The limitations of a Small Business Owner

Since I started my business, it often feels like I never stop working.

Even when socialising I end up talking about my business. Or shall I say businesses. I try and steer conversations away from work when meeting new people or hanging with friends, but more often than not the conversation leads there. People are intrigued by what I do and they want to learn more. Or perhaps my life is now so intertwined with my business that it’s almost impossible to separate them.

It was my birthday this week, and I made the decision to take some time off. For one of the first times since working for myself, I’ve felt no guilt associated with this decision. Ironic that it’s been such a struggle to get to this point, since I try to teach other business owners how important it is to take time out. Time out is reflection time, and is vital to clear thinking. Yet any more than one or two days off a week and I feel guilty. And usually on those days off, traditionally called weekends, I find myself misbehaving and slipping into the office: “Oh, I’ll just do this and that”. Or I’m researching new products, or reviewing other businesses and how can I learn from them.

One of the benefits of being a business owner is supposed to be the freedom to take a day off or work the hours that suit you. Yet my mind often won’t allow me to enjoy this benefit. I feel guilty or worry people will think I don’t work enough, that I’m a bludger. This is pure silliness because I work many more hours than the standard 38-hour week.

But the world is changing. Shouldn’t our ideals around work change too? Like the bamboo plant, shouldn’t we be adapting to our environment, the seasons and our basic needs? Today we limit everything. You’re only allowed this many sick days and this many holidays. Any more or less and you’re not doing it correctly.

Maybe we should be looking at work entirely differently: I’m working for my own mental, emotional and physical needs and the financial gain is simply a benefit.

Perhaps the rules we place around our lives, in particular our working lives, should be based on our personal needs, our body’s needs, our families and what we emotionally and mentally need to feel healthy and balanced.

If you love your work, you often end up working more than the average because it doesn’t feel like work. As the famous James A. Michener quote goes: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure … He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both. ”

But this always-working-because-we-love-it business also carries with it the ever-present danger of burn out. Many of us don’t allow ourselves or each other the luxury of time off unless we have kids and need to carve up our work days to suit family life, or we get ill and our bodies force us to stop or slow down.

Why do we let social constructs govern our behaviours so much? How often do you hear people claim, “They say that …” when citing the latest supposed expert advise on anything from parenting to personal training? Who are “they” and really do they know you as well as you know you? Shouldn’t you be making the decisions for you?

Work is becoming more flexible than ever before for employees – working from home, hot desking, job sharing, parental leave. Shouldn’t our attitudes to work as small business owners become more flexible too?

Sometimes, no matter how much we love our work, we need to take a moment to reassess why we started our own business in the first place. If the answer is lifestyle, to be masters of our own destiny and trust our instincts, perhaps it’s time to reconnect with that original intent. To listen to our own inner voice, rather than the opinions and expectations of others. And, if we feel like a day off, to damn well take it, birthday or not.

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