Growing pains

Norðurland1

You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing a lot of posts lately and I’ve also been uncharacteristically quiet on my social media accounts. It’s not just that I’ve been busy, although that’s obviously a part of it – February was one of the biggest months in the history of I Heart Reykjavík no matter how you look at it, but there’s actually more to it than that. I don’t know if I can explain in simple terms what I’m going through but since I’m usually better at writing things down than talking about them, and I find writing somewhat cathartic, I thought today I could give you some sort of insight into a) my scary brain and b) where we are at with I Heart Reykjavík as a business.

I’ve tried very hard to figure out what is wrong with me. I’m suffering from some sort of anxiety or something that makes me procrastinate like there’s no tomorrow and frankly most days I’d just much rather turn on the other side and pull the duvet over my head when the alarm goes off in the morning instead of getting up. I’m functional, I mean I do get up and I answer every e-mail that needs answering, do tours and am meeting people I make appointments with and everything but it’s just extra difficult. I know this sounds a little bit (or even a lot) like depression but I’m pretty sure that’s not it.

What I think I’m going through is early stages of a burnout. Every article you read about entrepreneurship tells you about the dangers of a burnout. Don’t work too hard, they say, make sure you have time to have a life. And I’ve taken this advice to heart but that’s also all I’ve done with it. The workload I’ve been under for the past 5 years, the last 2 in particular, has been inhumane. The worst part is that it has been completely self-inflicted and it has been the byproduct of something that I’m so profoundly proud of and happy with: the success of this blog and my business.

So I’ve told myself that it’s OK to ignore signs from my body that I’m over-doing it because it’s for something I love, something I believe in and something I’ve worked very hard to achieve.

I’ve never really gone into my life story on this blog. I wanted it to be personal but I also wanted to maintain my privacy and keep it focused on the topic which is obviously Iceland and the many wonders it offers to visitors. Like everyone my life has had its ups and downs. For a while there was actually much more of the downs part and in many ways it robbed me of my confidence and self-belief. I know intellectually that it’s unwarranted but when you’ve spent so many years being super hard on yourself it takes more than a few good years of self-love and being positive to heal. I genuinely feel I’m on the right path but every now and again those insecurities pop up out of nowhere and make it difficult for me to see clear.

It’s also a well known thing in the start-up world that successful entrepreneurs (women in particular apparently) often suffer from what is called the impostor syndrome. In short founders don’t believe in themselves and  are petrified that people are going to find out that they actually have no idea what they are doing and that somehow their success is all accidental and not based on any merit.

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence

I identify with this so much. And especially now, at this point on my journey, where I’ve started to encounter some hurdles on the way for the first time. Just little things like miscommunication with partners, technical issues, bad reviews on Tripadvisor (which are actually not that bad and the good ones far exceed in numbers) and guests and readers that don’t see eye to eye with me on certain things. All of which is to be expected but because I’m already feeling raw, like an impostor even, it becomes like a validation for those feelings of self-doubt I have.

Which leaves me with some sort of content paralyses – I don’t want to put my heart and soul into something and post it just to get told I’m being dishonest, arrogant or rude. All words that have been used to describe me because of something I’ve posted as I Heart Reykjavík. When I’m not tired and I haven’t been working 16 hour days for months at a time I would tell you that these words have nothing to do with me. And I would tell myself that for every bad comment I’ve received I have 5000 so heartwarming that it literally brings me to tears at times. But when I am exhausted and lacking confidence there’s always that inkling of worry: What if it’s true?

Being super busy because people appreciate what you do is a luxury problem but it doesn’t make it any less of a problem. Nothing can go wrong. None of us can get sick. None of us can take any time off. And although you can work like that for a short while that’s not a good long term strategy.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been meeting with people, chatting about my options and spending a lot of time on making elaborate multi-colored mind maps to try to figure things out. It’s been enlightening actually.  And this is what I have found out.

