How to stop identifying with your struggle at work
24 November 2021
Running a growing business is a lot of work. You – entrepreneurs, founders, and owners – face a lot of different demands, a lot of challenges to survival, and a lot of unknown unknowns just to get the thing off the ground and running.
Fair enough, you have to work hard to succeed.
But it is quite easy and more common than you think to become identified with your struggle. This simply means that who you are is at least partially defined by the difficulty in your work and business. That can be a big problem to having a healthy and successful business and life.
Are the demands on you part of your personality and part of what drives your behavior? Who would you be if the struggle was less a part of you, or if you were more balanced? Can you let go of your struggle? Who would you be without it?
Of course you want your business to grow, be profitable and to allow you to enjoy what you have created.
Or do you? Being identified with your struggle means that it’s hard to let it go, even when you complain about it.
Please pause for a minute and ask yourself these questions:
- Do people around you anticipate or expect you to tell them, even in an indirect way, that you’re “so busy?”
- Can you go for a week (or even a day) without feeling compelled to lay yourself on the train tracks of the most recent demand?
- Would your spouse, close friends, or family describe you as healthy, balanced and rested? (That’s not mutually exclusive with focused, driven and persistent.) Finding out how trusted people see you is one way to get an idea of how much you identify with your struggle.
Also, not resting or doing something other than work (meaning steady “sudden” demands, overloaded schedule, just checking, touching base, getting ahead, keeping tabs, clearing your inbox, the list is endless) is a pretty good indication that you’re identified with the struggle in your business.
Being identified with your work struggle is not the same thing as being immersed or passionate about work. It’s not “Jeff knows everything there is to know about patio furniture” or “Alicia is our supply chain expert.” You can and should be deeply involved in whatever your business is about, and it should be part of who you are and what you find valuable.
But the struggle in business can’t be you.
Why do we identify with our struggle? We often get needs met:
- The need to be “the one” who can or will handle everything. (“It’s just easier and faster if I just do it” or “Make sure you copy me on all your emails.”)
- The need to be in charge.
- The need to be recognized for our ideas and achievements.
- The need to display a willingness to sacrifice more than others.
- The need to be “right” – if you make the final decision, isn’t it by definition right?
What to do
You can still work hard if you don’t identify with your struggle. In fact, you would be more effective and happier if you didn’t.
There are no easy, repeatable steps to releasing yourself from identifying with your struggle because the specifics of everyone’s situation is so varied. However, it’s important to realize that letting go of your struggle as a part of your identity is quite possible – even while you continue to work hard and be dedicated to your business.
Here are some things to consider in letting go:
- Get help. Remember – asking, evaluating and accepting help is a learnable skill, and it’s a necessary skill for success. A coach, trusted friend, or mentor can help you form the right questions and keep you accountable for the answers and changes you want to make.
- Write down why you started. Get a notebook or open a text document, and write freely about why you started your business. No one is going to read this other than you – not even your evil middle school grammar teacher (we all had them). Focus on the feeling that motivated you to jump into this crazy world of business. That feeling is part of your real identity. Nurture it.
- Reveal your limits. Still have that notebook open? Good. Can you work 12 hours a day? 16? 20 per day? Where does it stop? Better put, where do you stop yourself in any area of your work? Drawing boundaries is part of your identity. You may have been letting the identity of sacrifice, work, struggle, busyness, et. al. take over, so consciously setting boundaries strengthens your true personality.
- Give energy to the things you want to do that are not work. You have a calendar and to-do list, so use them here. Write down some things that you would like to do, no matter how small, or how “illogical” those things are in your to-do app and your calendar. Start small, but start. Commit to doing them, and watch your identity shift over time as you do them.
- Delegate responsibility coupled with accountability. That’s what growing a business is about. Are you better off with all those CC’d emails? Is your business better off? Maybe you can make a weak attempt at justification by citing a few “mistakes” you caught, but if the mistakes were really that critical, that’s a hiring and training problem, not something that you should put on your list to watch.
Awareness is the key to progress on this. Just asking the right questions and being open to the answers you receive is often enough to start letting go and becoming more yourself and a better leader.
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