Managing a small business requires strong leadership skills and resilience. However, there are times when even the most capable business owners need some additional support to cope with the demands of their work. In this episode, Gene Marks and Megan Bruneau, Executive Coach and Psychologist, discuss how small business owners can benefit from coaching and therapy.
Podcast Key Highlights
- Why Do Small Business Owners Seek Out Therapy or Coaching?
- They realize that they’re getting in their own way when it comes to achieving the success that they want.
- They are struggling to achieve fulfillment, joy, connection and presence in their work.
- They are in a business situation that’s making them feel trapped.
- They want to either make a choice or a change, but they need some support as they embark on their journey.
- Why Do People Avoid Therapy?
- Our society conditions men to suppress their emotions, so many of them view therapy as a sign of weakness or failure.
- There is still a lot of stigma around mental illness and seeking professional help.
- What Is the Difference Between Coaching and Therapy?
- Coaching is more directive and forces you to immerse yourself in uncomfortable feelings so that you can gain more emotional resilience.
- Therapy focuses more on processing trauma.
- What Are Some Signs That You Need to See a Coach or a Therapist?
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Frequent snapping or arguing with loved ones
- Vices or addictive behavior
- Distressing emotions and the inability to cope with them
- Psychosomatic symptoms
- How Do You Find a Good Therapist?
- Search engines
- Personal referrals
- How Can You Tell Whether a Therapist Is Right for You?
- During your consultation, check whether you have any rapport with that person.
- Ask yourself whether that therapist possesses any qualities that might prevent you from trusting or feeling comfortable with them.
- What Are the Pros and Cons of Seeing Someone In-Person Versus Online?
- Many business owners find online therapy more convenient in terms of time and travel.
- If you’re someone who appreciates a commute and a safe space outside their home, in-person therapy may be a better fit for you.
- In-person therapy also allows your practitioner to observe your whole body and demeanor. They can also provide you with a level of physical comfort that can’t be replicated virtually.
- Why Are Self-Care and Vacations Non-Negotiable?
- Taking the time to practice self-care or go on vacation allows you to reset your parasympathetic nervous system.
- Self-care alleviates the negative emotions that might drive you to addiction or negative coping mechanisms.
- Self-care provides an escape or reprieve from stress and allows you to be fully present.
- How Can We Manage Our Expectations So They Don’t Negatively Impact Us?
- Re-evaluate your expectations to make sure they’re realistic. Unrealistic expectations will only result in dissatisfaction and demotivate us.
- You need to be flexible with your expectations and practice self-compassion when you fall short because no one is perfect all the time.
- Are There Certain People Who Wouldn’t Be a Good Fit for Megan’s Practice?
- Megan will decline a client if their goal is to increase productivity through unhealthy or maladaptive strategies.
- Individuals who aren’t comfortable with self-compassion may not be compatible with the fundamental principles of her practice either.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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Gene: Welcome to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. We interview great experts that offer advice and tips to help you run your business better.
Gene: Hey, everybody, and welcome back. My name is Gene Marks and thanks for joining us on The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast, happy to have you here. I am very happy to have Megan Bruneau here. Megan is a psychologist, a therapist, an executive coach as well. Megan, before we just started, you made some comment about me being able to pronounce your name. Where are you based out of?
Megan: So, normally, I’m in New York. I’m actually in Nashville right now, recording from Nashville. But yes, normally, I’m based out of New York, but I’m originally from British Columbia, Canada. So, a lot of my life I spent in Vancouver.
Gene: Aha, a Canadian.
Megan: Yes, exactly.
Gene: I see, so now I know where that reference came from. I was wondering. I play squash with a guy who’s from Saskatchewan if I can pronounce it right, and he is constantly making fun of Americans.
Megan: Right, okay. Well, it’s a French last name, so I don’t expect you to know how to pronounce it, but you did very well.
Gene: Thank you, I try, and I do appreciate that. Okay, so you’re an executive coach. Tell us about your job, tell us what you do and how you help your clients, and who your clients are.
Megan: Totally. Well, I can’t tell you exactly who my clients are because that would be breaching confidentiality, but…
Gene: True. You can speak in hypotheticals.
Megan: Yes, exactly. I can tell you that most of my clients actually at this point are male entrepreneurs. So, entrepreneurs of all genders, all sexes or whatever, but mostly male entrepreneurs who have reached a point where they are recognizing that they’re getting in their own way either in terms of achieving the success that they want, but also, in terms of actually achieving the fulfillment, joy, connection, presence that they want.
Megan: A lot of my clients became entrepreneurs because they want freedom, and they realize now that they’ve created a cage for themselves and feel actually quite trapped. So, oftentimes people come to coaching or therapy, both of which I offer, and actually, I don’t make a huge distinction between the two of them.