  1. I cannot do everything on my own. There’s only so many hours in the day and I have to prioritize my time and use it on the things where I’m most needed. As much as I would love to guide every tour, answer every e-mail and write every post it’s simply humanly impossible.I cannot get better if I don’t have time to reflect and brainstorm. I can’t write more posts if I’m out doing tours all day. A hamster on a wheel doesn’t cover a lot of ground.
  2. Having Ásta doing tours with me has made our tours so much better. Not only is she a great guide and a lovely person, people adore her, but we can also take our own unique perspectives and combine them for a fuller experience for our guests. Having more voices, more points of views, is always going produce a better end product for our guests.
  3. Exhausted people should not be providing service to anyone. Whether it’s answering e-mails, giving tours or offering advice and information. Nobody benefits from that. Which is why you have to make sure your employees, and yourself, get enough time off from work to give everyone around them the 100% they deserve when they are there.
  4. I can provide excellent service and value to guests even though I don’t deliver everything personally. I can do this by hiring the right people and giving them the right frame to work with while still giving them space to shine as individuals. And by making sure that the infrastructure is strong.
  5. I have no interest in becoming a big corporation. The personal touch and love for our guests and our work is always going to be the center point in everything we do.

With every change I make, like when I brought Ásta in for the tours, I worry that you are going to think I’m selling out. That I’m losing what makes I Heart Reykjavík special. But things have changed. I’m no longer just a blogger. I’m running my own business. I have employees and I have a responsibility to them. I have to deal with all that boring stuff like taxes and insurances and licenses. But judging by the response there was a need for what I offer. And I want to do even better. I know it may sound insincere but money is not the end goal here. It’s great to get paid for your work but I do the work because I love it. Even if I would win the jackpot in the lottery I would’t quit this. And I don’t want to stop loving it just because I’m too tired to remember that I love it.

Changes are always scary. I’m going to go out on a limb here an declared that this is most scary for me. Not that it is a competition or anything. But I’m also grateful how understanding and encouraging most people have been so far and I can only hope for the same support going forward. Nothing is changing right now. But it’s lingering in the air. And I just wanted you to know why.

So there you have it. The reason I’ve been quiet. I already feel better just putting it out there.

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25 thoughts on “Growing pains”

  1. Karen says:

    I already answered your Facebook post, but since I still have this page open, I’ll say this here: You’ve got this. Growing pains are just that, growing pains, and you are allowed to have them. Yes, there will be setbacks and disappointments — I’ve been a freelance editor for a zillion (give or take a million) years now, and every time I get even the tiniest bit of negative feedback from a client, it throws me for a loop — but you’ve built something really good that will carry you back to a good place again.

    For the record, we loved our tour with Ásta — you definitely made a good choice with her! And bringing on a few more good people like her will not make you a big corporation…it will make you a smart small-business owner who also happens to have a life.

    Looking forward to watching your next chapters unfold, in whatever form they take!

  2. Shelly Kowalski says:

    I am so glad that you mentioned imposter syndrome, because it was exactly what I thought as I started reading this post. As a woman who has also experienced imposter syndrome I know that it most definitely is real, and can be a terrible thing to experience alone, because not a lot of people will truly understand. My own burnout led to serious consequences for my health, so what you’re doing is good! Realizing that you can’t do everything is exactly what will make it easier to deal with the stress of success. Delegating can be a Godsend, and letting go of the things that you cannot change is so important for your mental health.

    I hope things get easier for you and your burnout doesn’t also take away the love you have for what you do. Success is a good thing, but it’s not the only thing.

    Sending happy thoughts from Canada & can’t wait to visit your amazing country for the first time in June!

  3. Matthew Screng Paluch says:

    I highly recommend the book (or audible audio deal) The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, i think youd love it. She mentions Imposter Syndrome, but she prefers the name she came up with for it before knowing it was a real thing – The Fraud Police. She was always waiting for someone to show up and arrest her haha! — youre not a real artist, real musician, youre a fake! you dont deserve this!

