How to Embrace Self-Employment with Sanity

Our culture has this story that if you’re self-employed you must be working every hour of every day, myopically focused on work to the detriment of your sanity. This is not true (unless you want it to be, but I hope you don’t!) There’s always more to be done and when you’re in business for yourself there’s no boss to tell you to go home at the end of the day. It’s up to you to decide that you’re done. And it can be a hard thing to do; even harder if you love your work!

A Metaphor

When trying to strike a sane balance between work and the rest of life I like to use the metaphor that I learned from one of my teachers, Molly Lannon Kenny, and apply it to self-employment. I’m going to start by defining three terms, and then I’ll arrange them into the metaphor.


It is important to most people that they do something with meaning. That they contribute something good to the world. A life of pure leisure is typically unfulfilling, and leads to a different kind of risk to your sanity.

However, our society tends to over indulge in work. We seem to believe more work is better, even though there are countless sources that say working beyond 40 hours a week for extended periods of time negatively impacts productivity. (And since starting a business takes more than a few weeks, I highly recommend not aiming to sprint the whole way!)


In this instance study refers to not only deepening your knowledge of the service you provide, but also about your knowledge of business and your knowledge of yourself so you can self-manage more successfully. (One of the great things about coaching is it helps you develop those later two!) It’s important to be knowledgeable about what you’re doing, but also about yourself and how you do things. Some portion of your time should be an investment in working smarter, not harder. These types of tasks and projects can easily fall by the wayside if we’re running ourselves ragged.


The “can-do” American attitude hates this one, so bare with me. There are countless things in life we cannot control, nor even influence. We can try and reduce our risk of heart disease by exercising, but we may develop cancer none the less. We can work our butts off in our business, and it may not succeed, and not for a lack of trying. We simply don’t have control over all things.

This may feel like a depressing thought, but I assure you it’s not. It also means it’s not our fault. If the business doesn’t succeed, if we have a heart attack, there is a significant portion of this that is out of our control. Our challenge is to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt, rather than blame ourselves. I believe in human resilience and that good can come from any challenge, but what that good is — it isn’t up to us to decide.

It’s a fact of life, and you are allowed to hate it all you want, but that doesn’t change the reality of it. So you might as well hold a bit of surrender at all times, rather than sacrifice your sanity.


These three elements: work, study and surrender, can be leveraged to create a balance among them. Any one of these alone is futile. Work without study or surrender is just spinning your wheels into exhaustion. Study without work or surrender is hiding from the world in books or navel gazing. Surrender without work or study is what we fear when we use the word “lazy:” nothing happens and we’re fine with it.

The Garden

Even two of these isn’t enough, you need all three. This is where the metaphor comes in. Imagine life is like a garden. Gardens need work, study and surrender.

If you never work in a garden, the seeds don’t get planted. If you only work in a garden, you pick at the plants so much they can’t thrive. If you never study gardening, you don’t plant the right things at the right time for your climate and the garden won’t thrive. If you only study gardening, you never get out there to plant the garden.

If you only surrender, again, there will never be an actual garden, just a plot of weeds. (And you can accept the reality of that plot of weeds all day, but that doesn’t ever make it a garden!) If you never surrender, then you’re stressed by every shift in the weather and other influence that might negatively effect your garden. You need all three in a balanced way in order to have a successful garden.

If we apply the same idea to our business, the balance of these three elements leads to feelings of fulfillment, growth, and a minimizing of unnecessary anxiety.

Work-Life Balance

When you’re tending your business like a garden, how do you balance these three things? Set up parameters for your work so that you know when you are done. (And that “done” is something categorically within your control.) Find outlets for introspection and educational enrichment. And practice surrender. The business won’t do better because you’ve exhausted yourself. The business will do what it’s going to do. Work at a steady, sustainable pace. Surrender to the fact that you don’t have control over the outcome, instead of sacrificing your sanity.

a note on sources

Work/study/surrender is a fundamental piece of yoga philosophy known as kriya yoga. The Garden metaphor is attributed to Molly Lannon Kenny; she included it in her book: No Gurus Came Knocking. You might also find the work/surrender balance familiar if you’ve read The Bhagavad Gita.

Originally published at




Maggie is a business coach who helps launch and grow self-employed businesses. Learn how she could help you at

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Maggie Karshner

Maggie Karshner

Maggie is a business coach who helps launch and grow self-employed businesses. Learn how she could help you at

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