Megan: But a lot of people come just when they’re in a place where they want to either make a choice or a change of some sort. But also, if they realize they just need some support, and I think more and more now it’s becoming clear just how much coaching and therapy can help a person on their journey.
Megan: And it’s not about coming from a place of pathology or there’s something wrong with you. It’s more like, hey, if you want to be able to reach that next milestone, if you want to be able to scale your company to the point at which maybe you can step away from it or make yourself more obsolete or irrelevant in a positive way, then it can be helpful to have someone to stand beside you on that journey.
Gene: So, I wrote about this a couple of years ago, I think it was for Entrepreneur or Inc., and I wrote a story about a client of mine. And I want to ask you about the whole male versus female thing because that is a thing too.
Megan: Sure, absolutely, yeah.
Gene: This client of mine he’s one of two partners at a business. Guy in his 50s, company like a hundred employees or whatever, and he started seeing a therapist on his own, a psychologist.
Megan: Mm-hmm, great.
Gene: Now, as men over the age of 50, we come from a generation where we don’t talk about that stuff, and I’m that guy as well. And yet, I remember, Megan, when my wife and I we went through infertility before our kids were born, and it was…
Megan: Oh, so hard.
Gene: Yeah, and it was a lot harder on her than it was on me. She went through a tough period, and we went and saw a therapist about it who specialized in infertility. And I had to be dragged there kicking and screaming like, “What do I need to see this person about?” Whatever.
Gene: And this woman was awesome, I mean we went through it half a dozen times because… And I’m going to get to my point here with you is that this woman that we saw, she specialized in this. She knew the language, she knew where people were coming from. She didn’t come with an agenda, she wasn’t a family member or a friend, she was just an outsider being paid to listen to our issues, and then to just offer some third-party advice really on how to deal with those issues. And I can’t think of a better type of service to provide to a business owner than just that. And is that what you’re seeing as well?
Megan: Yeah, absolutely. I mean with the executive coaching, there’s a little bit more strategy involved than simply focusing on the emotional piece and the psychological piece and whatever, but it’s so inextricably connected. But yes, I mean I think people are realizing that they need to take that space and sort of…
Megan: I mean we strategize on our businesses, but we don’t strategize enough on our mental health and our well-being, which is just shocking to me. And you’re right, especially as a man, especially as a man over 50, there’s so much stigma around not only just asking for help in general but asking for help about something that has so much shame around it as our mental health.
Megan: Men especially are socialized from a young age to really not have any space for emotions other than happiness and calm, and sometimes anger. Sometimes there’s that dominant anger that you’re allowed, but you’re not supposed to feel anxious, you’re not supposed to feel lonely. You’re not supposed to feel sad or disappointed or shame or anything like that.
Megan: And it’s interesting, the last speaking gig I did was at South by Southwest around essentially entrepreneurial mental health, it was called “How to Keep Your Shit Together as an Entrepreneur,” and it was a packed room. It was a panel and there are people who came up to us afterwards and were like, “In my seven years of going to this conference, I’ve never found something so helpful.”
Megan: And I think, sure, the content was really helpful, the speakers were amazing, but what it came down to is that there were so many people in one room being like, “Oh, I’m not the only one who’s struggling with this.” So, there’s so much shame and so much self-judgment and anxiety around needing help or perceiving oneself to need help. We all need help.
Megan: And so, yes, ultimately, being able to create a space where it’s like, hey, this is 50 minutes a week or whatever it is where you can, sure, focus in on what you’re struggling with in your business. But also, really recognize where all of that and the way that you’re treating yourself and the way that you’re coping or not coping is actually not only preventing you from achieving the success that you want but also preventing you from being able to enjoy your life and your relationships for that matter.
Gene: Yeah, because there’s a lot of those issues. You talk about balancing your family life and your work life, dealing with stresses of running a business. And I’m telling you, my client, and again, my age, I’ve known him for 20 years, it’s like he looks forward to the hour every week. It’s no judgment, no nothing, it’s just…
Gene: And he talks about, again, his family issues but his work issues as well. Megan, what’s the difference between a therapist and an executive coach?
Megan: Yes, I mean honestly, as I said before, I don’t make a huge distinction at this point. I mean coaching we could say is a little bit more directive, so it’s a little bit more like, “Hey, I’m going to bring in things like accountability and maybe have homework over the week in terms of journaling questions or certain meditation practices.
Megan: A lot of the work that I do, and we may get into this because I think this is at the root of both our not achieving the success we want, but also, a lot of our emotional pain is avoidance, what we would call experiential avoidance.
