A certain stillness has descended upon my life of late.
I have a schedule, but a lot of the time, I gift myself the flexibility to switch out some tasks for others, such as replacing a morning of administrative duties with a quick clay session in the studio. Some days, I even allow myself to skip these tasks altogether, in favour of snuggling up in bed to read an enticing new novel.
The revelatory part of this journal entry (because you know that I love my revelations), is that this newfound peace has happened in spite of, and not because of, my decision to become an entrepreneur.
A lot of us have been fed this expectation that leaving our 9-5 jobs to pursue our passions will spell nothing but blissful days and restful nights ahead. However, I felt completely exhausted a mere week into launching PECULIAR. Why was that? And more importantly, how could I avoid experiencing that debilitating level of exhaustion moving forward?
I want to preface that this journal entry isn’t going to be spent describing the burnout that I experienced in the past month. The idea of returning to that headspace honestly exhausts me, and I think that everyone reading this is already more than familiar with my proclivity for anxiety attacks. Instead, I want to reflect on 3 lessons that I’ve learnt since launching my business, some of which you may (hopefully) find helpful in surviving this rollercoaster of an existence.
Lesson 1: Acknowledge and Manage Your Expectations
I truly detested it every time I was asked about my expectations for the business. Every single, “so, what’s your end goal for PECULIAR?”, or “what are your metrics of success? Instagram followers, sales, or both?”, was met with a nonchalant shrug, followed by a rehearsed explanation about the foolishness of setting expectations for a venture that I was exploring for the first time.
Looking back, it’s clear that my refusal to engage with expectation-setting was borne out of an instinctive need to protect myself; you can’t be disappointed if you don’t expect anything, right? Wrong, on both counts: first, everyone holds expectations for almost anything that they’re doing (even if they don’t want to admit it) and second, our expectations are often inflated, inevitably setting us up to fail if we don’t acknowledge and manage them from the get-go.
I realized, in the middle of a post-launch crying fit, that I had definitely set expectations for PECULIAR. In fact, I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should share these expectations with the world, because I’m afraid of coming across as some delusional, Elon Musk wannabe. However, in the hope that this will help someone (or at the very least, make them laugh), I’ll admit to this: I wanted to sell out my first collection within 3 minutes, get picked up by the lifestyle sections of Channel News Asia and The Straits Times, breeze my way into the Forbes “30-Under-30” list and ride off into the sunset atop a white stallion, clutching fistfuls of cash against my chest.
(I’m pretty sure that the white stallion imagery is some internalized happily-ever-after hangover from Disney princess movies, but I digress.)
Implicit in these expectations were my desires for self-sufficiency, respect and good-old-fashioned societal validation. It’s important to note that none of these desires are bad per se. However, if left buried and unchecked, they can often balloon into suffocating and insurmountable expectations that can crush even the most ambitious and hardworking of individuals.
Through the ups and downs of the past month, I’ve learnt that it’s important to acknowledge my goals and process the feelings of excitement, fear and shame that invariably accompany such lofty ambitions. I’ve also learnt that it’s crucial to stress-test these expectations, so as to assess their reasonableness and achievability. One technique that I’ve found helpful is to break down loftier, more abstract goals into smaller, more specific ones. For example, instead of fixating on wanting to become a master ceramicist, I've reframed my expectations by setting a more achievable goal of making 5 ceramic pieces a week. I’ve found that the simple act of setting smaller, short-term goals has helped to keep me on track without feeling too overwhelmed. This technique has significantly improved my mental health, so it may be worth a try if you’ve been struggling with expectation-setting and goal-management as well.
Lesson 2: Don’t Go Chasing the Next High
We’ve been wired to believe that success is elusive; that it’s some kind of unreachable destination that’s perpetually out of sight. I think that explains why a lot of us buy into “hustle culture”, where we chase new targets and constantly raise the bar of what it means to “make it”. However, it all feels like a colossal waste of time when we find ourselves feeling dissatisfied despite achieving what we thought were our end-goals.
I found myself struggling with this issue very early into launching the brand. After achieving certain milestones, such as hitting specific revenue targets and organic traffic metrics, I would experience a euphoric sense of happiness, only to descend into a sobering sense of inadequacy. My stomach would twist itself into a painful knot, and I would feel a deep compulsion to post more on social media, create more art pieces and increase engagement with my clients in order to achieve an even greater level of success. The goalposts were constantly shifting, and I felt like I was running on empty.
I only started to make sense of these emotions after stumbling upon an article about a psychological theory known as the Hedonic Treadmill. I don’t want this part of the journal entry to get too technical, but the theory essentially posits that people sustain relative levels of satisfaction, despite a change in circumstances or the achievement of major goals. It argues that while environmental factors can affect happiness in the short term, people naturally adapt back to their “hedonic set point” in the long term. In other words, all highs and lows are temporary, as most people will inevitably end up back at their normal, base level of happiness.
I need to caveat here that this theory only meaningfully applies when one’s basic needs, such as food and shelter, are met. However, assuming that one has enough to survive, the Hedonic treadmill simply argues that people should not rely on increasing their wealth/material possessions/achieving milestones as a means of raising their overall level of happiness. Instead, it's probably more meaningful to seek out one’s happiness and self-worth at the present moment.
I'm still working on tweaking my mindset, but am extremely grateful for the newfound peace that this lesson has brought me. I'm realising, more and more everyday, that my happiness has very little to do with how well I think I'm doing, how far along I am in my entrepreneurial journey, or even what's coming next for the business. I'm learning, with immense relief, that my happiness and fulfilment is grounded in how present and accepting I am with what I have, and I've come to realize that I already have everything that I'd ever need to live a full and content life.
Lesson 3: Self-Care Looks Different for Everyone
When I think of self-care, I imagine cute activewear, complicated yoga poses, steamy bubble baths and glasses of red wine.
What I don’t imagine is knotted hair, unbrushed teeth, eating dinner from my bed and wearing the same t-shirt and FBT combo 3 days in a row (true story). If you’ve ever felt ashamed about the way you cope with negative emotions, I’m here to remind you (and myself) that it’s okay to be a little gross when you’re feeling down in the dumps. Take time to look after yourself and celebrate the little wins, whether it’s combing your hair, taking a shower or replying a text message. Self-care is about intentionally setting aside time to care for yourself, in any way that you can.
Do what feels right and be gentle with yourself.
There you have it; these are some of the lessons that I've learnt in my first month as an entrepreneur. I've emerged a little battered and bruised, but am definitely stronger for it. I'm excited to continue growing, and am grateful that I get to share this journey with all of you. Here's to taking things one day at a time, and rooting our happiness in what we already have - the present day.