How to Deal with a Professional Crisis of Confidence

A few months ago, being a small business owner or self-employed person seemed like one of the best things in the world. The independence, the satisfaction of working for yourself, the dream of building your own thing.

Cut to 2020, and business owners are facing the most challenging times in modern memory. Uncertainty, loss of customers and revenue, and a change in how we all do business. 

How do you adapt when the rug is pulled out from under you? How do you deal with those moments of “what was all this for?” and “was this all worth it?” In this post we’ll take a more personal look at some of the ways you can cope if and when these feelings hit. 

What is a crisis of confidence? 

There’s a lot of focus (rightly so) on what you can do to keep your business afloat during the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath—cutting costs, applying for the right kind of aid, etc. But there’s less about how to keep yourself afloat. In other words, how can you address the feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, and frustration you might have now that you’re trying to run a business in a bizarre new landscape. 

It’s hard to talk about these feelings. You don’t want to be perceived as weak or having doubts. If you’re trying to lead a team and keep them motivated, you want to maintain a brave face and act like everything is going to be fine. But inside you might be having:

  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Feeling like you’re not up to the task, questioning your own abilities
  • Feeling like this isn’t what you signed up for
  • Feelings of regret: “I should have stayed in my old job”
  • Feelings that you want to quit and try something easier

Recognize if you’re spiraling

It’s easy to panic with what-ifs. What if this continues? What if there’s no vaccine? What if we have to close again in the winter? If it helps, write these all down just to get them out of your head. 

Remember that in uncertain times, our brains have a negativity bias. They are evolved to expect the worst. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint, but it can be paralyzing when you need to go to work every day.

This doesn’t mean that you should avoid all negative thoughts. That’s unrealistic and not healthy in its own way. It just means acknowledging them and then putting them to the side. 

Acknowledge that you are going through huge changes. Acknowledge your disappointment and even grief that these changes are happening. Even just saying to yourself “I am struggling right now to process what’s happening” can take some of the power away from these scary thoughts. 

Make a list of what you are good at

You have not lost any of your talents overnight. Even as the world changes rapidly around you, you still have all of the good qualities that have worked for you in the past.

Think about successes you have already had and how you can apply them to this new, uncertain situation. Think of the tools in your toolbox that can help you adapt.

  • I am good at thinking creatively and solving problems
  • I am good at working hard even when I’m not sure
  • I am good at creative marketing that gets people in the door
  • I am good at networking and connecting with people

Remember what brought you here

Remind yourself why you wanted to do the work you do in the first place. What were the goals you had when you started. Was it to feed your neighbors? Can you still do that? Was it to help people? Can you still do that?

Try to go deeper than “I wanted to run a successful business” or “I wanted to work for myself.” Think more about why. Something mattered enough for you to strike out on your own in the first place. If you can focus on that, it can be very motivating. 

Call a friend who can remind you

“Reach out for support” is one of the most common pieces of advice out there, and one of the hardest to follow when you’re feeling low. But in this case it can really help to call that friend who has known you for a while and tell them exactly what you need. Don’t just expect them to get it. Say, “I’m having a crisis of confidence and I need help remembering that I can do this” or “I need help remembering why I wanted to do this in the first place.” 

Your friend can remind you of what you were like in the days when you started your business, what you wanted and what you were excited about. They can also remind you of qualities you have that you might not even know about. 

Take some time off

It’s not easy to do when you’re stuck in crisis mode. If you’re working from home, it’s hard to remember that just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re somehow on a break. So take a few days off. Turn off the news. Turn off social media. It will all be there when you get back. 

Your brain has been running on all cylinders for the past few months, and it needs a break. In fact, letting your mind “unfocus” for a little while is actually a proven way to come up with new, creative ideas. 

Think of yourself as an explorer 

Right now you are part of the first wave of businesses and people trying to respond to a problem that no one in modern memory has had to deal with before. 

There is no playbook. But that also means you’re not playing by anyone else’s standards or rules about “what you should do.” You are an explorer, trying something entirely new and unprecedented.

If ever there was a time for the creativity, independence, and hard work that got you into self-employment in the first place, this is it.

This is a chance for you to set an intention about how you want to proceed. You can’t guarantee the results, but you can control how you go about it.

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Maggie Biroscak
Maggie is a writer and editor for Jimdo. In her previous work, she edited for organizations covering the environment, cities, and sustainable business. When she’s not adding serial commas, you can find her camping, cooking, or reading science magazines.