Megan: So, when a person starts to learn where they’re avoiding certain emotions such as anxiety or such as the potential for disappointment, the potential for failure, which is an emotion but has a lot of difficult emotions with it. When a person starts to recognize where they’re just trying to stay in their comfort zone and avoiding certain potential experiences that ultimately cause difficult emotions, that’s when they can recognize, “Oh, this is how I grow, this is how I heal, this is how I improve.”
Megan: So, coaching, the way that I work as a coach may involve more like, “Okay, this is your challenge for the week. Normally, you might be avoiding this type of uncomfortable experience, but we’re going to expose you to it, so you become more comfortable and more resilient.”
Megan: A lot of people think that mental health and everything that comes along with it is about being happy and being positive all the time and stuff like that. But actually, that keeps us more in a prison, and what we want to do is help a person develop, not the house of cards strategy that’s really perfectionism where you’re just avoiding anything that might make you feel discomfort. But actually, we want to help people gain the tools to be able to experience life’s inevitable discomforts and be more resilient to that.
Megan: So, just to come back to your question about therapy versus coaching. Coaching, the way that I work as a coach is a lot more directive, a lot more like, “Okay, this is what I’m seeing, here’s where we need to go from here. Here are some of the more challenges and tasks and things for you to do in between our sessions.”
Megan: Whereas in the therapy part, and again, sometimes I say I do therapy-directed coaching, there’s a lot more processing of trauma, for example, or just even as therapists, we distinguish between something called process versus content. And the content is the stuff that’s sad and talked about, and sometimes, yeah, again, it’s strategy and this is something I’m struggling with in my business and da-da-da-da-da.
Megan: Whereas the therapy, the process piece is more like, oh, this is a theme that I’ve noticed, or this is something that’s happening with us in the room right now, or here’s how I’m experiencing you actually. I wonder if other people are having a similar experience and that might be one of the reasons that you’re feeling disconnected from your partner or that you have such a high turnover or that you’re getting these negative reviews from people who are leaving the company.
Megan: So, yeah, I would say they’re really closely connected, and I think oftentimes I will just use coaching more because it has less of a stigma. Again, especially for men, they’re going to be more likely to go to a coach who they feel is going to pull them to some goal that they want to achieve than go to a therapist. And what they realize, the work is actually do a lot more therapy in coaching than they’re expecting.
Gene: I don’t want to make this too gender-specific here, but I mean you do identify that men tend to have more of this issue or more need.
Gene: And also, let’s also just demographics, I just want to be clear. Half of the business owners in this country are not only over the age of 50 but the majority of them are still male. So, that audience is out there.
Gene: How would I know if I needed a coach? You’ve got some strategies for helping people with their mental health, business owners, which I do want to get to. But before we even get to that, we have to recognize that there’s a problem or that I’m in need. How would I know that? What signs do you see where you’re like, “Hey, you really could use somebody to talk to”?
Megan: Totally. So, I mean the thing is especially for men because you were taught that you’re not supposed to have emotions, a lot of men especially are very disconnected from their emotions. So, they might not even notice if they’re feeling depressed, or they might not realize it’s depression or they’re struggling with anxiety or something like that.
Megan: They’re more likely to notice things like I haven’t been sleeping or I’m getting in a lot of fights with my partner. Or if they have some sort of vice or addictive behavior, I’ve been drinking more, I’ve been smoking more, I’ve been eating more.
Megan: Essentially, coming back to what I said before about how so much of this healing work is learning how to be with our uncomfortable emotions and cope with them in a healthier way. And not react to them, but to respond to them with wisdom. Because so many people, and again, so many men are not taught to learn how to sit with those emotions, they will try to turn them off as much as possible.
Megan: So, basically, the ways that we avoid those uncomfortable emotions is perfectionism, which is we just avoid anything that might make us feel something uncomfortable, or addictions, essentially like numbing. How do we numb that feeling? That uncomfortable, that loneliness, that anxiety, that sadness, that hurt, that heartbreak, whatever it is that the person’s going through. So, those are the symptoms.
Gene: Yeah, that’s great. So, what I’m getting from you is that if I’m doing things that I know, I mean just common sense, I’m drinking too much or I’m snapping out too much at my partner, or maybe I’m just walking around like day after day I don’t feel to be happy, you know what I mean? And we know that. I mean as much as we try to tamper down those feelings, it’s not like we’re completely disconnected from reality.
Gene: So, I guess the message is that, for people that are watching us or listening to this, if you’re running a business and you do have some of those signs, you are showing some of those behaviors, yeah, I mean it could be a sign that you should be talking to somebody that it could help. Which brings me to my next question before we get to some of your strategies…
Megan: I’ll just add one more thing to that just before you go there, Gene.
Gene: Please, go ahead. Yeah, please.