    And the worst part, and this was confirmed when she studied it, is that it actually usually get*worse8 the more successful someone is. That brain surgeon with the multiple degrees can feel it even more intensely, as more awards, promotions, public recognition can all make it worse!

    Anyways i think youd like the book, but either way, you have my full and total support. Youve been a great part of my weekly routine for years now and i want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I see you, and you are important to me =)

  4. Dustin Halcon says:

    Impostor Syndrome is something I teach about in workshops. Especially in tourism, where so much of any job, even the big, corporate ones, is based around a sense of personal ownership and entrepreneurship, the burnout factor can hit hard and relentlessly.

    What I try to remember on the worst days, which I happen to have been going through myself in my tourism business these past couple of months, too, is that a great vacation changes a life. Like gravity acting on a meteorite, it provides just enough pull to redirect someone’s trajectory.

    We may not see it today, it may not show up in Yelp reviews, but down the line where a small shift in course has multiplied over time, you and your wonderful city will have had an impact far beyond today. Today, it seems, is nothing.

    May your tomorrows be brighter and brighter as you adjust to your new life plan!

  5. Sarah S says:

    Hi Audur, we took your tour in Nov 2014, the day after my wife and I married. We found you so kind, and generous with your wealth of knowledge and clear love for your city and country. (& rightly so, it’s awesome!). I truly understand your feelings of insecurity around solidifying something such as passion and knowledge which is so personal, it is almost an intangible entity. But here’s the thing….You’ve made it happen. Your ability to share your experiences, your thoughts and locate opportunities for this to broaden it’s reach with the expansion of your business is incredible. I know when doubts creep in, it’s difficult to ‘see the wood for the trees’ particularly when a badly timed bit of criticism or trolling comes around. But this is all it is, and you have the absolute right to feel mighty proud of everything you achieve.

  6. Sunny says:

    I completely empathize with your angst and apprehension in your life right now and understand how frustrating and paralyzing it can be. Especially when it comes to the Impostor Syndrome. I was promoted a couple of years ago from a support position to a management position in a newly created department of 1 (me). After the volume became too much to handle alone, I hired someone to help with the workload. Initially it was SO hard to confidently delegate and trust another to do the tasks I was so accustomed to doing on my own. Because who was going to do it better than me? Over time, it’s gotten much better and I’ve grown more comfortable in this role, but there were times when I was constantly worried that it would be “discovered” that I was in way over my head and had no idea what I was doing.

    But here’s the rub – I, like you, love what I do and want to see it grow and flourish, but I have to keep reminding myself that I’m but one person who can’t be expected to do everything, even though I’d much prefer that very unrealistic route. In order for your baby to grow, it’s gonna take a village. So be the great leader and guide that you are, set your baby’s path in the direction you want it to go and trust that you’ve surrounded yourself with wonderful, intelligent people who share the same vision. Fear of the unknown? Embrace it. Of course there will be times when you stumble, but when that happens you pick yourself up, learn from that mistake and never, ever do it again.

    I’m glad you had the courage to share with your readers and I hope you continue to do so. As much as we’d all love to hear from you 24/7, remember you come first. Quality over quantity is what you’ve always provided so keep up the good work and give yourself a pass every now and again. Trust me, we’ll still be here!

  7. camilla says:

    We are all human and thanks for being so honest and sharing your experience and challenges. I love to read and follow your blog and advice. I have done so for a while and a couple of weeks ago I booked 1 week in June for me and my family (man and 3 boys). The dream of going to Island has kept me going this winter despite hard work and family challenges. So keep up being you and thanks for a great blog!

  8. dale hewitt says:

    hey Auður,

    I have visited Iceland and Reykjavik three times now. I often mention it in my Facebook posts. For fun I like to describe things there as “proper” (erupting volcano = proper fireworks; gusgus, mammut … = proper music; bankers in prison = proper justice; voted best country for working women recently = proper equality) – you get the idea.

