Entrepreneurship/ Wellness/ Workplace

Good vs. Bad Stress – Is There a Difference?


“I’m so stressed out!”

“I can’t handle this anymore!”

“I just feel like pulling my hair out!!!”

Sound familiar?

Yeah – we’ve all been there. 

Stress is a part of life, but especially so for the entrepreneur life.

Starting a business, I expected to be stressed out. I mean, no pain no gain, right? However, I was surprised by the different type(s) of stress I encountered as an entrepreneur vs. employee. 

As an employee, the stress I’d experienced was more from feeling “caged in”, not feeling valued, and dealing with the subliminal tension between disgruntled coworkers.

As an entrepreneur, the stress I experienced was more “Oh SH*T!” in nature. The small wins I’d encounter (new client, another $1k in sales, PR spot) were sprinkled in between lots and lots of freaking out, making gut decisions and holding on for the ride.

The two types of stress – entrepreneur vs. employed – affected my body very differently.

The employed stress was more chronic in nature and left me often feeling empty, frustrated, and depressed.

The entrepreneur stress was more acute and the consequences of “things going wrong” were way, way bigger. Instead of feeling frustrated by a boss that “won’t listen” or a coworker that “constantly dumps her workload on me”, I’d find myself lying awake at night freaking out about the $7500 cash flow hiccup caused by clients that were late paying, the small claims court date approaching (to sue a former client for outstanding account), the bills I was running late on as a result of the bottle-necked billing issues.

Would the outstanding accounts be settled soon?

Would my business survive the cash flow shortfall?

Would I lose my house if they don’t pay by end of the month?

Are you seeing a theme here? Cash flow is everything in a business…

The type of stress entrepreneurs face can be hard for non-entrepreneurs to understand.

I used to get so frustrated when my happily employed peers would gripe about their seemingly “not that big a deal” work stress when I was facing financial ruin and/or homelessness.

My employed peers couldn’t understand why I didn’t “just go get a job” and I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t recognize the big difference from working for the bossman and being the bossman.

Entrepreneurship presents a unique type of stress – growth opportunities that accompany the many, many, OMG challenges today’s entrepreneur’s face.

The ancient Greeks referred to this type of “stretch you” stress as “eustress” – a beneficial stress that has also been positively correlated with life satisfaction. This type of stress forces us to grow, develop skills, and leaves up with the feeling like we’ve done something worthwhile.

Everyone has their own definition of what’s classified as eustress vs. distress (regular old bad stress), but my unique experiences have left me the following take on eustress – eustress makes me feel more alive than before.

Periods of eustress leave me feeling like I grew as a person of purpose. They leave me more competent, more empathetic, and more self-aware than before. These positive stressful challenges help clarify the direction of my journey, deepen my connection to my inner voice, and leave me feeling like I accomplished one hell of a feat. I feel more alive – not dead and empty like periods of distress often result in.

Facing a particularly challenging season in life, where almost everything I’d built was lost, and the person I loved more than life itself very existence was hanging in life’s mystic balance, I found great solace in Viktor Frankl’s best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”.

Frankl states, “ I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis’, i.e. a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.”

Stress – especially eustress – isn’t always a bad thing.

It can be uncomfortable, overwhelming, and downright painful, but it can also be an incredibly effective tool in guiding you on your journey to fulfilling your life purpose(s). Periods of eustress will change you – that’s the beauty of it! They will force you to reevaluate your views, assess your current direction, and will enhance the way you deal with pretty much everything.

As an entrepreneur, I don’t have a bunch of Peter Principle coworkers to bitch about. Instead, I have zero certainties, zero safety net, and (oft times) zero outside resources to turn nothing into something that can feed my family. It’s not easy, it’s not always fun, and it’s very rarely “comfortable”. It always stretches me, challenging my perspectives, and forcing me to develop new skills and strategies to stay off the streets.

With each OMG moment, I become a better professional, entrepreneur, and person.

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation, whether it’s dealing with extended hours at your side gig or facing a seemingly impossible entrepreneur opportunity, I encourage you to recognize the uniqueness of eustress vs. distress and embrace an open attitude for turning the “screaming your head off free falls” into “I’ve never felt so alive!” growth opportunities. 


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