Megan: Also, physical health issues is a big one too. So, again, when we suppress and ignore our emotional pain for long enough, it comes out psychosomatically, so it comes out in our body. Things like back pain, headaches, gut issues, chronic pain of really any sort.
Megan: Essentially, just always looking for, okay, whatever this thing is that I’m struggling with, could it be a symptom of something emotional? We tend to look at symptoms and be like, “Oh, let’s just treat the symptom. Take a pill, take a pill.” And really, it’s like, well, that’s interesting. Is there a constellation of symptoms here that’s leading to something deeper, and could that be something emotional that I’m avoiding or suppressing?
Gene: And I guess, honestly, if you’re seeing your doctor, I mean it’s a question to ask your doctor is whether or not are some of my physical ailments stress-related or job-related? It might not necessarily be something that’s organically from inside my body.
Gene: Okay, so it’s like, you know what? It would help me to talk to someone. I’m assuming that I would find someone like yourself. Obviously, going to conferences is great, listening to podcasts like this is great. I’m sure, I’m assuming you can google, you can search on LinkedIn, you can ask other friends and colleagues if they have a… There’s a wide variety of sources. How do I know if you’re the right coach for me or the right therapist for me?
Megan: That’s a great question. You don’t. You don’t until you really start working with that person, but you can get a better sense as to whether I’m the right person for you or whatever coach or therapist is the right person for you by just doing a consultation call. Most coaches will offer some form of exploratory call or consult, maybe about 20 to 25 minutes long.
Megan: And yes, you want to share, “Hey, this is what I’ve been dealing with. I’m wondering if you might be the right person to help me.” But what you’re really looking for is just rapport, your relationship because that time and time again, when we look at the variables are that lead to success in counseling and coaching relationships.
Megan: So, not everybody… I know that I’m not a fit for everyone. I again, tend to be a bit more directive. I’m a fast-talking… Not New Yorker by birth, but New Yorker, and a lot of people don’t want to work with a woman who’s often younger than them. So, I’m not going to be a fit for everyone, but I’m a fit for a lot of people. It’s the same thing as if you’re looking for a hairdresser or something like that.
Megan: So, I encourage people to do a consultation call, but the other piece that can be really helpful is, if you’re open to it, ask your friends, ask your colleagues, “Hey, do you have anyone you work with that you can recommend?”
Megan: Because especially the coaching industry, but even therapists as well, it’s the Wild West out there. And there are a lot of people who are drawn to this work because of their own suffering and their own morbid curiosity about their struggles, or they maybe… Especially in social media world, there’s a lot of arrogance and narcissism and people who are like, “I know everything, so I will be your coach.”
Megan: So, just because someone is a coach, just because they’ve marketed themselves really well, that does not necessarily mean they’re the right person for you. So, I would say consultation calls, and then yeah, word of mouth is the best because then you already have it vetted by somebody you trust. You already know that that person is legit or can offer services that you could probably benefit from, so those would be my two main suggestions.
Gene: And is your service… First of all, that consultation, I mean obviously, a little different with coaching, but I’m assuming that’s probably a no-cost thing, right?
Megan: Totally, yeah.
Gene: I mean a good…
Megan: Sorry, go ahead.
Gene: A good professional will do that, you know what I mean? I do that in my business, I mean we consult with lots of people, and we don’t charge.
Megan: Totally, and there are some people who won’t because, again, maybe they’re just at a point where they’re like I just don’t… My time is so valuable that you have to pay the whatever it is. And you could take that risk if you wanted to, but there are still many, many coaches and therapists out there who will happily offer you a 20-minute exploratory call complimentary, yeah.
Gene: Okay. Thoughts on online versus in-person?
Megan: So, if you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said absolutely in-person only and what is this thing that people are doing and how do they believe that we can do good work remotely? But that’s really changed. I think the pandemic really helped change that in many ways.
Megan: For a lot of my clients and for a lot of business owners, they don’t have a ton of time. So, to be able to fit in an hour, it’s not ideal to context shift right away from a coaching session into an important meeting or something like that. But to be able to fit that time in to see me from their home or from their office or whatever, allows them to do something they wouldn’t do otherwise.
Megan: Now, I would say if you have all the time in the world, if you appreciate… For some people, I have some clients I see in person who like the commute. They’re like, “Okay, I like to shift and have somewhere to go and not be able to… In the car on the way there to listen to music or process on the way back.” So, if you have the time, great.
Megan: The other piece that is really valuable about in-person work is you get to see the whole person. As therapists and coaches, we’re not just looking at what’s said, we’re also looking at, “Oh, that’s interesting, they started tapping their foot when they started talking about that thing.” Or, “Oh, that’s interesting, it seems like there’s a real shift in the body language.” Or, “Hey, let me hand you a Kleenex when something hard comes up.”
