The world is full of people who can wax lyrical about why they are so #blessed and #grateful to work for themselves. And on most days, I couldn’t agree more. I love my business! Most days. Then, of course, there are those other days. I’ve done over 6 years in the trenches and I can safely tell you that there’s a fair share of down times, too. The good days definitely outweigh the bad, and for that I’m supremely glad, because hell, if they didn’t, we’d all have quit the dream long ago to return to regular paycheques and paid sick leave, right?
The main thing I’ve realised is that all of us business owners are full-time students, learning the art of simply surviving under a tonne of pressure, stress and less-than-glamorous work. In a sea of Instagram daze and #blessed hashtags, it’s particularly difficult to find a ‘gram in sight of those more teary, bleary-eyed mornings, without sleep, stressing about the latest HR issue or where our next client will come from. Nor do I see many tweets about the freaking hard, never-ending battle to balance income with expenses. And rightly so! I mean, to be honest, I don’t want to hear how hard your life is. Just show me your g-damn flat lay and tell me how great it is to live life at the top while lounging poolside!
Last year, I launched my third business and also invested in a fourth. I had my busiest year yet, I grew the gang by 40% and spent at least 20 hours a week knee-deep in spreadsheets. Seriously, in October I even had to see a chiropractor to put my spine back into place because I’d stressed that little vertebrate well and truly out of its socket. To put it plainly, nothing is as glamorous as it seems, trust me. For the most part, my days are filled with clearing out my inbox, cleaning up my home, picking up my dog’s doo and trying (and failing) to convince myself that I could, in fact, survive without caffeine.
Social Media is a curious thing. On one hand, it’s a tangled mass of narcissistic noise and a melting pot for criticism and comparison. On the other, it’s an inspirational supernova and source of dazzling motivation in the form of carefully curated little scrapbooks of smiles.
To an outsider, 2016 was definitely the ‘Year of Tess’ on social media. She went from strength to strength, business to business, success to success, all the while with a perfectly curated closet of white linen and pared-back minimalist chic. Smack Bang followed suit, glowing like the beacon of beautifully designed delight it is (bias much?). But that’s just the highlight reel.
Yes, Smack Bang is gradually becoming a beautifully, well-oiled machine, but it hasn’t always been that way. The Insta-glaze is a funny one. To outsiders, we’ve always looked primped and polished, but let me tell you, back in the day it was more like pathetic and paltry, but nonetheless cute. We couldn’t afford to install air-con in our studio; Winter meant BYO hot water bottles while Summer was a pretty picture of half-dressed sweaty chicks more reminiscent of a hardware store than a design studio.
I was, at that point, living my life at a million WTFs per second, just trying to keep up with the task list, the self-doubt, and the boyfriend’s texts wondering where the hell I was when I was supposed to be at dinner with his parents. There were countless nights I found myself staying back well past my bedtime at the studio trying to figure out how the hell to pay my staff’s super, learn the ins and outs of Html and biting my nails til they bled. Then, the moments of severe burnout when I went for a whole six months thinking that I was a year younger than I was and misspelling my own name more times than I’d like to admit.
Building a business is hard mother-flipping work. And in my own personal experience, has nearly been the death of me. But the cliche is true, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I truly feel like with every hurdle, I’ve grown into a bigger and better business woman able to handle more and more and turn each problem into an opportunity or solution that works in my favour. I mean, how hard can it be to spell ‘Tess’ correctly, seriously?
I recently went back through my journals and found some heart-wrenching and hilariously funny stuff. The good news is, the occurrence of these thoughts are becoming less and less, and nowadays I actually do have a helluva lot to be #grateful for – Hello, arvos off! But in the spirit of sharing and hopefully shining some laughable light for those still writhing in the trenches, here is my list of common thoughts that I think every entrepreneur has at some point (or many). It’s the stuff we often think but rarely discuss, so consider this a starting point!
- “I’M A FRAUD.”
