How do we keep motivated during uncertain times?

Running your own business is not an easy thing. We know this. Everyone knows this. I am not saying anything revolutionary when I make this statement. But why is it hard? Well, to maintain financial and psychological wellbeing is tough for business owners but they’re not exclusive in feeling these worries, many employees also find maintaining financial and psychological wellbeing to be tough.

When we delve into it, it is the uncertainty that makes it so tough to own a business. It’s the not knowing whether you’re going to be able to make it through another month, not knowing if anybody wants your product or services, not knowing if you can get that deal over the line, not knowing if you need to pivot your offering and when. It’s all unknown. It’s an experiment!

But why is uncertainty such a killer of our confidence and mental wellbeing?

To have the imagination and skills to reflect on future uncertainties is a human marvel and also an affliction that has developed over several hundred millennia, certainly a skill our fellow animals aren’t capable of. This ability has developed in order to allow vigilance against the unknown (such as sabre tooth tigers and alien tribesmen) however, in 2020 AD it can also lead to the activation of our fight or flight mechanism by a mere thought which can in turn lead to anxiety and its manifestations. Psychologists and Neuroscientists have researched our fear of the unknown extensively and have discovered a variety of things such as knowing that people would rather definitely get an electric shock now than maybe get an electric shock later. This is because we generally prefer certainties which we can then deal with (even if the certainty is frightening or painful) rather than uncertainties which causes us humans a lot of distress. In reality, we all live in uncertainty. Despite what we think, we can’t predict the future, as is perfectly demonstrated by the Coronavirus outbreak seeing most areas of our lives being impacted.

When I talk to my clients about maintaining motivation through uncertainty, I think about my father who is the epitome of an entrepreneur and someone who has definitely weathered some storms in his 50-years of business owning. It was, therefore, only natural for me to seek his advice when I set up my own Consulting business and was going through the obvious growing pains as every new business owner does; the sleepless nights, the mental tiredness and constant worry that weighed on my shoulders about providing a good-enough service, meeting bills, moving forward, being competitive, getting 40-hours’ worth of work completed in 10 etc. I once called him to vent my fears and he calmly and assuredly said, “Well of course it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard or everyone would do it”.

Those words may not seem particularly assuring but I found them rather settling. What my father said was that business owning is hard, but he didn’t say it was impossible. Indeed, business owning is hard and it’s hard for everyone, it’s not an isolated incidence of difficulty for you (or me) and there is indeed a constant that we can cling to. That constant is uncertainty. It may not be the certainty you’d prefer but it is a constant, nonetheless. I think it is in fact, the uncertainty of business, that unites all startups and business owners. It is the mental strength and resilience to withstand the pressure of the unknown that is so impressive.

I know that Coronavirus has damaged many businesses and has caused many to make huge dents into their savings just to survive. I also know that life will go back to normal. We will return to business as usual because we deal with uncertainty on a daily basis and that is our superpower.

Learn, adapt and evolve. We do it because it’s all that we know.