Megan: So, there are things that cannot necessarily be replicated yet. I think probably with virtual reality, that will change over time. But there are some things that can’t be replicated through telehealth, but there’s still amazing work that can be done, so don’t let that hold you back from seeing someone.
Gene: Great advice, and by the way, just as an add, I would prefer to see somebody in person. I think that it just… It’s like when I travel and I get out of the office for a day or two, it clears your head and it puts you in another state, and I think that’s also an important thing. But that’s just my personal opinion.
Megan: No, and there’s an energetic piece there too. Just being in the room with someone, there is something energetic if you’re into quantum physics and stuff like that, that we can’t necessarily connect to online.
Gene: I believe that, I believe that. Okay, so you wrote a great piece in Forbes, and for those of you guys watching or listening to this, the piece is called “7 Strategies Every Entrepreneur Should Employ to Optimize Their Mental Health.” So, Megan, if I can ask you to list out… No, I’m just kidding, I’m not going to ask you to do that because you wrote it a while ago.
Megan: I’m like one second, let me pull it up.
Gene: No, no, you don’t have to do that. You gave seven pieces of advice, we’re not going to go through all seven, but I do want to pick out a couple of them that you can emphasize on. A couple that hit home, I mean, for example, one of your pieces of advice about making self-care and vacation a non-negotiable.
Gene: So, just personally, my wife started up a nonprofit three years ago. She’s been super busy with it, she’s amazing, she’s grown it incredibly. She’s been under a lot of stress and pressure because of it.
Megan: My God. Oh my God.
Gene: This is a woman who has tried every different type of exercise and activity over the 30 years I’ve been married to her. She’s failed at them all, but she’s picked up Pilates over the past few months and absolutely loves it.
Megan: Great, love Pilates.
Gene: Yeah, and she has… Talk about a breakthrough, she’s made it a point. She goes to Pilates no matter what’s going on, and I think she learned that from me because I play squash three times a week.
Megan: Awesome, love that.
Gene: Regardless of what’s going on, I go, and I play because it’s awesome and whatever. So, it is non-negotiable that self-care. Give me your thoughts on self-care and why it should be non-negotiable.
Megan: Yeah, I mean, first of all, that’s so great, Gene, that you play squash three times a week and your wife has made Pilates a non-negotiable as well. Those are great examples of self-care and there are a number of reasons as to why self-care is so important.
Megan: First of all, self-care, you could say, is really just doing anything that contributes to your physical mental well-being. It’s interesting a lot of people are like, “Oh, I’ve got to do my morning routine and I have to do that. I have to get up at five o’clock and go to the gym and this and this and that.”
Megan: I would say try to find something that feels, not necessarily super easy, but a little more useful than the thing that you hate the most. So, if you don’t like going to the gym, don’t force yourself to go to the gym. That’s where something like squash is going to be a better fit.
Megan: So, something that, sure, may be helpful for your physical health, but also, it’s really about mental health. It’s about if you think about your inner child, if you do any of that work ever where it’s like, “Hey, let me look back to this five, 10, 15-year-old me and try to be kind to myself and look at what I needed at the time. What would be something nurturing? What would be something uplifting? What would be something that offered me connection to others or to myself?”
Megan: So, with self-care, a lot of what we’re trying to do is regulate our nervous system. A lot of mental illness or mental health challenges comes from a dysregulated nervous system, meaning that we’re stuck in fight, flight, or freeze if you’re familiar with those terms. The parasympathetic nervous system versus the sympathetic nervous system.
Megan: Sympathetic nervous system is what kicks on when we’re in a stress response, and that’s again when we get that fight or flight, whereas freeze is what we call parasympathetic shutdown where we… It’s like we’ve got the freeze response really intensely to a stressor, and that’s when we ultimately end up feeling depressed or feeling really lethargic.
Megan: And that stuff is less important than just, hey, a lot of the times if we’re feeling anxious, depressed, out of sorts, it’s a dysregulated nervous system. That’s oftentimes the reason that we’re using addictions or using substances and stuff like that to try to regulate it.
Megan: So, self-care is one way we do that, that is a much healthier way, of course. Yes, movement is great for that because it gets us into our body, stimulates what we call the vagus nerve a lot of this work, which again, helps us regulate the nervous system.
Megan: But the other piece is a lot of the stuff is like meditation in many ways. When your wife’s going to Pilates or when you’re going to play squash, you’re not looking at your phone I imagine. You’re not looking at whatever emails come in, you’re not being constantly stimulated by that, and you’re actually very present. I mean to play squash… I was a tennis player, you have to be really present that whole time.
Gene: Yeah, you’re focused on the game. You’re focused on the game.
Megan: You’re focused on the game.
