When we run into setbacks, we sometimes don’t see a path forward. Cultural expectations are often the cause.
I don’t know where you live, or what is happening in your neck of the woods. Chances are you have encountered some bumps like this at some point.
Alberta’s economy took a drastic hit in the last year. There have been massive layoffs in the oil patch, and more are expected into 2016. Layoffs cascade through the economy affecting most industries at some level.
The financial impact is considerable.
More significant is the impact on people, families, friends, and society in general. The stress causes anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and the breakdown of relationships.
The suicide rate in Alberta was up 30% in the first half of the year. If the trend continues, we could lose an additional 150 people on top of the 500 we already lose per year on average. The holidays can be particularly stressful.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners often take on a disproportionate portion of the stress burden. We are not only responsible for ourselves and families; we are ultimately responsible for the business and the employees that we employ.
A dead-end is a construct of our mind in most situations. There are lots of resources around mental illness and coping strategies if you are going through it and don’t see a way out.
We need to start taking a step back and looking at the role our cultural expectations and standards play in creating unnecessary mental dead-ends.
Most people self-identify with the roles they fill.
When someone says, “What do you do for a living?” The response looks like, “I am an engineer (or a project manager or accountant.)”
Notice the response is not “I work as a …”
Nor is the response usually “I am a father, brother, spouse.”
Other roles that society tends to place expectations more unevenly on men are “provider” and “protector.”
Entrepreneurs and business owners also self-identify with their role in a big way. Business demands are often high. It is that identity as an entrepreneur that keeps us going. We bear the pain mostly silently as a badge of honor.
We can lose ourselves in the roles we’ve adopted.
Adopting roles is not especially dangerous until we can no longer fulfill those roles, or we fail to meet the standards. It could be a layoff, injury, illness or business failure. Ultimately, we lose that connection with our identity of who we are.
Dealing With Failure
Remember this scene from the movie “The Karate Kid” with the villain Karate master Kreese?
“Kreese: What do we study here?
Karate Class: THE WAY OF THE FIST SIR.
Kreese: And what is that way?
Karate Class: STRIKE FIRST. STRIKE HARD. NO MERCY SIR.”
Society creates the myth of the hero and then fails to acknowledge that many times medals are awarded posthumously.
We are fascinated with making everything about war and battle. In war, failure is seldom a palatable option.
But we are not at war. We need strategies for living.
In life, we fail all the time. As adults, and especially as men, we don’t learn to embrace or accept failure. We are taught to avoid it. As humans, that wisdom feels true because we are wired to avoid pain. Nowhere is this buy-in truer than in business and career settings.
Even the most successful people fail more often than not. They keep trying different things until something sticks, and they have their big success.
When we fail AND we lose our role identity at the same time the impact is multiplied.
Relationships and Connections
People are wired to need social connections and to feel like they belong, yet:
- Despite the fact that over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce most people still head into relationships as if they are forever.
- When you are laid off, you may lose your connection to your colleagues and some of your peers.
- When you are in business, and it fails, you can lose your connection with your business, your employees, and your peers.
Sometimes the relationships are destroyed as part of the stress and dysfunction of failing and the loss of role identity.
Often, people choose to avoid past relationships because they imagine they will be judged for having failed or no longer being in that role or identity. We are no longer part of the winner’s club.
When you combine failure and loss of identity through one or more roles, with the loss of connections and relationships you have a recipe a lot of stress and the resulting consequences.
Building a Stronger Sense of Who You Are
People are complex and what works for one is not always going to work for everyone. That being said , I think there are a few things we can do.
Build a strong sense of self, separate from what you do or the roles you fill. You can do this through spiritual exploration and by trying different things (even as hobbies.) I am an entrepreneur, but I’ve performed other jobs in the past. I am also a fiddler and musician, but I’ve also been a martial artist and a painter. If you explore enough, you can see the underlying threads of who you are as a person.
Learn to look foolish and make mistakes. Embrace that part of your humanity with humor and humility. You will be in great company and a lot happier as you stumble through entrepreneurship and life.
No matter how busy business gets, make sure you build multiple circles of relationships and connections that are independent of each other. Things happen, and you can lose a whole circle (or two) at once.
If you find yourself on what seems to be a dead-end road, remember you are more than your business, job, role or current relationships. It isn’t easy when you are in it.
And don’t be shy about getting some help if you feel you can’t figure it out on your own. Be there for someone going through turmoil, they may not reach out.
We are all here to explore who we are and develop as people.
We can try other paths if this one doesn’t work. So let’s change some of our cultural expectations, starting with ourselves.