Tough Life Lessons from Starting a Business (and What I Learned about Myself)

By Laura @ IWMLB Project | What business shall I start?

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Aug 06

You did it. You quit your confidence-draining, soul-crushing miserable excuse for a job, and started your own business.


Life is going to be so awesome from now on!

You think it’s the answer to all your job despising problems. You get your time back, no more mindless meetings, and no more making voodoo dolls of your megalomaniac boss (just me?).

This is the beginning of the rest of your life and it is going to be AWESOME.

This is exactly how I felt when I left my corporate career to start a business.

The first four months have been, well, interesting.

tough life lessons from starting a business

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Tough Life Lessons from Starting a Business

Starting a business can rude awakening when you’ve spent years blaming your job for your stress and general unhappiness.

It can be an uncomfortable magnifying glass on your personality and who you are.

The technical side of starting a business was always going to be tough. I hadn’t written more than an email in 15 years but here I was starting a blog.

I knew building my website was going to involve a lot of swearing as I am not exactly a tech whizz (I had an old Blackberry held together with masking tape while most people were on their 5th iPhone).

But what I wasn’t ready for was the emotional rollercoaster of being confronted with my own flaws and failings on a daily basis.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last four months. A LOT. And it hasn’t been easy.

Here are some of the things I learned from leaving my job to start a business. 

Starting a business will not make you happy

This is what you wanted. So badly. But you still don’t feel 100% happy.

Everyone says you are ‘living the dream’.

So you can’t understand why you aren’t dancing around your living room like Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

You feel guilty, you should be happy. This is what you’ve been dreaming of for so long.

Is it because you are fundamentally a negative person who will never be completely joyful in anything?

No, it’s because nothing is going to make us 100% happy for our whole entire lives.

Mark Manson explains a lot better than I can.

In his book ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck‘ he explains that all of life is a struggle, punctuated by short periods of happiness. 

So, you need to choose which struggle to give a f*ck about.

I would far rather give a f*ck about running my own business than making money for someone else.

That’s the thought I hold on to when things get tough or annoying (I’m looking at you, WordPress). 

tough life lessons from starting a business

Making decisions is easier when you have a defined role

Coming out of a Senior or Middle Management role means you have reached a certain level of seniority.

Big decisions often fell on your shoulders and most of the time you had the knowledge, experience, and support from peers to make the right one.

I definitely thought I was a quick and effective decision maker when I left my corporate job.

Until I started my business. 

What I didn’t account for was the fact that I would have NO F*CKING CLUE what I was doing.

Not so easy to make decisions when you have no prior knowledge to back it up and you are sat alone in your house.

It’s like going into a new company as an intern and then being handed the job of CEO, CFO, CIO all at once. Then everyone leaves the building except you.

tough life lessons from starting a business

You can be a morning person without getting up at the dawn of time

Can everyone please stop saying that to be successful you must get up at ‘kill me o’clock’. 

I’m sorry, but 4am just ain’t gonna happen. It isn’t big, and it isn’t clever.

I am a morning person, and I have tried getting up at 5am and 6am at various points in my career. 

Now I have a business, do you know what? I don’t want to do that anymore.

I didn’t start a business to be as knackered as I was when I worked in an office. So I am going to get up between 7am and 8am. So there.

Only you can decide what is right for you, but don’t be shamed into thinking that time spent in bed after 4am is a recipe for failure.

tough life lessons from starting a business

The 9-5 mentality is hard to shake

Following on from what time you should wake-up, how long should you work for?

9-5 are the hours we’ve lived with for years (even if this was laughable as we actually worked 7am to 8pm or whatever, 9-5 was still generally what we were contracted to).

We are so in the habit of thinking that these are the standard work hours that it is very difficult to get our heads around doing anything different.

The 9-5 workday actually came from the industrial age. The 8 hour day was brought in to reduce working hours and increase productivity in factory workers.

In terms of productivity, when you work for yourself, it isn’t that useful. (Unless you own a factory)

So how the hell do you decide when to work, and for how long? 

Is it okay to watch an episode of Jane the Virgin in the middle of a workday? Can you still be productive if you only work in the morning? Or 20 hours a week?

I’m slowly changing my habits, through trial and error. I notice my eyes start to get tired when I’ve been focusing for too long.

A quick programme on Netflix does nothing to halt my productivity, in fact, it makes me a lot more focused when I do go back to my desk.

Hours and days for optimal productivity differ from person to person. The only way to figure out what is best for you is to try different things.

tough life lessons from starting a business

Being super organised is not always helpful when you need to be creative

I pride myself on being a very organised person.

There is nothing I love more than planning my weeks and months on my google calendar. Dragging those little blocks around until everything is planned like a military operation.

In my corporate job, I had to be super organised, there were meetings to attend, team 1-2-1s to plan, presentations to prep for and deadlines to meet.

When it came to my business, however, my beautiful google calendar just wasn’t working for me.

It felt restrictive and overwhelming. In fact, I ended up using it to procrastinate. Don’t feel like writing a blog post? Awesome, I ‘ll just drag my little calendar blocks around a bit more.

So, I’ve gone back to the old school. A good ole notebook and pen.