Gene: And you know what’s really funny about that, just because I think this is applicable, is that I’m looking at my emails before I start playing and then I get on the court for an hour, and I even forget the emails that I was looking at.
Megan: Exactly, yes.
Gene: It completely changes your state.
Megan: Totally, it’s meditative, it allows you to be fully present. Especially if you’re dealing with a lot of stress, it is a reprieve or an escape from that constant anxiety, that constant inner voice, which we’ll probably get to that is really at the root of so much of our anxiety, depression, shame, all of that stuff.
Megan: And one thing that’s just really important for self-care because yes, exercise is a great example, but also there’s the classic examples of having the bath or going for the walk or reading or doing a puzzle or listening to music, or a podcast or whatever. Watching TV, honestly, is great self-care.
Megan: Another part of self-care is boundaries. So, it’s not just adding more, it’s also saying no. It’s giving yourself a break, and the most important piece for self-care is what is your relationship to your self-care or your relationship to yourself when you’re engaging in self-care?
Megan: So, the problem that a lot of people experience is they beat themselves up for doing it like, “This isn’t productive. I’m not being productive,” or, “Oh no, I went down an Instagram hole,” or, “I binge-watched three shows in a row on Netflix.”
Megan: And if we change our relationship to that and say, “Hey, maybe you needed a break. Maybe this was what you needed.” And actually, yeah, maybe it’s not ideal to make all of your self-care going down an Instagram hole because there’s a lot on there that’s going to make you feel worse about yourself, but if you can just be intentional about whatever it is you’re doing and saying, “Hey, this is what I need.” I would expect a friend or loved one to take breaks, to take vacation. To not just be total workaholics.
Megan: Because otherwise, it’s like what’s the point? Why are we doing this if ultimately our relationship to ourselves is that we always have to be working no matter what? And if we don’t then we’re terrible people or we’re going to fail.
Megan: So, I would just say whatever you do for self-care, for the most part, anything can be self-care. It’s more about your relationship to whatever that activity is that determines it so.
Gene: Spoken like a true Canadian to an American. You guys have figured all of that out, right?
Megan: Yeah, totally. Totally, yeah.
Gene: Americans, it seems like we violate that rule for some reason.
Megan: Yeah, we call you guys no vacation nation.
Gene: Yeah, which is ridiculous, which is why the Europeans take so many more vacations because it’s an older, smarter society over in Europe.
Megan: Totally. Yeah, it’s just less capitalist in that sense, and again, there would be arguments that it’s like, well, they’re smaller and more able to have universal healthcare and all those sorts of things. But at the end of the day, there is this American dream that gets perpetuated through stories that we’re exposed to and through media, and it says everyone should work to get to this point, and when you’re successful enough, that’s what’s going to make you happy. And that’s not what makes you happy.
Megan: I have clients who are wildly successful who come to me after their billion-dollar businesses or whatever are humming along, but they’re like, “I’m miserable. I’m so unhappy, I’m so depressed, what’s wrong with me?” And so, that’s not the answer.
Gene: Well, that brings me to… And we’re running out of time… I mean I’ve covered 10% of what I want to talk…
Megan: We’ll do a part two.
Gene: We’ll have to do a part two, but I’m going to combine two of the strategies together because I think they are really related. And they definitely hit home because I hear this from a lot of clients, and we all suffer from this. And again, this gets back to a guy thing.
Gene: So, one strategy says notice where expectations are ruining your life because I could tell you, I think men have different expectations for themselves than women do, and I feel that men are more inclined towards the business-y, professional, defined by their career. Very few of us turn out that way, so we’re always not hitting that mark.
Gene: And then related to that, and you touched on this just before is about redefining what exactly success and failure means. So, noticing where expectations are ruining your life, redefining what success and failure means to you, talk to us about what you mean.
Megan: Totally. Yeah, so I mean you used a great example differentiating the expectations that men versus women have on themselves. Women, in contrast, are socialized to put all of our worth into our appearance or our childbearing, or whether or not we’re a partner. And if we’re unmarried or childless by a certain age, we’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve failed.”
Megan: So, that’s where we’ve been taught our worth lies. Whereas for men, your worth lies in power, in financial security, in success, in things that are all in that realm. And you’re socialized to put your worth into that and say, okay, well, if I’m not super independent or if I don’t have a ton of money or if I don’t have a really high salary or I’m not revered as this powerful leader or whatever, then I’ve failed.
Gene: And there’s always the guy, the fraternity brother from college or whatever that’s crushing it financially, that’s doing that much better.
Megan: Yeah, totally. Of course, exactly, there’s always… Oh my gosh, especially, again, with social media these days, with one thing if you…
Gene: Because everybody’s fabulous.