    Reading your blogs and this reflective piece – you easily deserve the title of – “proper tour guides”.

    Brave of you to be so open and honest. From what I can see you are slowly evolving into something better than before. This will involve not everything working out. Something not working out still means something is learnt.

    Best wishes from the UK,
    Dale 😀

  9. kay says:

    As a two-decade Icelandophile, I’ve enjoyed your blog very much, Auður, including this human perspective. Every time I arrive on the island, the changes relating to tourism are obvious. I appreciate being reminded of the overwhelming responsibilities that my Icelandic friends are trying to fulfill. Best wishes as you adjust.

  10. Trish says:

    Heartfelt best wishes to you Audur. xxx

  11. Laura says:

    Sending you my very sincerest hopes for your quest for a life balance. So many deserved and earned comments from all of us who appreciate what you share with us (wannabe Icelanders). Thinking of you in Boston, Massachusetts US

  12. C says:

    Auður, I just want to add my good wishes! I think you’re doing a terrific job and I hope you can get good advice from people around you who might have gone through a similar process, or from the books some of your readers recommend, and work your way through this mighty but very very worthy challenge. You do need help, we all do, always, and getting it just makes you and your business stronger. Good luck, keep your chin up, don’t forget to breathe! Sending you love from Brooklyn.

  13. Melanie says:

    I loved Iceland last fall and had the best, rainiest tour with wonderful Ásta. I feel I know you well from this post, and I send warmest wishes for a clearing of the air for you. Your business was one of the reasons I felt Iceland was a place with heart and soul that I would wish to visit many times. Thank you for what you have done, and take care of yourself as you consider what you will do. Trust in yourself! at least some of the time. Best wishes from another Boston, Massachusetts friend.

  14. Gwen Van der Zyppe says:

    Auður, we had a lovely tour in the rain with you in July 2015. After four previous trips to your country, your tour gave me a framework to better appreciate the Icelanders and now I am studying Icelandic! Your way of being has made ripples in my life and many other’s, I am sure. Take care of yourself and never forget, þetta reddast!!! See you again in July 2016 when I bring three more friends to discover your wonderful island.

  15. Self-employed for many years, my Corey, awesome gal, is your Asta. I Heart Reykjavik will grow. Letting go and passing tasks on is hard (I can do it faster, better is true, but also just an excuse/fear) She will bring a different perspective and it will be like planting a seed. You can watch it! It is still you, but you outside of yourself. Bad reviews hurt because you care, so that is good! Coming to Iceland April 9 or 10, when I check dates I will book a tour with you (or Asta). You bring Iceland alive, but do not have to do it 24/7.Take care, and thank you for all the sharing, information and joy you put out there.

    1. Renee C says:

      iheartreykjavik is a success because you care! I sent a follow up email to you as well ~ wishing you all the best!

  16. Jake says:

    Auður,
    I’ll echo what so many others have already said – you, and the work you’ve put into this site, are fantastic. Honestly, if it wasn’t for IHeartReykjavik, I don’t know how prepared I would be for my first trip to Iceland this Wednesday! Not only have you helped me feel at home in Iceland before I even arrived, but you also helped me save a lot of $$ through your partnership with Budget! Thank you so much, and maybe I’ll run into you later this week!

    Also, let me say, I understand what you are going through. I have had 2 tech startups of my own that did not have nearly close to any of the success you are having with this site. Don’t let the bad comments get to you – remember how much happiness and help you’ve given to so many people!

  17. Letitia Yeung says:

    I enjoy your blog very much and appreciate everything you are doing to make this such a great resource for visitors to your beautiful city.

  18. Lanz says:

    Have said it once and am going to continue saying it: am unbelievably stunned by/proud of you, as I’ve long been since the fish and bicycle days. I’m going through something similar-ish lately, and that’s why I wanted to message my virtual hugs and love here.

