A critical skill that rarely gets taught, which means we usually learn it too late, is the importance of separating your “work self” from your “inner self.” As abstract as it seems, it’s a powerful tool for positively navigating the inevitable rejections, challenges, and pressures of the professional world, whilst enabling you to remain in control of what makes you, you.

Your work self is the persona you present to the world, the one tackling projects, delivering pitches, and interacting with colleagues. Your inner self is your core being, your values, passions, and vulnerabilities. They are connected – but not completely the same.

In an evermore ‘always-on world’, where switching off no longer feels like an option, it’s even more important for entrepreneurs to understand this distinction and maintain it as they journey through the stages of building a startup. After all, so much of what entrepreneurs bring to the table is based on their distinctive insights, skills, and passions – all extremely personal qualities and specific to you as an individual. When you face rejection, as entrepreneurs always do, it’s understandable if that starts to feel somewhat personal, but in most cases, it really isn’t.

One way of making the separation between work self and inner self is to think of your work self as owning how your business goals or achievements can be realised through the support of others, whilst your inner self focuses on how your values and passion show up in the things you do and the level of energy spent in doing them. In applying this approach, you remain in full control of your inner self, checking in to see if you are using your energy wisely and staying true to yourself. With your work self, you are building greater awareness that there might be more at play than just your own efforts, depersonalising outcomes and being more objective in how you might make your next move.

I should probably highlight that this isn’t just theoretical advice, since it absolutely happened to me. Throughout my journey, from my first job working in a supermarket to leading teams and launching products for a massive multinational, to co-founding an AI spinout, I’ve seen how important it is maintain the separation between work self and inner self. It’s especially critical for entrepreneurs to master this, because as your company grows, the challenge will evolve and suddenly you’re not just looking after yourself but others as well!

How do you scale this up for a growing team?

Looking after your own well being as an entrepreneur is hard, but this does increase exponentially when it comes to growing a team. It is why it is so important that you make time for it – if you’ve got everybody running at 110% and not building in self reflection and care, there can only be one outcome. 

The answer lies in building a culture of collective well-being, where everyone is regularly reminded to check in with themselves and make sure their ‘work selves’ and ‘inner selves’ are kept in balance. Fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable discussing challenges and supports each other in understanding where any help or adjustment can be made is key. Pushing everyone to their limits without thought for the consequences is a recipe for disaster. Remember, a healthy, supported team is a thriving team.

Here are some practical tips to help you and your team develop & manage your work and inner self:

  • Build a personal/team charter that captures how you ‘show up’ at or in work. What are your superpowers, preferences, values? What shows you that things are on track? 
  • Schedule regular check-ins with yourself and make space for the big questions. Just because you are focused on hitting the next milestone shouldn’t mean you can’t also think about your energy, happiness, long term goals and deeper emotions.
  • Make time for your support network. This can include professional mentors, but it also means seeing your friends and family. You won’t want to burden them with everything you are going through at work, but seeing them helps keep you sane.
  • Make time to do the things you love. Whether it is going for a hike, watching a movie or hitting a punching bag. It’s wonderfully therapeutic, good for the soul and crucial for the mind.
  • Foster a culture of open communication within your team and lead by example. Share some personal anecdotes to help your new hires get comfortable and give them space to reciprocate. This sends a powerful message to your team.

Image credit: Adobe Firefly