When we find ourselves amid a loss, it's easy to become paralyzed by a sense of despondency, uncertainty, and helplessness. We may want to do many things but can't, simply because we need to deal with life's unforeseen challenges. The death of a loved one is undoubtedly one of them—although not an unfamiliar occurrence for most entrepreneurs as we all know someone who has lost a parent, a spouse, or even a child at some point.
It's challenging to balance the emotional toll that comes with loss while keeping your business moving forward simultaneously. You're left juxtaposed between two worlds; one is at a loss for words and healing, and the other still needs to keep things moving as normal as possible. It's a strange time that can be defined as "The Twilight Zone." You're worn on all sides by powerful emotions and tend to make rash decisions you might come to regret later on down the line. This leads you back into an emotional internal battle, leaving you unable to get anything done regarding your tasks for the day or the next few days after that. To prepare you for the inevitable, here are 7 useful ways to manage loss as an entrepreneur.
1. Plan on it.
If you haven't experienced a loss yet during your business, then plan on it happening. It's a hard pill to swallow, to even think of the worst-case scenario, but it's an inevitable cycle of life that everyone faces at one point in their lives. Create a plan that allows for taking time off to grieve while still keeping your business running at full speed. This will help alleviate stress during this time and allow you to focus on what's most important—your family. Know who can lead while you're away, create a plan for keeping in touch with your clients, and document critical processes and procedures that can easily be handed off. Create an emergency contact list for vendors, customers, and other stakeholders in your business.
Most importantly, keep funneling funds into your emergency fund in case your business requires your active participation as a tradeoff for income. Ensure that your company has secure backups of all essential data and systems.
2. Acknowledge your emotions.
We spoke to many entrepreneurs who experienced loss yet have never processed their emotions or even talked about the loss. Not sharing how you feel with a loved one or a professional will add to the stress already there. Don't be afraid to talk about it. Grief, if not expressed, hardens and catches up to you eventually. It may disrupt your sleep, eating habits, social life, and mental and emotional health. If talking to someone is difficult, find a journal, do expressive arts, go for walks in nature, or do yoga or exercise. The trapped energy needs a place to move out of your body.
3. Don't overbook yourself.
Trying to "keep up with things" is tempting, but don't overbook yourself, and don't take on too many projects at once. You need time for yourself, and your business requires time for itself, especially when unexpected things happen in life. Your business won't survive if it doesn't have an owner who can take care of it properly or if it's not organized enough to handle anything thrown its way (even unexpected). Be realistic about your capacity.
4. Get support from other entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurial community is full of people who understand what it's like to be an entrepreneur and who have experienced loss themselves at some point in their lives. Reach out to them for support — especially when you're feeling down and out. They can help get you back on track by reminding you why you started your business in the first place while acknowledging that it's okay if things are "different" when you return. Death changes your perspective on life and how you live.
5. Let people know and ask for help.
Don't be afraid to let your people know: your clients, family, friends, and circle of influencers. Let them know what's going on, and you'll find love and support from unexpected places. Remove the fear of asking for help from others when running a business—especially when dealing with death or other major life events. In many cases, friends and family members are more than happy to help and support you however they can.
Just remember to set realistic expectations for yourself and others around you who are grieving alongside you. Your friends and family members may not know how to handle their own emotions while supporting yours; they must know what they can do (and not do) to help during this time so that everyone feels supported during this difficult time.
6. Take time off.
Be mindful of how your loss affects YOU: grief comes in waves, so be ready for moments when it will overwhelm you and get in the way of your daily routine. "Take it easy" on yourself when you need to.
It's okay not to be 100%: if you're expecting magic from yourself during this time, give yourself some grace. If you work from home, try taking time off from work so you can focus on your personal life and grieving process without worrying about work responsibilities. Letting go of the stress of running a business can help lower anxiety levels and allow you to focus on what matters most — the loss of your loved one(s).
7. Take care of yourself.
Focus on what really matters, and that's you. With all the hustle and bustle that comes with running a business, it can be easy to lose track of what matters: your health, well-being, and joy. Make sure to set aside time each day (even if it's only 10 minutes) so you can do something just for yourself. That could mean taking a walk in nature, calling a friend, speaking to a professional, reading a book, or anything that brings you a bit of joy and grounding during this time.
It's okay to be scared. It's okay to feel sad. It's okay to dwell on this for a while. You're allowed to temporarily fall apart and not have everything under control. It's important to allow yourself time to heal and grieve. Finding a balance may be challenging, but missing your loved ones and honoring (or processing) their memory is an integral part of the process. The strategies described above may help you find that balance that will allow you to continue to move forward without abandoning the very essence of why you started on this entrepreneur journey in the first place: to make your mark and positively impact the world.