    Dear people + the few bad apples: this lady and her dealings are pretty special, and though the majority of you know it, you might never know exactly HOW much so.

    A decade ago, I found myself sitting at her dining room table, celebrating New Year’s with her local/worldwide friends, simply because I’d emailed her random a “thank you for your kick ass blog” (past blog, mix of personal/all-things-Icelandic) after doing research for my own trip to Iceland. I’d spent hours reading it, and had seriously lost all track of time and being, so it was Just a thank you, no follow-up questions or requests, never even expecting to hear back. My first trip I ended up doing solo, but she told me to get in touch when in town, and we met/became fast friends. 6 months later, I went back for New Year’s and returned after that. Little did she know, her friendliness and love for Reykjavik and Iceland as a whole…she wound up changing my life in so many ways, and for the better!

    I just thought I’d put some positive energy out into the world today, and pay tribute to my friend. 🙂 As a fellow “impostor” I empathise with her and all who’ve self-identified as such. Chances are, we’re indeed the real deal. But if anyone is *for certain* it’s Au∂ur. 🙂

  19. Anita says:

    I can so very much relate! I started my own business almost a year ago & after an INCREDIBLE first year have definitely been feeling that at any moment someone is going to come & rip it away from me for being an imposter. When I have slower periods, I question what I am doing or wonder if anyone is going to buy one of my items ever again. I could feel myself beginning to get burnt out & have noticed that with this comes complete lack of drive or creativity & that’s opposite of what I am trying to do! I want to be the best business owner, mom, wife, friend etc. that I can be & that begins with taking care of myself.

    You definitely have to take care of yourself, prioritize & find a way to grow your business without you having to manage every aspect. Those that have a problem with that…well, that has more to do with their hang-ups or issues than it has anything to do with you.

    The trip I’m making to Iceland this September with my husband is part of taking care of myself & doing things for me versus pouring every spare second into my business & trying to people please, which may be financially lucrative but sure does have an impact on my mental & emotional well-being. We’ve always wanted to travel, but never could or did for various reasons, so it’s our first trip outside of Canada.

    Cannot wait to see Iceland & take your tour the first day we arrive on the red eye 🙂

  20. Signy says:

    What a lovely read, I admire you for opening up and writing such a personal post. Bright days ahead. Cheers

  21. Belgje says:

    I know this is an “Iceland blog” but I’m wandering how you feel now. Are you okay? I hope so!
    I LOVE to read your blog and I know a burn-out is terrible. People don’t understand, even doctors often don’t…
    Take care of yourself, and remember: Everyone has an opinion. Maybe 5% are negative, that means 95% are positive! 😉
    Get well!

  22. Patricia says:

    You are a true inspiration! From when I discovered your blog to my walk with you last week, my fondness grows. You opened my eyes to what is truly important in life, and appreciate everything. You made me fall in love with Reykjavik and Iceland. During my travels, I always ask, “Could i live here?” and yes, yes to Iceland! I love being a hardened city girl, but, Iceland is calling. I hope to visit again soon, and meet again.

    Thank you for sharing. I plan to re-read this, as I ponder the exact thoughts you’re facing. Keep it up, be true to yourself … and always have fun!!

  23. Eve says:

    Auður … I could not have predicted as search for ATM machines in Reykjavik would have me in tears. I’m nearly 50 and I’ve felt that burnout a number of times without having built anything enduring. But you are simply amazing. Your blog-turned-business is absolutely something to be proud of and you ARE clearly every single successful, creative, hard working, sassy, intelligent, loving and beautiful thing anyone has ever said about you. You’ve already done it and no need to doubt it. I hope you give yourself some rest and realize that you’d never expect so much endurance from anyone else and no one who cares for you would want to see you do it to yourself. I heart ‘I heart Reykavik’! So glad I found it. 🙂

    1. mm Auður says:

      Thank you Eve <3

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