Do they know I have no idea what I’m doing? If I look intelligently at my screen with a furrowed brow and type meaningless words on a page, will they be impressed? What if they find out that I didn’t major in ‘ridiculous jargon buzzwords to use in an interview’? I’m 90% sure that my team, my clients, and even my dog are suspicious on the fact that I’ve next to no experience in doing all of these things I’m doing. I’m a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before everyone realises and slow-claps me out the door.
- “WHY SO FOMO?”
Seeing my friends livin’ da vida loca is totes green-eyed monster inducing. There they are, backpacking the globe, living it up. Why can’t I be backpacking the PCT? Seeing the world, partying, on the festival circuit, wearing the same sets of rags every day. Boo hoo.
- “I WANT WHAT SHE’S HAVING.”
Comparison is not only the thief of joy but the thief of many thoughts. ‘How on earth did she get 22,000 followers since yesterday?’ ‘How the golly did he manage to wrangle that turnover in a year?’ ‘How are her teeth so impossibly white? I need veneers.’ Seeing other businesses go gangbusters and wondering why on earth you’re still couriering your own prints to save the $30 delivery fee can bring out the Comparison Carlito in all of us.
‘Will I ever make enough money to buy myself organic groceries so I stop consuming pesticides every meal?’ I’ve got friends treating themselves to a manicure and a haircut in the same month. Like seriously? Are you a Kardashian? I went an entire year cutting my own hair just to cut costs and haven’t had a manicure since my year 12 formal.
- “PAY ME WHAT YOU OWE ME.”
Badgalriri sang it best. So, I’ve done all this work for you, and I’ve even learned how to create and send an invoice in this really tricky software that I’ve been trying to learn. Please pay it. I doubt you’ll pay on time, and there’s a chance you might not even pay it at all. But for the sake of my staff, their wages, and all that is good in this world, I’d really love if you could pretty please give it some immediate attention.
- “I’M ALLERGIC TO YOU.”
5-10% clients will actually give you the hives. Your heart stops when you see their name flash on your phone, and sometimes you just want to set up an autoresponder that says, ‘Hi there! If your name is X, Y, or Z, then Smack Bang Designs is regrettably no longer open for business. Please take your incessant requests and patronising tone elsewhere. Have a lovely day, Tess.’
- “I’M STILL ALIVE.”
Oh yes, I see you over there with your brand new Volkswagen and Zimmermann dress. So nice to see you’re holidaying in the Maldives yet again. Oh me? Yeah, I’m great, still pulling 70-hour work weeks, and loving it. Sorry I haven’t texted you for a while, been knee deep in writer’s block, a soaring ATO debt and navigating the world of hiring, training, and encouraging new staff. Nice to hear from you and yes, I’m still alive. I might have some time freed up in about 2040? Let’s pencil something in for then.
- “I’M FINE.”
When the barista has to call your name four times before your bleary head makes the connection. And then, he asks you how you are. You, of course, say on autopilot, “Fine, thanks!”, when inside you’re actually dying, you feel like you haven’t slept in 72 years and you’ve got a client riding you like the devil’s inferno.
- “I HATE YOU TIM FERRISS.”
Hey Tim, you’re a big fat liar. There’s no such thing as a 4-Hour Work Week. As much as I love the concepts outlined in your book, if I were to work a 4-hour working week I would have to become a hell of a lot more accustomed to Mi Goreng noodles and tinned spaghetti, and I’d live in mum’s laundry on a yoga mat, but not a Lululemon yoga mat. A Kmart yoga mat, on sale. Tim, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed that I’m not superwoman. Yet?
- “SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD.”
If I had another 6 hands, 4 brains, and 20 coffees day-to-day, I might be able to get everything done. Eating, sleeping, going to the toilet — all cheating. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Of course, those thoughts that swirl around my head in circles like a dumb tweety bird do eventually migrate north and south, away from my overthinking brain. What replaces them are thoughts of world domination, kick-ass female empowerment, and visions of humongous bowls of guacamole. Nowadays, I pinch myself that I get to sit at the front of this wild roller coaster ride, because although the risks are higher, so are the thrills. And the thrill of building something that flies, my friend, is what drives us in the first place, am I right?