Megan: Right, exactly, and everyone’s the highlight reel and whatnot. And so, yes, there’s always somewhere to compare and despair yourself to. Expectations, they really are… Expectations for ourselves, expectations for how our lives should go, expectations for others, this is really what’s at the root of most of our suffering.
Megan: I practice through a fairly spiritual lens, a lot of the work that I do is informed by Buddhism, and that is one of the tenets is that, hey, you know what? Life is filled with suffering. Life is filled with disappointment, grief, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger.
Megan: All of these are just normal human emotions, and in fact, they’re actually signals that are there to give us information, and that’s a huge part of the work that I do too is help people see that difficult emotions are not meant to be ignored or suppressed. They’re meant to be paid attention to and see if there’s information that we need to gather from them.
Megan: Anger, for example, is usually a sign someone’s crossed a boundary, or you’re being mistreated in some way, or you need to advocate. Anxiety says, “Hey, there’s some sort of threat or you need to do something.”
Megan: Ultimately, this is just coming back to having realistic expectations for everything is that life is going to be filled with all these uncomfortable emotions. And you’re not going to be perfect, your life is not going to be perfect, the people around you, your employees, your colleagues, your partner, nobody is going to constantly meet the expectations that you have if they’re unrealistic.
Megan: So, one of my favorite sayings is all of our pain lives in the space between expectation and reality. Things like disappointment, again, anxiety, sadness, frustration, all of that lives in this place where if you have these unrealistically high expectations and your reality has a pretty good chance of falling beneath it, you’re going to create those difficult emotions yourself.
Megan: And the same goes for your expectations for yourself. If you expect that you’re never going to get sick, you’re never going to have lower-energy days, you’re never going to make a mistake, you’re never going to, quote, unquote, “fail,” which we’ll get into about the diversifying your worth piece, then of course, you’re going to experience things like disappointment and anxiety and shame especially, and frustration and all of those sorts of things.
Megan: So, it’s not that we necessarily need to get rid of all expectations. Of course, you need to have expectations, especially as a business owner, especially when you’re trying to grow a company. And you want to have expectations for yourself for growth as well. I mean I think most of us as humans we do desire growth and stimulation and challenge and all those sorts of things.
Megan: So, you still want to have expectations, but you want to be mindful that they’re realistic so they’re more likely to be achieved. Or if you’re not going to achieve them, it’s going to be a smaller space where you’re like, “Okay, I almost got there, but it’s still like…” So, you don’t feel this paralyzation, shame, disempowerment, all of that.
Megan: So, you want to make sure that those expectations are realistic, and then you also want to make them flexible. One of my favorite things that I do, I’ve done for over a decade at this point, and really recommend for my clients is embedded in something called self-compassion where we basically when you are experiencing something uncomfortable. Let’s say you’re feeling anxious or you’re feeling sad or lonely or whatever it is, angry, you just say it’s understandable I’m feeling anxious or stressed because…
Megan: And you just find validation and empathy for why does it make sense that you’re feeling whatever it is that you’re feeling? And what that does is it makes some space for the feeling rather than feeling shame for feeling the feeling. What happens is when we feel something uncomfortable, we tend to judge ourselves for it, and when we judge ourselves for it, we now not only feel let’s say, oh, you’re feeling really lonely, right? Because entrepreneurship is extremely isolating.
Megan: So, let’s say you’re feeling lonely, and then you’re like, “Oh, you’re so weak, I can’t believe you’re lonely.” You’re just smoking 10 cigarettes a day or whatever it is, you’re beating yourself up. You’re going to feel shame, and then you’re also feeling anxious. “Oh, you’re feeling lonely, you’ve got to get rid of this.”
Megan: So, instead, it’s like it’s understandable you’re feeling lonely. You’ve been working really hard, oftentimes alone, or all your employees are remote. And also, part of getting rid of loneliness is about being vulnerable, and we can’t always be super vulnerable in work settings because we have to embody leadership and whatnot, and we don’t want to necessarily show parts of ourselves…
Gene: You have to give a different portrayal of yourself.
Megan: Exactly, so the first piece I would say is yes, you make some room and have realistic expectations for how you’re feeling. And then, let’s say you’re beating yourself up for a mistake that you made or something that went wrong with the business, it’s also creating more realistic expectations for that.
Megan: So, it’s understandable that, I don’t know, you didn’t meet this goal that you had for yourself because now let’s find the reason as to why you didn’t meet it so you can now learn from this. And then through that, failures become learning opportunities.
Megan: I often tell my clients like, “Hey, if you experience some sort of failure, congratulate yourself because that means you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone.” That means you took a risk versus listening to perfectionism, which says, “Hey, you shouldn’t do that thing because you can’t guarantee that you’re going to succeed.” And that allows you to then grow through that experience and recognize, okay, it didn’t work this time, but here’s what I need to do in the future.
