The Entrepreneur’s Secret to Lasting Happiness

Little dog enjoying a good scratch from its owner

Image by wsilver

We entrepreneurs are a pragmatic bunch. Meaning, we love to solve problems. Entrepreneurs almost always have a deep, unconscious need to find elegant, easy and fast solutions. Not just for their own issues, but for other people’s too.

As an entrepreneur, you feel the itch. When something isn’t right, you’re the first one to notice and feel the insatiable need to scratch it. ‘Scratching itches’ got you where you are today and that is pretty damn cool. You suffer from the obsessive compulsive problem solving disorder of all successful business owners.

As far as personality disorders go, this one simply rocks! Solving problems turns out to be a great way to make a buck or build an empire.

Obsessed with Scratching Itches? It’s a Blessing and a Curse

The entrepreneur’s need for pragmatic problem solving is a mixed blessing. It’s fantastic when we use this gift to do something revolutionary and valuable, but what about when we don’t?

You can’t just turn off your problem-solving disorder. It’s practically hardwired in. It means that your brains is ‘always on’, ticking away and trying to fix things.

Do you find yourself constantly asking internal, mental questions of yourself, like:

  • What can I do about X?
  • How can I fix this?
  • What will I have to do to achieve Y?
  • What if Z goes wrong, then what will I do?

If so, hell, you’re probably just an entrepreneur. How perceptive of me!

You have a great habit of problem-busting thinking. You regularly come up with solutions way outside the ‘box’ – except when you don’t.

When Problem Solving Goes Horribly Wrong

What happens when the solution isn’t forthcoming? How do you know when to stop trying to solve the problem? What happens if you simply cannot solve the problem?

If you’re like most successful entrepreneurs, not solving the problem isn’t an option. The questions keep ticking around in your head regardless, even if you know you should give up. You tell yourself you will find a way.

There’s a word for that. It’s called ‘worrying’.

Worrying is problem solving when the problem can’t be solved.

It could be for many reasons. It could be that the problem can’t be solved yet – you need to wait for the situation to develop. Maybe you aren’t the right person to solve it at all! Or, perhaps you need help from someone and you’re waiting on them.

Whatever it is, the problem can’t be solved this minute. Yet your good ol’ unconscious mind goes ahead and keeps worrying. Bless it.

Now you’re not smiling. Now OCPS disorder isn’t looking so damn cool. You’re lying awake at 3am wishing you could simply switch off.

No wonder issues like insomnia are such a plague for entrepreneurs. About seventy percent of my entrepreneurial clients complained of the can’t-switch-off symptom. They lay awake at night trying to ‘solve’ such doozies as:

  • Finding enough customers to pay next month’s overheads
  • Figuring out what they’ll do if it doesn’t work out
  • Worrying if they charge too much/too little for their product

Destroying this ineffective mental habit doesn’t have to be difficult. I trialled several different solutions with clients and discovered that truly ‘getting’ one simple concept made all the different. The idea is a principle I borrowed from a pal of mine from Asia. You know, that guy with the grin and the big belly?

Buddha had some good things to say about worrying and despite that I’m not actually Buddhist, I thought I’d borrow this from him:

If you can do something about it, then don’t worry.

If you can’t do something about it, then don’t worry.

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. We really don’t need to worry about things that we can do something about, right?

Thing is, if we are powerless to change something, what’s the point in worrying about it? A better choice would be to pour a drink and settle down to wait and see.

So since I discovered this proverb/philosophy, I’ve been putting it into action. I started asking around some of my mentors and role models. I discovered that the happiest of them held the same principle near and dear to their hearts. Except the part about pouring drinks – that’s optional.

They may not have been Buddhist, or even put words around the idea before, but deep down… they knew that worrying is never worth it.

I’d guess that, deep down, you believe the same. While you may find it tough to put into practice 100% of the time, this really is the key to finding the happiness and innovation that pushes the envelope of life and business.

Is this something new or something you knew? What do you think?

About the Author: Peter Shallard is the Shrink for Entrepreneurs. He helps business owners figure out how to achieve wealth, freedom AND sanity… all at the same time! Check out his blog or for mini Jedi Mind Tricks, follow @PeterShallard on Twitter.

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Responses to this Post


  1. Going to share this with my non-entrepreneur hubby who needs to read it.

    I’ve always been up and down with this one. Depending on what it is, I’ve been known to say “Meh, let’s go with the flow” or to start panicking and worrying about how I’m going to fix it, exactly how you described.

    Need to find a good balance there, of being alert to what needs to be done and not worrying yourself.

  2. There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
    Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung…
    All you need is love…

    Sorry for plagiarizing the Beatles here, but I think they have a point. The same goes for the Buddha and any other Jedi master worth mentioning. If I read between the lines, their messages have some basic similarities regarding thinking and rationalizing, like:

    1. Don’t worry.
    2. Feel. Don’t think.
    3. Be conscious. Observe without judgment.
    4. Behind all the pain and mental complications, there’s this energy or experience of love.

