By Milan Kordestani, founder of three impact-driven startups: The Doe, Dormzi and Guin Records.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t always practice enough self-care. The drive to be successful and make a positive impact is strong, and it’s something that is pervasive among entrepreneurs. It’s gotten to the point of being a kind of toxic gospel, in which business gurus encourage young or up-and-coming entrepreneurs to abandon everything else in their lives in order to grow their business. Not only is this demonstrably bad advice from a business perspective, but it’s also extremely bad for your overall health and well-being.
On the other hand, building your own business from scratch requires hard work, long days and plenty of sacrifices. You can’t always “have it all” with the perfect amount of sleep, family time, social life and business success. In short, the entrepreneurial hustle is very real. So, how can you work hard while also taking care of yourself?
I cannot speak for every entrepreneur out there, but in my case, hyper-defining my goals has been the greatest way to keep my businesses running without neglecting my basic needs. Many entrepreneurs assume that they should keep their personal and professional lives completely separate. In doing so, they should be able to find ways to schedule both “work time” and “self-care time.” I’m not saying that this is a bad approach, but it does not fix the central problem in many cases. Why? Because it can open the door for personal goals (and schedules) that conflict with your professional ones, and vice versa.
Instead, I try to look at the really big picture and figure out my life goals. What do I want to do with my life? What legacy do I want to leave behind for the world and those closest to me? What kinds of activities leave me fulfilled? How can I balance my personal priorities while also pursuing my passions and interests at the same time?
As you might have noticed, none of these questions relate to one single aspect of my life. They all factor in my needs, desires, aspirations and motivations in both the personal and professional realms. I’ve found that by zooming out and looking at the really big picture, I can develop a daily routine that moves me just a little bit closer to meeting my most important life goals. In my experience, when you find yourself making this kind of broad-ranged progress, inching toward the things that will bring you the greatest sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in life, you are far less likely to suffer from burnout, self-doubt, frustration and all the other things that require extensive self-care.
However, this does not mean that setting goals (and working toward them) will free you of the need for self-care entirely. While some may see the term “self-care” as a recent addition to our collective vernacular that helps narcissists and self-obsessed people justify bad behavior, it’s a very real way to cope with the ever-increasing demands that our work and personal lives put on us. Besides, people have been practicing different forms of self-care since time immemorial; they just called it something else.
Semantics aside, self-care is something that can (and should) be practiced for the sake of bettering oneself and ensuring that one aspect of your life does not take away from another. For example, I always need a lot of mental energy to run my businesses. Whether I’m meeting with stakeholders, ideating with the team, writing briefs or simply emailing, I need to have the stamina to think critically and the patience to keep going when frustrated. There are all sorts of methods to keep up my energy levels, some more effective than others.
This is where I return to the importance of setting and working toward goals. For me, goals are what keep me driven, motivated and energized each and every day. Even during my “off days,” I find my mind wandering to ways in which I can get just a little bit closer to achieving what I want. Since my personal goals are interwoven with my professional goals (and given equal importance), this means that self-care becomes a natural part of both my work and personal time. I want to live a happy, healthy, fulfilling life — and I can’t do that without taking care of myself on a regular basis.
Even if you give self-care just as much importance as your work life and obligations, you may still find yourself with little time in the day to truly unwind and disconnect from “work mode.” Thankfully, one of the best parts about being an entrepreneur is that you have much more control over how and when you work. Sure, there will always be obligations, deadlines and the needs of others to account for, but generally, you can manage your schedule in a way that offers much more liberties than a traditional 9-to-5 job. This is why I design my work schedule and environment to incorporate self-care into the daily routine.
Whether it’s a morning exercise routine before work starts or a 15-minute meditation session in the middle of the afternoon, planting designated self-care time into your schedule is a matter of intention. If you’re an entrepreneur working yourself to the bone without any time or energy to take care of your own well-being, you’re doing something wrong. In many cases, it can be as simple as learning how to say “no” or delegating tasks so you can focus on yourself as needed.
When it comes down to it, being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean dedicating 100% of your life to your business. It’s true that businesses can take away a lot of your time and energy, but you should always look at them as parts of a larger whole. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy or unable to take care of your mental and physical well-being while building your business, you have to reevaluate your goals and recalibrate your routine accordingly.