I should be at an event tonight, but instead I am sitting on my sofa surrounded by kitties writing this. It is crazy cold out today, it was 2 degrees when I headed out to a work event this morning, but it is not just the cold that is keeping me inside and away from what I am sure will be a fun time and great networking opportunity. Instead, I am staying home because I need a break from people.
One thing that many people don’t talk about in relation to being an entrepreneur is just how much time you have to spend talking to people, making connections, going to events, etc. I am even to blame for not emphasizing this enough (or at all) when I am mentoring others on starting a business. I am going to try to make amends for not talking about it enough with those around me by sharing some of the struggles I have been facing in this post.
Now, I want to be clear that I am not one of the most introverted people out there, and many people I know and love will likely be surprised to hear me putting myself in the introvert bucket. The reality is that none of us are 100% one way or another and I think I tend to fall pretty squarely in the 50/50 range with my levels of introversion and extraversion. At least, that is what my Highland Ability Battery test tells me and that feels about right.
What that means for me is that even those of us with a decent dose of extraversion struggle with the level that is required for business building and I can’t even imagine the struggle this must be for serious introverts. There are some ugly truths of what this means for me, and I imagine for many others that get overwhelmed with the need to network.
First among those truths is this: You will be exhausted a lot of the time. Sometimes that also means you will be less healthy. I have found that I don’t have the energy (emotionally and sometimes physically) to do many of the things that keep me healthy and feeling balanced. I use a trainer for working out now, cause if I didn’t have someone to hold me accountable to going to the gym, I would never go. Instead, I would sit in a quiet room with my computer or a book and lose even more muscle tone just to not have to go out.
You will feel guilty. I sometimes decide I need a break from being social and stay home or in the office rather than attending meetups or conferences. I know I need to give myself breaks and I can’t make everything. That would be fine and good as long as I didn’t spend much of the time supposedly recuperating from social exposure stressing about missing events and telling myself I should be there.
Relationships with family and friends suffer. I used to be one of those people that made strong conscious efforts to stay connected and spend quality time with my friends and family. No longer. I have friends that I haven’t talked to in over a year! Many of the conversations with my parents these days start with apologies for how long it has been since I called. Many people only have so much time they can spend being social and when you start upping your social exposure for the benefit of your company, the social time for your personal life suffers.
However, I am working hard to try to figure out how to do what I need to for my business without turning into an unhealthy, stressed out, shut-in. I don’t have a ton of advice yet, mostly just anxiety about what is not working, but I am working on a few approaches to navigating this situation.
You are your company, so take care of yourself first. If you really don’t feel up to being social but you talk yourself into going just in case the coolest opportunity may be there, you are setting yourself up for failure. Even if the coolest opportunity is there at the event you miss, it won’t do you a lot of good if you are burnt out, overexposed, and low energy. Who wants to work with the person that seems distracted and overextended? That is exactly how you show up when you push yourself to be social when you have used up your talking to people reserves.
Staff your weaker side and share your burdens. I am incredibly lucky to have a partner that is way more extraverted than I am. She has been taking on the lions share of lunches, happy hours, etc. lately and I think it is working out great! She is excited and happy to go to the lions share of them as she has an immensely higher aptitude for high levels of social engagement than I do, so it makes sense for her to put more time and energy into that piece than it does for me. Even if we were both equally introverted, if we planned well and divided and conquered, we would both end up with more balance in our social engagement.
The best sales is good work, and you do your best work when you are energized and ready to tackle each thing that comes your way. If you put all your energy into meeting new people and solidifying relationships all the time, you don’t end up in a good spot when it comes to sitting down and actually doing the work. You have to prioritize, both existing and potential work, in order to create a balance that allows you to put the right amount of energy into what you currently have on your plate with enough energy left to continue to build relationships for the future of your company.
There are a ton of things about being an entrepreneur that are hard and complete life changers, including new levels of financial stress, workload issues, and self doubt. The energy drain of relationship building and social expenditures for your business are ones we often talk about a little less, but for me they have had the biggest impact on who I am and how I live. However, they also hold some of the biggest benefits by allowing me to work with diverse people doing amazing work, making new friendships, and just learning more about the world around me. In the end, the benefits far outway the negatives of finding the time for networking, but like all things as an entrepreneur, you have to be smart about it.