Hey, you.

There’s something about you that inspires me.

Your vision to change the way people live.

Your desire to make things faster.

Easier.

Better.

All for a bunch of strangers who will probably never utter a word of thanks.

Meanwhile, the people who know you raise eyebrows at your ideas.

They’re boasting a stable, 4-figure monthly income or more as you try to convince them that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life when you don’t even know when your first (or next) dollar will be.

“Who in their right mind would choose to be an entrepreneur? Why would anyone voluntarily accept the longer work hours, fewer weekends and holidays, more responsibility, chronic uncertainty, greater personal risk and struggle … instead of the security and long term rewards of having a career?” – Psychiatrist and ex-entrepreneur Michael A. Freeman and colleagues (2015)

There must be something calling out to you that’s bigger than you.

Bigger than life

Bigger than anything you’ve ever experienced so far.

It’s the only reason you’re still forging your own path despite the crushing stress and anxiety.

That’s amazing.

The world needs your creativity. It just doesn’t know this yet.

You gotta keep doing what you’re doing for as long as possible until the world pauses to take notice.

That also means finding a way to tune out the shame of uncertainty that the world keeps piling on you.

The Shame of Uncertainty

From parents to partners to friends to relatives to ex-colleagues, there’s paradoxical pressure to look as if you’ve got it all figured out, even when you’re trying something that no one has ever heard of.

Any change in plans is often met with criticism and judgement because it’s so costly.

Invested money, time and energy go to waste. Partnerships end. Businesses close.

This slew of “failures” could turn into a recipe for brooding shame that sends you scurrying back into tried-and-tested spaces.

But before you single-handedly deny the world of groundbreaking innovations, realise that with every change in direction and every jump into a new unknown, there’s greater clarity on why you’re doing what you do and how to do it better.

Separating your life purpose from your business venture keeps you focused on the big picture so you can stop punishing yourself for changing plans along the way.

Separate Your Life Purpose from Your Business Venture

Your life purpose is the reason you get up every morning.

It is the essence of your business venture and has you so fired up that you’re sacrificing sleep, social life and sustenance just to keep venturing. You’re not sure if you can keep this up for long.

Also read: Turning your passion into a startup? Here are 9 tips based on my personal experience

While your venture is emotionally satisfying, how can you adjust it to become financially and mentally sustainable? And if you can’t, what alternatives are there to your venture?

  • Emotionally: Do you feel a deep, long-lasting sense of fulfilment and purpose from your venture?
  • Financially: Are you earning enough for immediate (food, housing, clothes etc.), short-term (healthcare, bills, insurance, debt, vacations etc.) and long-term needs (savings, investments etc.)?
  • Mentally: Can you keep up with the pace of work for weeks, months and years without chronically losing sleep, severely changing your appetite or mood or damaging your relationships in the long-run?

Modifying your plans repeatedly might invite criticism and judgement from those around you but it is necessary for self-preservation.

No one knows what you need as intimately as you do.

And the world benefits from you fulfilling your life purpose for as long as possible, in whatever form.

To borrow the concept of ikigai, a Japanese term that translates to ‘reason for being’, my career as a Life Scientist would’ve looked like this:

I would’ve raked in big bucks but I hated how repetitive and isolating the work was.

It was also stressful to be good enough to escape detection, but sucky enough to make mistakes.

(My professor still doesn’t know that with one careless squeeze of the micropipette, I plunged ~USD $400 worth of transfected Chinese Hamster Ovary cells into the waste bin.)

But most of all, my work didn’t move me emotionally. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to stick it out beyond my undergraduate years, let alone for life.

So I jumped into acting and playwriting:

Starting conversations with people on delicate topics – from mental conditions to racism to LGBTQIA+ issues – brought me endless joy, especially if they thought about and/or lived life differently. This was my life purpose.

Except I didn’t have the years of rigorous training that my peers from art schools did, nor could I afford it.

Every day I wondered if I was good enough to be hired, which fed a baseline level of anxiety that sapped me of my interest in other aspects of life.

So I jumped again into healthcare and medtech blogging:

I’ve been tapping on my Life Sciences knowledge and the creativity honed from my artistic venture to nourish my work.

By breaking down science into simple, readable English so people understand why they need a certain product or service, I’m also fulfilling my life purpose of inspiring people to think about and/or live life differently.

Being in full control of my schedule lets me fit in downtime to maintain my mental fitness.

It’s still too early to tell if the world will pay enough for my services.

But you bet that this venture is the closest I’ve ever been to fulfilling my life purpose in a way that’s emotionally, financially and mentally sustainable.

The Big Picture: You are Not Your Business

It was hard to ignore people’s judgements that I was being indecisive and frivolous when I repeatedly changed industries, with each switch marking the previous venture as a failure.

The internal shame only stopped when I reminded myself that, with each jump, I was getting closer and closer to doing something that’s practical and satisfying in the long run.

Similarly, the way you’re running your business is probably your best shot at fulfilling your life purpose indefinitely.

Tweak things to sustain yourself while working on your venture; try something new.

You are not your business.

You’re pooling all the relationships you’ve ever formed, the skills you’ve picked up and your experiences into your new ventures – just like how my Life Sciences knowledge and artistic pursuits turned out to be useful.

Also read: 10 ways to achieve business goals like an Olympian

How is any of this shameful, or a failure?

Seems like people only say that to try and curtail your behaviour because they don’t know what drives you as deeply as you do.

Forgive them.

They can’t ever know it.

Focus on fulfilling your life purpose for as long as possible instead.

I’ll be waiting to see what brilliant things you bring.

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This article was first published on sherminong.com. Look out for the next post where Shermin Ong will discuss what counts as emotional, financial and mental sustainability and how to balance them, or say hi at shermin@sherminong.com!

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