Because a lot of what I do is creative now, I’ve found that having a list is much easier to work from.

When I’m feeling alert and creative, I write. When I’m feeling tired and fuzzy, I’ll do admin bits.

Who you thought you were, and what you prided yourself on in your corporate role, isn’t always going to be helpful when you start your business.

You might need to throw it all up in the air and start again.

tough life lessons from starting a business

Being a hard worker doesn’t mean you will succeed

Corporate jobs are great at training us for ‘busy work’.

Filling the 8,10,12 hour day being SO BUSY.

It’s very easy to bring this mentality with you when you start a business, which is a very short ride to Burnout City.

When you have your own business you think you have to do #allthethings. But, those things vary in what they contribute to the growth of your business.

Take Instagram for example. For IWMLBproject to work, I need traffic and email subscribers.

I decided to try a few different social media avenues and Instagram was one of them. Instagram isn’t something I use, I don’t really get it (told you I was a tech neanderthal) but I gave it a go.

20 terrible photos, a few likes and a smattering of comments later, I abandoned it as it was sending approximately 0 traffic to my website. 

When you are starting your business, I do believe you have to try things for yourself, but if they aren’t contributing to your business goals, stop doing them.

how to come up with a business idea when you have no clue

P.S If you are struggling to come up with a business idea, I have made a free ‘Business Idea Worksheet’ for you to use.

You can go through the sheet to brainstorm your business ideas and select one to get started with. Click on the link below to get your worksheet!

Get my free worksheet!

Other people don’t necessarily know what is right for your business, even if they are successful

When you start out in business, you naturally look up to others who are more successful than you.

It makes sense that you would study what they do and then try to emulate that for your business.

But sometimes, you start going down a road that you don’t feel comfortable on. Something doesn’t ‘feel right’.

And, that’s when you need to stop and evaluate. Is this really the direction I want my business to go in?

Take IWMLBproject for example. Most successful bloggers earn their money through ads, sponsored posts, affiliates and their own products.

I knew I didn’t want to do ads and sponsored posts, but realised I wasn’t a big fan of affiliate marketing either (where you promote someone else’s product for a commission).

And don’t get me started on sales funnels. Surely everyone is getting tired of the ‘limited time only’, upsell, downsell and sideways sell that seems to be par for the marketing course nowadays?

So, I am trying to find a different way. A way that will still be profitable but will suit me and my brand.

You may well come to the same conclusion, at some point you want to take your business in a different direction, that feels right for you.

tough life lessons from starting a business

Failing in your business does not mean you fail as a person

Offices can foster a real blame culture. When mistakes occur, it’s very often down to finding out who effed up.

Maybe it gets covered up or the trail is too complicated and it isn’t clear who made the error.

When you work for yourself, it’s pretty clear who made the mistake cos there ain’t no one else in the room!

When you make a mistake in your business, it is hard not to separate an error in your business from you as a person.

You blame yourself and wonder whether you are cut out for this business malarkey.

Thing is, mistakes are a necessary part of learning. They are nothing to do with you as a person, it’s just the rite of passage for setting up a business.

tough life lessons from starting a business

Your job might not have been the reason for your burn out

If you are someone who has always worked til they drop, you are going to do some serious soul-searching when you start a business. 

It’s so easy to blame your corporate job for stress and burnout.

Problem is, once you’ve left the said life-crushing job and started working for yourself, you realise that it was partly YOU who set the unachievable goals.

YOU are the workaholic, and now there is no one left to blame for your constant stress and burnout but yourself. 

*mic drop*

First, you have to admit, rather uncomfortably that you are the problem.

And then you need to find techniques to give yourself breaks, days off and reasonable times to shut your laptop for the day.

This is not easy if it doesn’t come naturally.

Here is how a typical conversation with myself goes (in my head, not out loud, please don’t have me committed). 

“I’m knackered, I really just need to rest. I would love to chill out with a few episodes of ‘insert mindless Netflix series here'”.

“You can’t, if you don’t do the work no one else will and then your business will fail.”

“But what was the point of quitting my job? I wanted time to look after myself and dictate my own hours.”

“But you don’t make enough money yet. You can relax when you have enough.”

“But what does enough mean? How will I know when I have it and can scale back?”

*shrugs* “Idunno but it’s definitely not now.”

*Slopes back to desk to write another blog post*

You have to take responsibility for your own well-being when you start a business.

I am still working on this, as a die-hard workaholic, it isn’t easy for me to see relaxation as an integral part of my day.

But like everything, I guess it takes time. New habits aren’t formed instantly, so set reminders in your calendar to ‘relax’ and make sure that you do it! (I’m talking to myself here too).

tough life lessons from starting a business

And finally,

The learning curve of starting a business isn’t just about skills. It’s also learning about yourself, who you are, how you operate and why you do the things you do.

You can’t hide from yourself when you work for yourself.

Having said that, learning about yourself is never a bad thing. Once you are aware of less desirable traits or negative thoughts or actions, you can start to take the first steps to change them.

Want to read some more posts on starting a business? 

What did you find out about yourself when you started your business?


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About the Author

Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)

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