An abstract image with the faint glow of a lightbulb emerging through the murk.

"Running" a small business during a pandemic.

I am truly beaten down.

This month has been really difficult for me. Probably the most difficult of this entire pandemic season of work and life. And we’re only halfway through it. It feels as though everything that folks talked about being hard at the beginning of this has just come to a head.

I’m weary. The stress of working in an industry that has stopped spending money, losing the safety net of health insurance, having more work for less money, and a general feeling of going backward has finally worn me down after seven months. In situations like these, I try to find an escape route. My natural impulse is to try everything that I think could have a shot at changing my situation and see what sticks.

The thing is, there’s just so much uncertainty and so much stacked up against me. I think this is probably true for a lot of people. At the very least, the specter of a menacing unknown is relatable to all of us. I talk about a part of it in this episode of Thought Feeder.

It’s supremely frustrating to me that I could spend nearly 15 years doing product work of every sort and have it discounted because of the industry I’ve worked in.

The past two months have been rough with no significant work projects surfacing, so I’ve seriously considered winding out Bravery and going back in-house someplace. In reality, that place cannot be at a college or university. In general, they don’t pay enough, they don’t accommodate remote work, and I am deeply worried about the viability of most institutions after seeing their pandemic responses.

On the other side of the coin, tech doesn’t take higher ed as an industry seriously. Whether it’s because our practices are five years behind or there is a misunderstanding about how similar everyone’s marketing work is, my job applications for work I know I can do successfully have been dismissed without even a conversation.

But I’ve always been an entrepreneur.  Since starting Bravery in 2012 I haven’t wanted to go back in-house. I still don’t. The comfort appeals to me, but not the monotony. And there aren’t enough brands or organizations that I feel deserve 100% of my professional time.

How do you handle things when patience turns to a sense of dread? I’ve had glimmers of hope come up only to be snuffed out. I’ve bid for great projects only to be told that my team is too small and our costs too high.

The schools spending money don’t understand what 5,700x ROI means. They don’t recognize the perception of waste when money goes into things like Plexiglas screens and not into improving the websites they paid half a million dollars for. They don’t recognize that their messaging and design are the same as their competitors because the majority of schools hire the same agencies to do their work.

If I take a step back, my internal conflict includes all of these things:

  • Work prospects that give me hope.
  • The impulse to not get my hopes up because history shows they rarely pan out. The majority of Bravery’s work has come through relationships.
  • Having to rely on others for things that I can control.
  • Others not being reliable and in turn taking that control from me.
  • Knowing with some learning and training I could do these things myself.
  • Having too much busywork just to pay bills that I don’t have the time to learn those new skills.
  • The memory of when this was easier and I had big, challenging work, and we were doing things that were successful.
  • Frustration at an industry that often navel-gazes itself into being ineffective.

These are things I’m working on balancing. Writing this helps me work through a lot of my worries (so thanks for reading this). Often times I think about the impulse to look strong and in control of my business versus the realities of how frustrating and challenging it is as a small business owner that in a constant two steps forward, one step back cycle.

In any case, I think more honesty, transparency, vulnerability is needed. And I hope it doesn’t come across and complaining or venting or me having a pity party. I don’t have a lot of answers on fixing this stuff other than to not bottle it up. I don’t often fall into depression; it takes a lot for me to get beaten down. I guess my threshold is 7 months in a pandemic these days.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you.