For many, owning a business is the ultimate dream. You can call your own shots. You can choose your own schedule. You don’t have to answer to a jerk boss or toxic coworkers.
While that dream is more attainable than you may realize, it’s not a walk in the park. As a business owner, you’ll face adversity. Some will get luckier than others, but everyone will hit certain points where they’re exhausted, defeated, and maybe even thinking about giving up.
I won’t sugar coat it: this is all an unavoidable part of entrepreneurship. You’ve probably heard a lot of people talk about grit, determination, and hustle. While it can start to sound cliché after a while, it’s absolutely true.
So what does it take to overcome adversity as a business owner?
The ride will be different for everyone, but there are some key concepts that will help you stay resilient and well equipped to deal with the tough parts of owning a business. A lot of it has to do with your mindset and mental resilience.
Let’s get to it.
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What is adversity, anyway?
According to Oxford, adversity means “difficulties; misfortune.” The example underneath says “resilience in the face of adversity.” What a coincidence.
Through the lens of business ownership, adversity can mean any event, circumstance, or situation that you didn’t plan for and didn’t want to happen.
Things that cause adversity can include:
- Not being able to raise enough capital
- Being treated poorly by colleagues, partners, or acquaintances
- Failing to make sales after you launch your company
- Psychological barriers like anxiety and depression
So how can you overcome adversity?
Glad you asked.
Tips for overcoming adversity in business
Adversity will look different for every business owner. But at the end of the day, your mindset, resourcefulness, and mental agility will be your biggest strengths. Here are some tips for flexing those resilience muscles.
Accept that adversity is inevitable
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you will definitely, positively, 100% face adversity in your adventures as an entrepreneur. One of the best ways to prepare is to accept this as reality.
Once you can embrace the fact that things will get tough, and that you’ll need to tap into your inner strength and external resources, you’ll already be on the path to being more prepared.
You’ve heard all about #hustleandgrind culture. You’ve seen tons of entrepreneurs who work all day, every day. It’s a glorified aspect of our culture. But the truth is, you need to take time for yourself or you’ll likely be too tired and worn down to actually face adversity when it comes your way.
Self-care can be as big or as small as you like—just make sure you practice it regularly. Here are some examples:
- Take regular breaks—whether it’s a 10-minute break, a day-long break, or a week-long vacation
- Schedule time for things you love outside of work, like reading, hiking, or making art
- Try to delegate tasks if you’re feeling too overwhelmed
- Examine your work-life balance to see if there’s anything you can optimize
Build a strong network
Any evolutionary scientist will tell you: humans are built for social connection. There’s simply no way around it. We need to have a support network to get through the hard times—and enjoy the good times even more.
Choose your business and personal relationships wisely. Try to surround yourself with people who make you feel good, who build you up, and who inspire and encourage you to smash your goals. When you have a social network to pick you up when you’re down, adversity will be a much lighter load.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help
Sometimes, asking for help sucks. This is especially true when you have full confidence in your ability to do something by yourself. But if you constantly bite off more than you can chew, you’re going to burn out. Fast.
One key to overcoming adversity as a business owner is to know when to put your ego aside. Sure, it can feel embarrassing or frustrating to ask for help. But you’ll often find that those uncomfortable feelings are worse in your own head. When you actually do it, it may feel much easier. And the benefits definitely outweigh the risk!
Examine every failure
I know, I know. Another cliché. But hear me out. There’s a reason you hear this tip so much. If you read stories of business owners who overcame adversity, you’ll hear time and time again that they really paused to think about failures and hardships.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Where exactly did things go wrong?
- What was under my control, and what wasn’t?
- Could I have done anything differently to change the outcome?
- Is there anything positive that has come out of this?
- Is there a “lesson” I can learn here to apply to future situations?
Learning from the past is where the real magic happens in entrepreneurship.
Find a mentor (and/or become one!)
According to one study, 92% of small business owners think that mentors have a direct positive impact on business growth and profitability. This makes perfect sense—a mentor is someone who can give you advice, support, and shared experiences around all aspects of your business. Including the adversity part.
In many cases, a good mentor will have wisdom and understanding about what you’re going through because they’ve been through it too. On the flip side, becoming a mentor can also be fulfilling and inspiring. You’re helping others while re-learning and confirming the lessons of your past.
Let yourself be angry, sad, or upset
I often see entrepreneurship tips like “always keep smiling” or “stay positive.” And while those are good tips in the long term, they’re not as helpful on a day-to-day basis. Negative emotions are a normal part of being a human. We all have them. The best thing you can do for your mental health is to let yourself feel those emotions instead of pretending everything is always perfect.
When you give yourself time and space to process emotions like anger and sadness, you’re “recharging” for what’s next. You’re moving through it instead of keeping it bottled up inside. Because when you constantly keep your emotions bottled up, you’re on a one-way train to Meltdown-ville.
Fall down, but get back up
When you have a major challenge or failure, it’s easy to feel down on yourself. To feel like a failure. To feel like you’re in over your head and you should just give up.
But in all my time learning about entrepreneurship, one pattern is glaringly obvious: the most successful business owners always get back up. They’ve normalized adversity. They’re resolute in their goals and they’ll do whatever it takes to achieve those goals—no matter how many times they fall before they get there.
Famous business owners who overcame adversity like a boss
It’s time for some inspiration. These entrepreneurs faced serious adversity, but it didn’t stop them.
Walt Disney of The Walt Disney Company
Disney is one of the most influential brands of the 20th and 21st centuries. But Walt Disney had his share of adversity. His first business went bankrupt. Then he tried—unsuccessfully—to become an actor. After creating Mickey Mouse, he was rejected by hundreds of banks in an attempt to get a loan. He had a mental breakdown from being so stressed.
There’s a long list of his challenges, but he always kept going. Then he found success making shorts—and the rest is history.
Steve Jobs of Apple
Everyone knows the legend of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. But did you know that at one point the company almost failed? It had financial losses for 12 straight years! But then Jobs came back to the company and made an incredible (and surprising) decision. He teamed up with Microsoft, one of its biggest competitors.
Because of the powerhouse partnership, Apple got a $150 million investment (from Microsoft) to help keep it afloat. That creative and bold partnership turned out to be one of the best decisions Jobs ever made.
It’s all in your attitude—are you resilient and energized?
As a business owner, adversity will come knocking on your door. But as we’ve seen, what sets successful entrepreneurs apart is their tenacity and resilience. They kept going, even after being dealt major blows.
Hopefully, you’ll never experience devastation. But if you do, you’ll be thankful that you spent time building your mental and emotional capacity for adversity. You’ll be glad you did things like:
- Accept adversity as part of business ownership
- Practice self-care and balance
- Build a strong support network
- Hire a mentor
- Swallow your ego and ask for help
- Take a close look at every obstacle
- Build healthy emotional regulation
- Get back up every time you fall
Entrepreneurship is tough, but you can do it with the right tools. Are you up for the challenge?