions. All of those things are stressful on their own. And I had to deal with them all at once. While I was trying to run a business. And in a show of impeccable timing, I decided to create a new course right when all of this shit was kicking off.

I got through it. I got through all of it. And now I’m fine – I always knew I would be. But fuck me, that was stressful. If I had been working at a regular old job, it all would have been so much easier.

People think that starting your own business means you get to be happy all the time. Because you’re the one who gets to decide what you do and when you do it and who you do it with. And isn’t that what the good life – happiness – is all about?

But things will happen – we don’t know what and we have no way to stop them – that make us feel down. That is how human brains and life and emotions work. I think this is especially true of people who have decided to live differently, run their own business, travel the world, whatever – everything is heightened when you’re making conscious choices. I always say there are higher highs but lower lows with this lifestyle. (The higher highs make it worth it.) And I now know from experience that the bad times don’t last and that I’ll always get through them, but the only way I’ll do that is if I keep moving forwards.

In the immediate moment, the dark times may – probably will – make it much harder to do your work, because it is all up to you. But over time, as you slowly come back to yourself and look for ways to move forward, your business may help you recover. You may not do your best work ever, but having something to focus on that you care about can be immensely helpful. It won’t be easy, but it can serve as a wonderful distraction. Something to throw yourself into. But no, it won’t be easy. The urge to switch your computer off for a month and not do anything can be overwhelming.

Dark times will come whether you run your own business or not (such is life). And they can be harder to deal with if you work for yourself, because you have to try to keep your head or everything will crumble around you, and you will be the only one able to sweep up the pieces. But they can also be easier, because you get to choose what you do. If you’re going through a hard time, give yourself a break. Don’t force yourself to do all the shit you’d normally do within your business – just try to do what you can. Remember that you will come out the other end. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that you knew this was going to happen, this is something that happens to everyone, that it was inevitable. And also that you will survive it.