Momentum, riding the wave, and getting back up again


Business, like many things in life, comes with its own ebbs and flows. Even the best laid plans can encounter unexpected roadblocks. Part of being successful in business is learning to weather out the storms. It’s also about learning to ride the highs.

Years ago I worked in the development office of a regional theater. Most days that summer the managing director would come in and say to me, “so, did you make any money today?”. It was funny at first, but got lame fast. (It was also kind of insulting, because I essentially was doing a data entry job).

I did learn from those encounters. He was really good at his job when things were going well, but came to see true leadership is being good at your job when things are on the down turn. A true leader knows how to deal with any situation, and encourages and inspires the team to do their best even in less than ideal situations. When you’re a freelancer or run you’re on business, you need to figure out how to get yourself back up.

Early in my business I was working all the time (which has its own issues), so I couldn’t fully see the ups and downs or how certain efforts were paying off (or not). Ironically, it took several years, and a lot of experience under my belt (and a higher “salary”) that I started to really feel the highs and lows. The busy times and the slow times.

When things are slow, you feel it more. You finally have time to do all those projects you’ve been talking about, but you also are trying not to stress about having paid clients. You have to learn to push through. As a developer friend once told me, “I’ve learned to trust that it will always work out.”

The more you take on bigger, higher paid jobs, the less time you have to nourish your business throughout because all your time and energy goes to the big project. Then one day, you’re cut off, and all of a sudden there is a cliff ahead of you. You know it’s coming, but you don’t always have time to plan. I knew the feeling from my time as a grad student—I was so wrapped up with my thesis that I didn’t have a second to think about what was next. While it felt great to be done, I did not feel great to not know what was next. (In hindsight I guess it worked out, because I ended up starting my business.)

Be ready for what’s next

When a 3-month turned 1.5 year project was coming to an end last year is when this business blog was born. I used the end of the project to intentionally build in some time for my own transition as I wrapped up work for a client. It not only gave my brain more space to really properly tie up loose ends in a way that wasn’t frazzled, but also it helped me transition back towards my own projects and business (a goal that had been delayed for years at this point).

I like to call it “riding the wave”. 🏄🌊 When you do have the luxury to see what’s head, do what you can to keep the momentum and stay on top of the wave. This doesn’t mean killing yourself to do as much as you can. It means thriving on the energy you have to ride the wave and keep your strong momentum as much as possible.

I don’t know much about surfing, but by the time the surfer riding the wave, they’ve already done the hard part — they’ve trained, they’ve put in the time, and they’ve gotten up and on the wave at the right time. In the grand scheme of things, riding it is the easy part, now watching the course ahead of them.

When things are good, business is easy. The true test is how do you get yourself back up when things are on a down turn. I’ve worked to become more cognisant of these highs and lows, and as much as possible look for waves I can ride and feed off that energy and momentum. When I’m on a down wave, I’ve come to recognize it as a natural part of the cycle of business. Rather than getting scared, I embrace it as a time I can work on all those projects I’ve been talking about forever, but not acting on. It’s an opportunity to get back up—maybe on an even bigger wave next time.

Anything in business can “de-rail” you, from a client who unexpectedly stops replying, to a dream job that gets cancelled for forces completely out of your control. Life happens, so your job is to do your best to stay on top and put yourself in a place where you thrive. Know there may be ebs and flows, but the true test of your strength is how you deal with the downturns to turn them up again.

I put this check list together for myself, but wanted to share it with you too for those times when I need to get back on top of the wave. (Please add any of your own tips and strategies to the comments!).

  • Make sure you’re getting out and away from your computer

  • Eat healthy foods and get to the gym (overcompensate for the busy times)

  • Schedule calls and coffees with friends and fellow business owners

  • Take a class or workshop where you can develop a skill you’re too busy to learn during peak times.

  • Do one thing a day that helps move something you’re working on forward. (This could even be sending an email to someone whose work you love, or to say thank you to a mentor figure.)

  • Trust that things will work out and this is a natural flow in business. You have the experience. Be thankful for the rest. It can turn around at any time.

Look for what brings you energy and what makes you thrive. Feed off of that. Go forth. And conquer! Look for that wave that you can ride which will give you the momentum to keep going. Even the best surfers have to learn to get back up.

Sometimes on a down turn (or an up-turn) it can be helpful to have an outside perspective. I offer 1-on-1 sessions if you’re ever looking for a different kind of inspiration.