Want to Fly High as an Entrepreneur? Get Rid of Some Ballast.

“There are two ways to break a storm. One is to travel beneath it, the other, above it. The safest way is up.”

– Amelia Wren in the movie The Aeronauts

I was looking for something to watch the other night and happened upon The Aeronauts. It’s a wild ride of a story, about a meteorologist, James Glaisher, and a daredevil balloon pilot, Amelia Wren.

The movie is loosely based on an actual 1862 scientific balloon flight—but I didn’t care about that. I was too fascinated with the utter insanity of taking a balloon up over 30,000 feet with no way of knowing what would happen.

I watched as Amelia released sandbags, one after the other, to fly above a storm. It made me wonder where all that sand was going, and which birds it might be hitting. It also got me thinking about the parallels between balloon flight and building a business. My mind goes to crazy, beautiful places sometimes.

When you think about it, flying a gas balloon is a lot like building a business on your own: It’s exciting, a bit scary at times, and the future is unknown. Once you get off the ground, it takes bravery and persistence to keep things afloat.

That’s where ditching some ballast can be a real lifesaver.

You’re out there, intrepid entrepreneur, reaching for the stars. You're utterly dependent on your talent and determination to succeed, and not much else. If you don’t recognize and get rid of some ballast along the way, you won’t be able to fly as high as you want to. And you may end up back on the ground.

Ballast comes in many forms when you're starting your own business: mental, physical, financial, and emotional. By knowing ahead of time what could weigh you down, you’ll be able to get rid of it and keep soaring.

Mental Ballast

It’s not enough to just “feel positive” about your business. You need to make sure you’re getting rid of any negative thoughts that can pull you down. They can creep up on you and you're probably not even aware of them.

A National Science Foundation study showed that the average person has anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. Even more important, 80% of those thoughts are negative, and 95% are repetitive.

Crazy, right? So how can you keep moving forward with your entrepreneurial bad self if you’re tied down by the weight of your unconscious negative thoughts?

Here are a couple of tips:

1. Start every day with gratitude. I'm not being woo-woo here—well, maybe I am, but it works. When you first open your eyes, get in the practice of thinking about everything you’re grateful for. List them out in your mind. You may even want to have a notebook on your nightstand where you can jot them down.

When you start your day with gratitude, you'll kick those negative thoughts to the curb. Plus, thinking of what you’re grateful for right now will open you up to even more abundance in your life.

2. Start becoming more aware of doubts as they come up. These doubts can take the nasty form of “I don’t have…” or “I can’t…” or “I’m not sure…” or "How..."

When you start recognizing a thought like this, sit back and do me a favor: Imagine the exact opposite possibility. It takes a bit of practice, but the results can be amazing.

Here’s an example: Replace “I don’t have enough clients” with “There is an abundance of clients available to me.” By thinking that way, you’re more likely to do the things that will bring those clients to you instead of worrying about why they aren’t there yet.

You don't have to believe this works. I'd rather you didn't. Just try it and see what happens. I mean, it can’t hurt, right?

Physical Ballast

This is the ballast you can actually see, so we're out of the "unknown mind" stuff for a bit (but not for too long, sorry!). You may carry extra weight on your body, in your environment, or both.

Do you have sustained energy to get everything done in a day? Any physical difficulties? Carrying a bit too much weight? It might be time to assess things honestly and decide to make a healthy body a priority.

Eating well and exercising look different for everyone. Find a lifestyle that works for you and take it one day at a time. After all, YOU are your business, my entrepreneurial badass, so if you go down, your business does, too.

After you've done the oh-so-fun exercise of looking at your physical health, take a look around your workspace. Do you have a lot of clutter? Do you know where to find things when you need them?

Sure, some studies show that highly creative people live in messy environments. But when you’re running a business, being organized is just as important as being creative.

Clutter can spill over into the rest of your spaces as well. How’s the inside of your home? Your car? Take stock of your surroundings and see if you can’t get rid of some of the stuff you never use.

Plus, if you can donate that unneeded stuff to a charity, I guarantee you’ll feel lighter.

Emotional Ballast

Welcome back to the woo-woo stuff! Emotional ballast is a similar category to mental ballast, but it deserves a separate mention. These are the unwanted emotions that can pop up at the most unexpected times. They can weigh you down so much that it’s impossible to keep moving upward.

You know that irrational fear you feel when you’re about to take on a new client? Or the resentment that lies just beneath the surface (even though you don't want to admit it) when you see a competitor doing well? How about the anger that starts to boil up when a customer mistreats you?

Nobody has time to be dealing with unwanted emotions when running a business. Yet, there they are. Next time one of those nasty emotions pops up, try this:

1. Start noticing the unwanted emotion when it surfaces. It takes a bit of effort at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. You're clearly pretty aware if you've got the cajones to start your own business.

2. Try to determine what triggers the unwanted emotion. If you have a pattern of feeling irrational fear when you’re approaching a new client, for example, dig in and find out what might be triggering that fear. Perhaps someone said something or did something to you in the past that’s still affecting you now.

3. Practice mindfulness, to bring yourself back to the present. It may be as simple as stopping, breathing deeply, and feeling your breath enter and exit your body. It’s amazing what a little deep breathing can do to center you and help you move on with the task at hand.

Financial Ballast

This is mostly for you solopreneurs out there, starting a business with just you, yourself, and you. You have a significant advantage over other business owners since you have low overhead and relatively little initial capital outlay. But financial ballast can still weigh you down if you’re not careful.

Unpaid debts and a lack of savings can sideline your solo business before it ever gets off the ground. Plus, the worry about finances will eat away at your creativity—remember that mental ballast stuff a few paragraphs ago?

Here are a couple of things you need to handle before stepping out on your own:

1. Pay off Your Debts. If that means continuing to work at a full-time job while starting your business on the side, so be it. You’ll have to uber-organize your time, but it will be worth it when you make the jump to solopreneur life.

The last thing you need when you're starting a business is to worry about where the next car payment is coming from. Which brings me to my next point:

2. Build up Your Savings. Most experts recommend having a cushion of at least six months’ worth of coverage for your monthly expenses. If you're the sole breadwinner, aim for covering 12 months’ worth of expenses. If you have the support of another source of income in your household, great! Six months should work.

What it boils down to is working out what will make you feel secure enough so you can focus on building your business.

Fly High, You Incredible Entrepreneur

OK, so all this talk of ballast may have you rethinking that entrepreneurial journey right now. I sure hope not, though. I'm not in any way trying to get you to slow down on your dreams.

On the contrary, my entrepreneurial soul sister/brother: I want you to succeed beyond your wildest imagination. These are just some things to be aware of as you begin your ascent into the heavens.

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed, and we need more in this world. So go for it! I'll be waving at you from my balloon, up amongst the stars.

Or, as Amelia Wren (i.e. the screenwriter) put it so beautifully in The Aeronauts:

“You don’t change the world simply by looking at it. You change it through the way you choose to live in it. Look up. The sky lies open.”

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