Mental and Physical health is becoming a common discussion point among Indie Makers and Entrepreneurs. As someone who is an entrepreneur working in both the Online and Offline environments, I wanted to offer my unexpected experiences in my mental and physical health.
To give you a bit of foundation, I should probably give you some background on my entrepreneurial life…
The Past Decade
Starting back in about 2008 I “officially” became a full-time freelance designer and front-end developer, I ran my own company, found my own clients and did 90+% of the work myself. I loved being at the computer, often starting my work day by 9AM and working until 1 or 2AM with breaks for lunch, dinner and a bit of family time. I almost always had “just enough work” to pay my bills and while I could have been doing a lot better, I thought I was living my dream and that true “success” was simply a matter of time and energy.
In reality, looking back on that time period of my life I have come to realize my excitement, passion, sleep, health and relationships were all gradually suffering and getting worse as the days and years went on. At the time, I simply felt the way I felt like because that’s how work is supposed to feel like as a freelancer. Grind until you succeed, at all cost.
During the middle of 2018 I decided to go to the doctor (after having not gone to a doctor in 10 years for a general checkup) because my knees were in constant pain (I have always had bad knees, but this was different) and being only 37 at the time it didn’t make sense for me to feel like I was about 70. To my surprise though, in general I was actually pretty normal. There is nothing structurally wrong with my knees, they mostly just need to be strengthened and some physical therapy. I weigh more than I should and have high cholesterol, but nothing that was unusual, especially for someone who basically sits around all day. In the end, my doctor told me I need to find a way to get more active.
After meeting with my doctor and realizing that I basically hated doing design and development work and then quite abruptly getting let-go from the company I was working full-time freelance for. At first I tried finding a new full-time job, but had no luck at that. Then I decided to try getting back into the independent freelance world again and having my own clients, but after 6 months of basically no work I started crashing mentally and financially.
I was extremely stressed, irritable, short-tempered and not fun to be around, plus I was getting drastically deeper into debt and had about a weeks worth of money left. I was at the end of my rope, had exhausted all my resources and struggled to understand why I even wanted to continue doing design or development work anymore, I didn’t really like doing it, hated it in fact.
During August and the beginning of September of 2018, I decided to focus on what my doctor had said to me… “Get more active.” At that point I decided to 100% quit trying to find and push my design career, it simply wasn’t working and I simply wasn’t passionate about it anymore. Instead, I changed my focus to finding a job that was drastically different from what I had been doing and one that required me to be active again.
I had a few requirements that I outlined as things that would be optimal for being happier again…
- I didn’t want to work for someone else.
- I needed something that was flexible. (I still had a few freelance clients that needed my help, I wanted to be able to take my kids to school and pick them up everyday, I needed to be able to take time off whenever I needed to work on my startup projects and other things.)
- I needed something that was very low cost to setup, remember, I was broke at the time.
- I needed something that required minimal training or experience as I needed to be generating revenue quickly and not spending time learning.
- I needed something with low overhead and minimal equipment.
- I needed something that didn’t require me to work in the evenings or weekends so that I could spend more time with my family.
- I needed something that got me away from my computer for most of the day.
It took me a while to finally figure out what I wanted to do, but as soon as I did, everything fell into place very quickly. On September 11th, 2018 I officially registered my new company “Wild Fox Painting, Inc.” a house painting company. I had finally found something that I had previous experience with and met all the requirements I outlined above.
End of 2018
Fun fact, in general, starting a new painting company at the end of the year is a pretty terrible idea. Turns out, in November and December a lot of people stop working on their houses and focus on holidays with their families, who would have guessed?
Fortunately, I landed a few quick jobs from some friends and other referrals and was able to at least have some revenue coming in the door. And landed a big, well paying job at the end of January which really started to set things in motion.
As I started 2019 I had some pretty simple goals for the company…
- First was to do 52 estimates or an average of 1 per week. I figured if I won a quarter of those, I’d be able to survive my first year.
- Second was to NOT be like many of the other painters in town, I’d focus on quality, customer service and not sub-contracting every job out to someone else.
- Lastly, I wanted to focus on in-person networking and relationships.
Dude, I thought you were going to talk about Mental and Physical health? I am, I’m getting there…
I’m not going to get into a lot of details about 2019, I’ll save that for another post. I did just want to highlight that I was able to meet and exceed all of my goals I had set, which has allowed me to finally see that I was more mentally and physically screwed up than I thought, here’s how…
With the success of my first full year, I have been fortunate enough to have the ability to take all of December off from painting this year, in fact I took half of November off as well. I’m literally more stable after one year of painting, than I have been in 10 years of freelance design and development work. This kind of blows my mind.
We are now in the middle of December (the 18th to be exact) and over the past couple weeks I have noticed something that has led me to writing this article…
I have realized that I hate that I’m not painting right now. Wait, what? Who hates time off and not having work and stress? As I look at it though, it actually makes a lot of sense and here’s why… I’m rapidly falling into my old habits and issues that I thought were “no big deal” before…
- While painting, I was regularly going to bed around 11PM and was able to fall asleep quickly and slept well and could easily wake up around 7AM without an alarm. Now that I’m not painting, I’m going to bed again at 1AM, it takes me an hour to fall asleep, I don’t sleep well and I struggle to wake up by 8AM.
- While painting, I was only at my computer for 2-3 hours per day. Now, I’m on my computer for 10-12 hours per day.
- While painting, I was happier, had more energy and enjoyed spending time with the family. Now, I’m constantly tired and want to take a nap everyday, I have minimal motivation, I’m more stressed and family time (get’s in the way).
- While painting, I managed to completely cut out coffee which helped reduce the number of headaches I had, it also saved me a lot of money and boosted my energy. Now, I drink coffee everyday again, I feel like I constantly have a headache and I feel more sluggish in general.
Every positive effect painting had on my life the first 10 and a half months of the year have all reverted back to where I was at prior to painting, all within less than a month. I thought I’d really enjoy my time off (which I have to an extent), but the negative effect it has had on me though has been shocking and opened my eyes to just how bad I truly was when I sat at my desk all day, didn’t exercise and rarely interacted with people in the real world.
Long story, short…
I had always assumed I was getting by “just fine” for the past 10+ years as I worked in the freelance and maker world. I saw other’s having breakdowns, or stress or every other issue you can think of, but no, not me, I don’t have any issues! Turns out I was simply too close to what I couldn’t see, I glossed over and ignored my issues and myself and everyone around me suffered for it.
Slow down for a day, get off your devices, grab a notebook and spend some time really evaluating your life, goals, emotions, actions, friendships, family and health. Stop thinking you are “perfectly fine”, I’m not sure anyone is perfectly fine and most people can’t even see the obvious issues in their lives. You aren’t as stable as you think you are, find your vulnerabilities and start working on them, today.
As for me, I don’t know if I will take a full month off again next year. If I do, it will be filled with travelling or something more interesting than sitting at my computer each day. I’m by no means done figuring things out, it’s a constant battle and requires constant evaluation day-to-day, and week-to-week. I can tell you though, I’m excited about the future and this new outlook on my mental and physical health!