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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Mental Health and Today’s Entrepreneur

The challenges and benefits of self-employment as a career choice

Chantal Orr, BCom

Reprinted from the "Workplace" issue of Visions Journal, 2014, 9 (3), pp. 29-31

Starting your own business comes with a range of benefits and also poses several challenges. It would be easy for me to paint a pretty picture of self-employment by glossing over the actual challenges involved. However, to provide an accurate picture of being self-employed means highlighting both the positive and the negative aspects. Recognizing the challenges and having strategies to overcome them is an important first step when setting out to start a business.

To gain deeper insight into the topic of starting your own business as a person living with mental health issues, I asked one of our clients who faces mental health challenges for his thoughts about entrepreneurship. He said:

“The challenges of starting a business are the same for everyone, whether they live with a disability or not. But it takes a greater level of commitment and discipline to overcome these challenges when you face mental health issues.”

Pros and cons to self-employment

Some of the benefits of self-employment include: you get to follow your passion, you work a flexible schedule and you are your own boss.

But it’s important to understand that every benefit associated with owning a business has a negative flip side. Take the major benefit of being your own boss, for instance.

You call the shots, lead the strategy, choose employees, choose your suppliers and so on. However, the flip side is that, because you are the major decision maker, the accountability falls heavily on your shoulders. When something goes wrong, you must assume responsibility and clean up the mess.

Yes, you may have the flexibility to work when you are most productive, but you must also strongly commit to, and maintain, a regular work routine. When working from home, be aware that your work productivity can quickly deteriorate because of small changes to your routine. For example, sleeping in past noon or spending even an hour cleaning your kitchen will eat into your available working hours. Suddenly, you find it is 4 p.m. and you haven’t even checked your email. You need to treat your business with the same level of respect as you would a corporate nine-to-five office job.

Routine can be especially difficult if you are living with a mental illness. For example, a depressive disorder can greatly affect your workflow—some days it may feel impossible to get anything done. This means that an even deeper level of commitment and discipline will be required to complete your tasks and maintain your routine.

Working from home can also be lonely. And if you’re dealing with social anxiety, depression or another mental health issue, working from home can act like a crutch that will require a greater level of commitment and discipline to overcome. What do I mean by this? Well, since you hardly ever have to leave the house, you may be at risk of reinforcing self-imposed social isolation. Be aware that home offices can provide the perfect excuse to stay behind the walls of your own home.

To minimize isolation and loneliness, take time to catch up with an old friend over coffee, putter in your vegetable garden or visit your local museum. Exercise is another great activity to help break up your day. Not only does exercise provide several important health benefits, there is usually a strong social component to exercise. Why not try that new cardio class you’ve been putting off joining? I guarantee you’ll return to your home office feeling more focused and productive.

One of my clients curbs her social isolation by scheduling time for face-to-face social interaction each day. We are social animals, so we need interaction and feedback from others. Ultimately, you have to find an approach that works for you.

There is another very important point to mention. To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to love what you do. Passion will help you get through all of the tough stuff that comes with owning a business. Also, getting up in the morning will be much easier. No one is going to tell you to get up and go to work every day; it’s your responsibility and choice as a business owner. But if you are passionate about your business, it will just be another day doing what you love!

But as powerful as passion can be in fuelling your business enterprise, it’s important to realize that passion is no guarantee of success. However, when passion is paired with hard work, success is more likely to be achieved.

Another important component of success is completing the groundwork of a sound business plan. A business plan is a necessary first step in creating any successful business. Business planning can be exciting, but also daunting, challenging and sometimes boring. Some clients find it hard to be passionate about a balance sheet, but it is an important financial planning tool.

But I have to earn a living...

The financial instability that can come with business start-up is a reality. Many budding entrepreneurs need to have part-time jobs while growing their business. One of my previous clients worked part-time for a call centre while growing her client roster for her Web design company, all from her home office. Working part-time reduces financial stress and allows you to grow at a pace that respects your health boundaries.

Income reporting programs can help to lower stressors that come from financial instability. This minimizes the repercussions financial stress can potentially have on underlying mental health conditions.

Each Canadian province has some form of income reporting program, sometimes called a self-employment program or self-employment benefit. Anyone on income assistance should consider this option, as these programs allow entrepreneurs to earn a certain amount of business income without putting their base income into jeopardy. Programs vary by province, so be sure to research the details carefully.

Are you cut out for entrepreneurship?

Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. Many people have all the right intentions but despite their best efforts, watch their businesses fall apart before them. There are many possible reasons for business failure including mismanagement of funding, inexperience of key personnel, and poor marketing decisions, to name a few. Many entrepreneurs fail their way to success, discovering a business model that works on the third, fourth or even fifth attempt to be self-employed.

Self-assessment is an important first step in determining suitability for self-employment. In the initial stages of our program, clients assess their entrepreneurial spirit, business skills, self-employment desire, support systems, areas requiring development, health situation, financial circumstances and business goals.

When living with a mental health issue, you should carefully consider your personal situation in assessing whether entrepreneurship is appropriate. For example, a client with mental health issues was intent on starting a music production company. However, by working through our process of self-discovery, he realized that he needed to gain experience in the field before attempting such a lofty and costly goal. So instead of continuing in the path of self-employment, he chose to volunteer in the field with a national network. Today this client is thriving.

Self-assessment for entrepreneurial suitability and a well-researched business plan are essential to the launch of a business. Passion and hard work will be your greatest allies in best managing the heavy workload. Of my clients as a whole, those who embrace the extra commitment and discipline required to tackle business planning are the ones showing the best progress. This relentless level of commitment and discipline, which plays a major role in a business’s success, applies even more to people living with mental health issues. But if you think you’ve got what it takes and you’ve done your homework, then entrepreneurship could be an excellent career move.

About the author

Chantal, a Business Coach with the Canadian Society for Social Development, works with clients living with a diverse range of mental health issues. She was a managing partner of Synergy, a company specializing in sustainability and marketing consultation. Currently, Chantal serves as external liaison for Women in Leadership, Calgary


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