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Words by Rachael Akhidenor, Founder + Director of Self Care Originals

The disentanglement of work and self-worth

This Weekly Founder Reflection was first published to our email community on 30 July 2023.

A week post illness, and I feel like somewhat of a new person. Back in the day-to-day of building, growing, and evolving Self Care. I’ve had a lot of questions, recently, about this role and what it is that I do exactly. This role, the role of a founder, is peculiar in that way. Never has a job title been so desired with such little context as to what it actually entails.

It comes with it this sheen of elusiveness and intrigue. It’s alluring. I know, because I was very much allured by it myself. The freedom, the choice, the no more annoying office politics that come with working for someone else. The aspiring founders among us may perceive it to be glossy and exciting. Those of us who have the role know it can be, at times (read: a lot of the time) far from that.

This line of questioning has led to be analyse my job in ways I’d never done before. I’ve come to realise that this role has seasons. Whilst its name doesn’t change, the nature of the role does. Much like any other job, in any other career, the concerns you have, the things you’re grappling with, the challenges you face, the goals you’re aspiring for evolve as you move up that proverbial ladder.

The only difference is that there are no frameworks or structures. There’s no skill test or promotional requirements that dictate whether you’ve been promoted to the next step. In my experience, the promotion (from one season to the next) is more felt. It’s a confidence, or an awareness, or a reckoning that’s gleaned from experience and boots on the ground. Often, we’re not even aware of the promotion until after we’ve crossed it.

For me, one of the key milestones in my journey as a founder was the separation of myself from my business. That is to say, the disentanglement of my self-worth from the business’ performance.

At the beginning, I was my business. It’s inevitable, perhaps, even necessarily so. To create a business requires so much energy. It took far longer, far more money, and far more of me than I had ever anticipated in order to bring it into a reality. Buoyed by enthusiasm, excitement and passion, I have not yet met a founder who, in those early stages, weren’t entirely and utterly obsessed with what they were building.

It makes sense. You spend so much time on it. You sacrifice so much for it. And for those of us who have self-funded and bootstrapped, your money, and therefore, your liberation in the capitalist world, is entangled within it. This creates a bond between founder and business. It’s a bond that has deep emotional influence on the wellbeing of the founder. And one that can wreak havoc if it goes unchecked.

At the beginning of my founder journey, this was incredibly tough to navigate. My self-worth, my identity, my confidence, my self-esteem was wrapped up in something that I fundamentally didn’t have complete control over.

Business, particularly start-ups and small business, are susceptible to outside forces. We’re susceptible to changes in the economy, changes in consumer confidence, changes in algorithms, changes of legislation, changes of culture, changes of what’s cool, of what’s appropriate, of what’s in, now. While this is true of all businesses, start-ups and smaller businesses are particularly impacted due to less capital, less goodwill, and less time on the ground. We’re competing against the big dogs, the giants, the key players that exist in every industry. In the early stages, we’re existing in constant uncertainty.

For me, the first step was awareness that there was an enmeshment. It was the realisation that I felt good when the business’ performance was good, and that I not so good when it wasn’t. Then, came introspection and reflection. I felt was overly consumed (emotionally) by my work. So, I created space between myself and my work through the creation of pillars. This was a simple exercise in which I reflected upon what I truly cared about, my values in life. (It’s no surprise that the exploration of values are bedrock theme of our Mental Wellbeing Tools…)

I reflected that there were 6 key things I cared about in life. And so, I created 6 core pillars. Only one of those was work. When I realised that work was only one sixth of the things that I valued, space was created. This space began to create a separation between myself – a human being, a person, who has a job like everyone else – and the business I was creating.

I believe that this disentanglement represents my maturation as a founder. It’s something I’m proud of. Of course, when things are going great in business, I’m happy. And yet, I know, through reminding myself of these 6 core pillars, that my self-worth is not dependent upon it.

It’s space that I had to create in order for me to continue in this role sustainably. And it’s space that’s made me far happier, more fulfilled and more level-headed as I continue to build, grow and evolve Self Care. I hope it inspires you to do the same.

With love and gratitude always,

Rachael XXX

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Self Care™ Originals respectfully acknowledges the Traditional Owners of country on which we work, the Wurundjeri Willam people, and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.