I have spent the better part of my adult life living Christmas like a 10 year old. A few years ago, however, one event almost destroyed my childish enthusiasm and excitement for Christmas.
I became an entrepreneur.
That's not to say that I necessarily became Ebenezer Scrooge. No, indeed I did not. But the stress of my first holiday season as an entrepreneur was almost enough to ruin my festive view of the holidays forever.
First, the back story.
When I co-founded Wild Creations in 2007, it was my first endeavor into business ownership. Like most first time entrepreneurs, I was full of enthusiasm and brimming with overconfidence, and I gambled everything I had on the endeavor.
During our first holiday season, Wild Creations leased and operated a number of retail mall kiosks to showcase our EcoAquarium, which we believed would generate a considerable amount of revenue. We were over extended, both financially and in terms of human resources, but we were banking on a great holiday season to make up for it. I was nervous but confident.
The great holiday season didn't happen.
That entire winter is in fact very difficult to recall, blurred by stress, anxiety and, not coincidentally, cold medicine on which I seemed to subsist. What memories I do have are of long days delivering and checking in on kiosks. Shopping malls with depressingly low foot traffic. Employees not showing up for work and leaving kiosks unmanned. And Bing Crosby, whose "White Christmas" seemed to be the only song that mall management seemed fit to play multiple times every hour. I still cringe when I hear that song.
Now, I typically handle stress very well, but because it was my first rodeo and I had everything riding on it, I found myself battling an anxiety I had never experienced and was ill-prepared to manage. So, I did what I could to maintain my sanity, and looking back, my strategy was actually quite elementary:
Yes, simply breathe. There were long periods of time where I found myself holding my breath. When I realized I wasn't exhaling, I would stop, take a deep and controlled breath, and be amazed at the relief I would get. Entrepreneurship has even led me to pursue meditating, something I had previously left to monks on high mountaintops.
Most entrepreneurs have very supportive friends and family. Unfortunately, most of them can't relate to the stresses of laying everything on the line for a business. Instead of leaning on them to vent, seek out someone who has gone through your plight. Not only do these experienced entrepreneurs make great listeners, they often know exactly what to say to put you at ease. For me, I was fortunate to have a business partner with previous experience. I vented to him often, and in fact still do.
This should, preferably, be someone who has demonstrated character and resilience under duress. For me, this continues to be my dad, a guy who at the tender young age of 82 still operates his own business. For as long as I've known him (all my life in fact), I've never known him to complain, blame, stress or get genuinely angry about anything work related. If he can do it, so can I.
This is that calming place where you can be alone and reflect on your situation. For me, it was the beach, which is ironic, because I hate the beach. I do, however, love the ocean, for its seemingly endless and awe-inspiring expanse has a way of making small problems seem a little less important.
Cliché, I know, but simply smiling and enjoying a hearty laugh from time to time will melt away the stress.
Although that first holiday season probably cost me 10 healthy years and began my hair's transition to gray, I survived. I actually believe the entire experience, while I can remember very little of it, made me a much better entrepreneur and a better person in general, but only because I developed a plan to deal with the stress.
For other entrepreneurs out there who might be enduring the same holiday stress, just try these tips, and hopefully you can reduce your anxiety and, more important, keep Bing Crosby in a festive holiday light!