Gene: Megan, final question then I’ll let you go. This is just great advice. These strategies are super, super helpful. What kind of a client would you decline to work for?
Megan: That’s a good question. So, I would say just any client who has unrealistic expectations for the process. That’s part of the exploratory call is like, “Hey, let’s figure out what is it that you’re wanting to get out of this and does that seem like something we can work toward together?”
Megan: Similarly, I would decline a client who is coming… If they’re already employing a ton of different strategies for productivity and efficiency, and they’re coming to be even more productive. They’re coming to almost be harder on themselves because that happens a lot.
Megan: And there are coaches out there who will say, “Yeah, we’re going to hold you that much more accountable, and we’re going to get you up that much earlier, and you’re going to like…” They’re almost reinforcing the perfectionism that I’m trying to help dispel within people, so I’m…
Gene: You’re like, “It’s good enough, you’re fine.”
Megan: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly.
Gene: Chill out.
Megan: I’m hyper-tuned to where people are creating suffering for themselves by trying to hold themselves more accountable and be harder on themselves. And again, we often think, especially if we were raised in families where that was how we grew up and a more authoritarian parenting style and high expectations and not a lot of warmth and stuff like that. That feels comfortable and familiar.
Megan: But what people don’t realize is that way of relating to themselves is actually what’s contributing to the depression, to actually the avoidance. Oftentimes not doing the things that they should be doing for that very success they’re looking for, and to ultimately just not being happy.
Megan: And so, if somebody does come to me and they’re like, “I just want to be that much more productive,” and essentially like a machine, I’m just not the right fit for them because just fundamentally I would feel like that would be an abusive relationship that I was trying to maintain for them that they’re having with themselves and that they ultimately might have with me.
Gene: Good answer.
Megan: So, it’s not that I don’t believe in holding people accountable, and I’ll try to summarize this quickly because I think this is often helpful for people. The way that I work is with something called the yin and the yang of compassion. So, that’s the feminine and the masculine of compassion.
Megan: When we think about being compassionate to others and to ourselves, we’re often aversive to that because we’re like, ugh, that seems like I’ll just let up on myself, and I’ll gain a hundred pounds and never get out of bed, and I won’t get anything done. I’ll just watch TV all day and eat Cheetos.
Megan: And first of all, that wouldn’t be a good life for anyone. Nobody wants that. That’s not stimulating or enjoyable. But the other piece is that, yes, there is a lot of stuff within what we call the yin, the feminine like forgiveness, tolerance, patience, compassion, sympathy, empathy, all that kind of stuff.
Megan: But there’s also a yang, a masculine to compassion, which is about accountability and respect for oneself and expectations and all of those sorts of things, desiring growth. So, it’s the same way with… It sounds like… Do you have kids?
Gene: I do.
Megan: You do, okay. So, it’s the same thing with parenting. You want to, of course, have a lot of warmth and a lot of support, but you also want to have high, flexible expectations.
Gene: Tough love.
Megan: Exactly. So, coaching, therapy, all of that, it’s really about reparenting ourselves, it’s really about learning how to develop a relationship to ourselves that embodies both warmth and love and sympathy and understanding that we’re imperfect humans.
Megan: And of course, we’re going to make mistakes and look imperfect, but the other piece is that we do have expectations for ourselves, and that is an act of self-love to have expectations. So, that’s a big piece as well that I work with people, just finding that more realistic balance.
Gene: Megan Bruneau is a psychologist, therapist, and executive coach. She is the author of a great Forbes article, which has been a lot of the basis of this conversation. It’s called “7 Strategies Every Entrepreneur Should Employ to Optimize Their Mental Health.” She is also the author of a book “How to be Alone (and Together),” and she produces and hosts a podcast “The Failure Factor.” Megan, is there a website that we can reach you on?
Megan: Absolutely, just my name meganbruneau.com, so M-E-G-A-N B-R-U-N-E-A-U, which you pronounced so lovely or so well. Yeah, so you can just reach me there or you can reach out, just email@example.com as well if you have any questions, want to work together, anything like that.
Gene: Well, thank you very much. Your advice has been fantastic. I know I learned a lot from this conversation, so we appreciate your time.
Megan: Thank you so much for having me, Gene. Great talking today.
Gene: Everyone, you have been watching and listening to The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you need any advice or tips or help on running your business, please visit us at smallbizahead.com or sba.thehartford.com. My name is Gene Marks, thanks for joining us today. We’ll be back soon with another episode, take care.
Gene: Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of The Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you like what you hear, please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your ratings reviews and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. So, thank you so much. It’s been great spending time with you, we’ll see you again soon.
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