When you work for yourself, it’s easy to disregard your mental health and your body; you may even feel the urge to set unrealistic daily goals and work non-stop while neglecting sleep, exercise, healthy eating, relationships, and the activities you enjoy.
I spoke with two creative business owners who know this intimately. Atlanta-based visual artist Kashmir Thompson and floral designer Feyisola Ogunfemi from Washington, D.C., are learning on-the-fly how to balance taking care of themselves while taking care of their business. Each holds a unique perspective on the topic of self-care and business ownership.
Kashmir Thompson by Death to Stock
Growing up, Kashmir dreamt of working as an artist. For as long as she can remember, her passion was art. In 2014, she opened her online store, Kashmir.VIII, to sell her bold, vivid art saturated with colors, and it was a hit. But she’s quick to tell you that while running a creative business is amazing, it’s not for everyone.
Just last Christmas, sitting across from her then fiancé, now husband, she was ready to record answers to a list of questions for an online magazine. He asked her the first question and she burst into tears. It was an odd moment for the Cleveland School of Art graduate whose work has gained a solid online following.
“My head got so crowded that I couldn’t piece together sentiments,” she recalled.
“I didn’t know how to communicate with my brain to tell it that I’m doing that and not work. I literally couldn’t talk. I had never felt that powerless over my own thoughts and words. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized just how much goes on in my head.”
Granted, it was the holiday season. The day-to-day duties of managing her shop were especially busy. But for many, like Kashmir, the pressure can build year-round. Reaping the benefits of business ownership includes risking and balancing valuable things like health, money, time, security, and relationships on an ongoing basis.
“It can be a lonely journey especially when you don’t live close to family,” said the Cleveland native.
Kashmir added that artists should be open to asking for help. “Asking for help plays a huge part in your mental state and will translate over to your business,” she said. “If I’m constantly drenched mentally, it will show up in my work, because entrepreneurship consumes how I think and what I think about, and how much I think about it.”
Feyisola Ogunfemi by zoomworx
Feyisola can relate. She launched Statuesque Events in 2011; six years later, she’s still mastering the art of balance. “My biggest challenge is giving myself the grace to do normal things, like sleep,” Feyisola said of the all-consuming power of running a business alone. “I have a long to-do list, and I want to do it all. Then I run out of time, I get overwhelmed and stressed, and I feel like I didn’t earn the right to sleep. To create some balance, I started putting on my calendar the things that are important to me, and I work my business around them, with some flexibility of course. Now, my weekends are mine before my business; I had to set some boundaries.”
Running a business highlighted Kashmir’s sensitive tendencies. When she first opened her store, she had no clue how to handle people imitating her work. “I’d be disappointed and fall into a downward spiral of emotions,” she said. “These days, I brush copycats off and keep moving because no one can do my work like I can. I’ve become better at managing my mental strength for the sake of my sanity.”
Feyisola, on the other hand, noticed her propensity for unrealistic comparisons. “Sometimes I’d design a wedding and the client was happy,” but she found herself eyeing the lives and work of others on social media. “Then I go online and see someone else had designed a wedding with the same general idea and color scheme, but it’s much more elaborate, and I’m like, ‘Man, how come I couldn’t do that?’” She eventually unfollowed the work of her closest competitors.
“What I do requires that I keep up with trends, so I can’t completely block out social media,” she admitted. “However, I have chosen not to follow a few people, because I constantly feel like I need to do what they are doing or compare my work and myself. I may look every now and then for inspiration or if someone comes up as a trending topic, I’ll see it. This has pushed me to ask myself, ‘What do you want?’ I figured it out and I focused on it.”
Both artists acknowledged that there is always something to learn, but they’ve found that developing processes and systems has eased some of the burden that accompanies the day-to-day running of a business.
“There’s the emotional side of feeling like you’re not doing a good job because you have so many things undone,” Feyisola said.
“I don’t have to spend hours writing a newsletter. It is better to send a newsletter every week and have a typo,” she added, “Than to send a newsletter every two months because I’m overwhelmed about sending a newsletter. Whenever you over-engineer a task, you do it forever and you may never actually get anywhere.”
Kashmir has had to learn to go with the flow when it comes to communication, specifically receiving direct messages. “I don’t like DMs, and I always recommend emails,” but she adapted. “I’m an internet business and I promote my stuff on different social media sites. People will contact me through DMs even after I say, ‘don’t DM me.’ I have had to coach myself through it,” because being available when people need you can be the difference between growing your business and not. “As much as I set expectations for my clients, I had to learn to adapt to their needs to stay on top of it. The question remains, ‘How do I deal with it instead of getting upset and losing out on a sale?’ I set up a system for it.”
Regardless of the growing pains, Kashmir and Feyisola love what they do. As Kashmir put it, “This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. I only wanted to be an artist. When I feel discouraged, I remember that this is what I still want. It gives me the push.”
“It’s definitely worth it,” Feyisola said. “In order to be successful, we have to be emotionally intelligent and aware of the things we’re feeling in order to enjoy our own lives as entrepreneurs. It is worth it.”
With a decade of business ownership between them, both ladies emphasized the importance of enjoying the journey. “I’m learning that it is OK to be on the journey to becoming better,” said Feyisola, who hopes to launch her online a-la-carte luxury flower design store in the coming year. “This is a journey and I’m walking it, I have embraced it.”
Kashmir wants to keep expanding her audience by putting her artwork in front of people who haven’t seen it before. Although she feels like she hasn’t mastered the art of separating herself from her business, it’s important for her to stay focused on one thing: “I try to make sure that I actually love the art I paint. I don’t want to be out here blindly painting just to make money. I don’t want to paint stuff just because people keep asking for it or they keep buying it. I choose balance.”
AdeOla Fadumiye is a writer and storyteller, and the creator of Pearls from our Fathers, a storytelling project sharing honest stories about fatherhood and fathers from their adult children’s point of view. You can follow her on Instagram.