Carrie Skowronski knows people who are suffering. Her brother is an ER doctor with five children. Friends have lost their parents, and others have lost jobs. Compared to them, she’s fortunate — her health is intact, and she’s still earning money. And this puts her in a bind.
“Am I still allowed to feel anxious, uncertain and resentful that this pandemic has sideswiped me and the business I’ve poured six years of my life building?” she asks.
She answers her own question: “Absolutely.”
As the pandemic impacts everyone in different ways, many entrepreneurs may bottle up their emotions. They may worry that their complaints sound insensitive, or that they shouldn’t feel bad when others have it worse. Brené Brown, the vulnerability researcher and best-selling author, has a term for this: It’s comparative suffering, or minimizing one's own feelings because other people are suffering more.
“In times of deep fear and scarcity, unfortunately, one of the things that’s immediately triggered is comparison,” she said recently on her podcast Unlocking Us. “Who’s got it more? Who's got it better?” These kinds of comparisons can become unhealthy, leading people to suppress emotions that they need to process.
Skowronski agrees with that. She’s a leadership coach, and encourages her clients — and herself — to express what’s needed. “Pushing down those thoughts would have prevented me from beginning to ask important questions about the future of my business, like: What are my options now? What do my clients need the most from me?” she says. “Negative emotion serves a purpose. That purpose is to notice it. Name it and then make different decisions.”
Need a little support giving yourself permission to be human right now, in business and in life? Here are Skowronski’s top techniques:
1. Write it down and then speak it out loud.
“All of it. The good. The bad. I highly encourage my clients to get everything they are feeling down on paper. When you do, you can get more deliberate about cultivating self-compassion,” Skowronski says.
She suggests trying a process called loving-kindness meditation. After writing down what you’re experiencing, settle down, take a deep breath, repeat these words: “May I be happy. May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” (If entrepreneurs would like, she says, they could also add, “May I be successful.”) Do this three times — the first for yourself, the second for someone you love, and the third for someone else who needs help. The routine can help decrease negative self-talk, so you can focus on the positive. “I’ve made this exercise a staple of my morning walk right now,” she says.
2. Take stock of your network.
“Take time to figure out who the people are in your life who can give you the support you need,” she says. “Maybe it’s a close friend at work. A mentor. A significant other.”
You might even want to write their names down, so your network feels tangible. (At the Brené Brown training session that Skowronski attended, Brown suggested writing everyone’s name on a 1x1 piece of paper.) This way, you’ve created something you can hold onto and keep wherever you need, and it can remind you of the ability you have to be honest and open. “I’ve found it helpful to fill my tiny square with other entrepreneurs who can empathize with some of the feelings I might be experiencing,” Skowronski says.
3. Try perspective taking.
Whenever you’re talking about being anxious or having a hard time, follow it up by saying: “I wonder…” It’s a way of acknowledging the problems you’re facing, but then shifting your brain toward curiosity.
“This helps prevent us from getting stuck in a fixed mindset, and instead shifts us to a growth mindset, which is very different from an ‘everything is going to be fine,’ Pollyanna view of reality,” Skowronski says.
Skowronski does this a lot when thinking about her brother, the ER doctor. First, naturally, she worries for his health. But then, she starts to wonder how he feels about the situation, and how his wife and kids feel about it. Then, she wonders if she can do anything to help. “This caused me to simply send a text: How are you doing? To which he told me that, yes, he is in harm's way, and yes, this virus is going to kill a lot of people, but this is what he signed up for when he became a doctor. This is his purpose,” she says. “He also walked me through the protocols he uses when he gets home each day to his family which helped me breathe a little deeper and reality-check my own worry.”