Written by Nick O'Quinn
Starting a business is hard. Building it is even harder. It is a journey filled with uncertainty, challenging hurdles, difficult decisions and seemingly endless to-do lists.
Add in a global pandemic, multiple lockdowns and you very quickly add a whole new set of difficulties, as well as lose many of the things that can help us to keep a balanced and healthy mindset.
As we’ve built this very business of Hibana through the challenging terrain of 2020, we learnt so much about what it really takes to follow your passion and create something, through conversations with the inspiring founders of the over 60 small independent businesses that are part of our community.
For Mental Health Awareness Week, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect with four of those founders on the challenges they’ve faced as a business owner in the last year, and the ways they’ve sought to find balance.
We sat down with Alex from East London Liquor Co., Sophia from Palm of Feronia, Olly from The Public Spirit, and Tanya from Sundar. In a world where it’s important to normalise conversations around mental health, we are eternally grateful for their openness and honesty.
Highs & Lows
“I have a funny old relationship with the year we’ve just been through”, Sophia from Palm of Feronia tells us. It’s a fitting observation of a year that has been filled with highs and lows.
Tanya, who has balanced growing her sustainable swimwear brand with working full time in a care-home, has “experienced a spectrum of challenges” from “losing my full-time job; too much time spent ruminating; unparalleled uncertainty and triggering events, including Black Lives Matter and Male Violence Against Women”.
“It has been a true balancing act” she continues. Out of adversity often comes a range of emotional responses, and these challenges left Tanya “feeling a myriad of emotions from angry and upset to empowered, strong and ready to take on the world!”
While some challenges were about the enormity of the situation, others were about the feeling of claustrophobia creeping in.
In a world where kitchen tables simultaneously became conference rooms, school classrooms and date night restaurants, it became very difficult to create separation. Olly admits that “having pretty much every part of life at home isn’t natural and the sameness of everything has definitely been a big challenge.”
For Alex at East London Liquor Co., “routine was paramount” with “work pressures constantly present” alongside the additional handful of homeschooling 3 kids. “Being able to be present for the kids was hard to begin with” he admits, as Alex and his wife decided to split the day in half to tackle the daily childcare responsibilities.
Yet, despite some extreme and sustained lows, the last year has been coloured with glimmers of positivity: from reconnecting with friends, to rediscovering the power of nature, to ultimately re-assessing what’s important in life.
Sophia, who has suffered with anxiety for the last 8 years, admits that “the slowing down we all felt during the pandemic allowed me to reassess what was important to me, re-establish those little practices that ground and learn a few new things about myself”.
“For me, it’s really created a platform for me to balance my life a little better and subsequently benefitted my mental health - something I’m so grateful for.”
One such positive has been latching onto something that can motivate you through the tough times. While working to build your own business is a stressful and difficult process, the brands on Hibana are all built on passion - and passion can be a powerful and potent thing.
Olly admits that “the lack of general distractions helped to focus and commit time” and “having exciting things to work on from a business perspective has provided that bit of excitement you needed to get through”.
Similarly, for Sophia, the situations created by the pandemic pushed her to leave her ‘day job’ and focus on Palm of Feronia full time. “A scary move at first, but something that has completely changed my work-life balance and given me space to step back and be proud of what I’ve achieved instead of scrabbling around in the thick of it all.”
However, finding motivation in the midst of dealing with the anxieties and mental strain of contemplating and coming to terms with the realities of a global pandemic, has been very difficult.
Tanya tells us that “as a solopreneur running Sūndar (with a great deal of support from friends and family), at times I have struggled to self-motivate – a combination of needing to encourage sales during a devastating global pandemic coupled with working in a Central London care home.”
Be kind to yourself.
If nothing else, this last year has taught us all to embrace and accept the challenges we face, and ultimately give ourselves a break. We are, after all, just fragile human beings.
Perhaps the biggest thing we can do is simply to acknowledge our feelings. It’s something Tanya has realised: “the importance of speaking out about my mental health - as uncomfortable as it is, I'm ready to say when I'm not ok”.
Whether it’s establishing routine, or actively taking a moment to decompress and distance yourself from the day-to-day, it’s crucial to find the things that work for you. For Sophia, “through really bedding in those self-care practices, taking time in nature, and leaving my day job”, she’s been able to carefully come off the medication she’s relied on for many years to help her anxiety.
For Alex, it was about finding time (pre-kids waking up) to meditate before opening the laptop, in combination with a healthy dose of exercise: “I’ve been running more than I ever have, and carving time out each day for some exercise has really paid off.”
“We all need to try to treat ourselves as we would a best friend” says Tanya, “do the best you can with the time and resources you have and be kind to yourself.”
Finding Balance in Nature
This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week, organised by the Mental Health Foundation, is ‘Nature’, as they seek to encourage people to #ConnectWithNature.
Olly definitely agreed: “Living in the city has been tough over the past year as we haven’t been able to enjoy the things that make city living good so getting out to nature wherever possible has always provided that much needed release.”
That ‘one walk a day’ we were allocated suddenly got people out and about every day, doing their daily stint. While it may not end up quite becoming part of the daily routine (by now many people are sick of their local routes), it has certainly reminded us all of the power of a good stroll in the fresh air.
It’s something that Sophia reflected on: “I am now so aware how much I find balance in nature, especially in being by the sea”.
That passion for the water is shared by Tanya, unsurprisingly for someone who founded a swimwear brand. “Cold water swimming literally washes away my anxieties and troubles and makes me feel like a new woman. The swimming community is so uplifting and welcoming – I have made new friends and reunited with old friends sharing the simple joy of being free in the water.”
As we all emerge from this strange world and prepare ourselves for moving back to normality, it’s safe to say that we’ll all be moving forward with a slightly different perspective on life.
Sophia puts it perfectly: “while I have a little bit of nervousness around “the world returning to normal”, I really do feel those little steps and taking little moments to yourself can make a huge difference over the days, months and before you know it, a year.”