    It may sound trite, but love is the answer. In the case of many entrepreneurs, they simply love to solve problems. If you’re in that mental state where you’re loving what you’re doing, then you instinctively know that worrying about problems is not the same as trying to solve problems.

    In other words, worrying is not at all what the entrepreneur intended in the first place. It’s more accurate to say that the first intention was to love the experience of solving problems.

  3. What kills me is when the solution to a problem dawns on me ages after I can do anything about it.

    I don’t know how many times a problem has come up and I handled it wrong, and I might have handled it right if only I had thought of x. That’s no fun.

    So, yeah. Opportunity cost. That’s why I worry.

  4. Peter

    I love to solve problems. I like how you define the need for an entrepreneur to scratch the itch. It is so true!

    Thank you for the reminder. You are absolutely right. Here is where I see the benefits of losing control.

    Timing is everything. It may not be the right time and additional information or people need to be in place for the solution to work.

    I do find I get frustrated versus worrying, because I see the flea bite (I like the dog picture).


  5. As a lover of information, I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to execute everything I learned perfectly. So if i was considering a product, or some kind of marketing, I’d get so overwhelmed that I wasn’t doing everything in the right order, at the right time to create the best ever “thing” that I was trying to do.

    I’d start with problem solving, and brainstorming, but then my vision would snowball and i’d want to do everything, and worry that I wouldn’t be able to.

    I have spent hour and hours staring at a page of ideas I’d love to get off the ground but worry whatever step I took first wouldn’t be the right one.

    It’s only recently that I’ve realised the importance of worrying less, and getting on and “doing.”

    I’m better at not worrying “as much” and I’m not as paralysed by it, but i still get those 3am moments!

  6. @Paige Spot on! I think that’s why being able to identify when you’re problem solving (vs merely worrying) is so important.

    @Joseph You make a really good point. Problem solving is different to worrying because it is so damn fulfilling and us entrepreneurs just love to do it. Perhaps problem solving energizes and worrying drains?

    @Zach I get what you’re saying. My slightly cheeky response is this: If you spend 100% of your time worrying, trying to find that elusive solution… and it STILL evades you…. what’s the point?

    Might as well just not worry at all, right? Not every problem is solvable and some turns of events cannot be anticipated 🙂

    @Marcy hehe I love the dog picture too! Mark snuck that in at the last minute.

    @Amy Ah yes, glorious “overwhelm”! Enemy of entrepreneurs the world over! My secret is to absorb as much info as possible, but only USE what I can implement unconsciously… that way, I don’t have to think about it! 😉

  7. I thought of you last night. I went to bed, dozed for a few minutes, then woke up because of some noise…

    And boom. The mind starts going a mile a minute. Oy.

    The good news is, not from worrying, but just from all the awesome ideas churning around!

  8. @James Thinking of me at night huh? Awesome ideas huh?! Suuuure 😉

    hehehe no, no doubt you were solving the problems of the world successfully! The trick is to take notes so you can remember the moments of midnight genius in the morning!

  9. It’s quite reassuring knowing that we as entrepreneurs can find peace even though a problem persists. Truly, all you can do, is all you can do.

    Thanks Peter, I already linked back to this post on my blog!

  10. Peter, while not a new idea, you expressed a fundamental truth that many of us need to be reminded of when we’re going through a stressful situation. I touched on it when I wrote a post about the first 5 things to do when you lose your job. One of them was to control what you can and don’t try to control what you can’t. Even so, when it’s your own situation it’s more difficult to not worry. Thanks for the insightful post!

  11. Control is a good way putting it Wendy. If you struggle to let go and stop worrying, I’d recommend actively seeking out some healthy distractions.

    Tim Ferris, for example, recommends reading escapist fiction before bed as a way to shut down day-to-day stress and worrying. That sort of thing works wonders… Just by distracting your unconscious mind from it’s “itch”

    Thanks for your comment 🙂

  12. Really interesting, Pete. Thanks!

    Been thinking along similar lines recently. I think a lot of the dis-satisfaction with entrepreneurs is that we’re by nature very target driven. It’s a very human trait, but we’re more susceptible than most. The problem is that we assume that reaching our targets will make us happy. But we’re wrong about that. They’ll give us a short period of pleasure, but not sustained happiness.

    I’ve actually written about it here:

    Keep up the good work!


  13. Thanks for the comment Neil and I agree… entrepreneurs (to generalise grossly) tend to have a nasty habit of tying their emotional state of happiness/fulfillment to the achievement of tangible goals.

    Why not be happy every step of the way towards the goal… before AND after? 🙂

  14. Definitely!

    Like someone once said – “there’s no point chasing the horizon – you’ll never get there” (or something like that).

    In other words, as soon as we reach one goal we’ll be looking at the next one….

  15. Definitely!

    Like someone once sad- ”there’s no point chasing the horizen – you’ll never get there” (or something likelike that).

  16. Definitely!

    Like someone once sad- ”there’s no point chasing the horizen – you’ll never get there” (or something likelike that). yeah