Coping with Melancholy as an HVAC Contractor | 2019-12-16

A few years ago, a team from the University of California at San Francisco, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University announced research findings that showed entrepreneurs were twice as likely as a control group to be depressed. Earlier this decade, the Centers for Disease Control noted that suicide rates in the construction trades were four times the overall U.S. population rate. Depression and its partner, suicide, are the unmentionable illnesses affecting our industry.



It is difficult to run any business. Unless you have lived at business ownership’s sharp end, you cannot comprehend the pressure that comes from dwindling cash reserves and mounting payrolls. Unless you have faced the prospect of business failure, cut your own pay before you cut your team’s pay, and worried not just about your family but the families your business supports, you cannot comprehend the pressure. You cannot understand the agony that comes from the betrayal of employees you trusted, the weariness of dealing with a continual stream of new competitors, or the terror of total business and financial risk.

Any business is challenging, but the vagaries of contracting make it tougher than most. Admit it or not, you depend on the weather, and the weather is unreliable. A limited supply of labor allows some technicians to believe they are the boss. Online reviews allow unscrupulous customers to hold you hostage. Regulations are ever mounting, causing costs to rise while price pressure hangs heavy like an impending storm. The big boxes, internet companies, and utilities are all targeting your customers.

It affects more than the owner. Time evaporates. The business becomes an unrelenting, ever-demanding mistress. Family events are missed. Vacations are skipped. Even when the business owner is home, his thoughts are elsewhere, on the business. Marriage problems mount.

Is it any wonder than many contractors are depressed? Or that marriages fail? Or worse, suicide is contemplated, if hopefully not acted upon?

If you are one of the depressed, you are not alone. Far from it. At some point, everyone struggles. Every successful contractor fought through the same moments of trial and uncertainty that seem so insurmountable. Before they persevered, many successful contractors wondered if owning a business was worth it. Some wondered if life was worth it. And no one talks about it because talking about it is admitting a weakness none of us think we are supposed to have.



While the world seems like it is pressing in on you, it is only the business. The worst outcome for a business is insolvency. Although your ego, your sense of self-worth, might be wrapped up in how the business performs, you are more than the business. Your worth is more than your current net worth. If the business fails (and that’s a bigger “if” than you probably realize), it is not the end of you. Failure is a temporary state. It is a step on the path to success. Before a child learns to walk, he fails time after time. Before they became successful, most of the luminaries in our industry failed — and failed more than once.



Staying up late and fretting will not solve a single problem, but it will make you feel more tired. Try to compartmentalize. Imagine placing your problems in a bureau drawer where they will wait patiently until you awake.

Eating right helps. Under stress, we eat the wrong foods and consume too much alcohol. Pass up the heart attack in a sack. Avoid lots of sugar. Avoid alcohol. Do not binge, and do not skip meals. Eat lean. Eat healthy. This will raise your serotonin levels, which helps regulate mood.

When the darkness closes in, exercise is the last thing you want, but need the most. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which is your body’s happy drug. Endorphins, which cause “runner’s high,” give you energy and make insurmountable problems solvable.



When everything is falling apart, it may surprise you how much you still have to be thankful for. Make a list of the things you still have in your life, the things that were important before you went into business. Give thanks for them. Gratitude crowds out depression.

If you are a person of faith, pray. Do not be afraid to ask others to pray for you, even if you are not comfortable telling them what to pray about. Continue giving it your all while turning things over to a higher power. The sense of peace will empower you.

Think through the worst outcome. What if the business fails? What happens? At the end of the day, can you live with it? Could you pick yourself up and start over? If you can handle the worst thing imaginable, you can handle anything else. And whatever happens will not be as bad as your imagination makes it out to be.


Surround Yourself With Success

It may seem dark now, but others have been where you are and survived to eventually thrive. This is a giving industry. Others will help. Get involved with your local trade association. Join one of the many business alliances. Open up to successful contractors.

A number of contractors were at the brink of despair before they finally asked for help from their peers. Having been there, their peers offered hope. They knew the right questions to ask and the best advice to offer. Sometimes the medicine was hard to swallow. Sometimes it was easy. In either extreme and everything in between, the counsel of peers has saved thousands of contracting businesses.



The darkness, the despair are temporary states. Do not take permanent action over a momentary condition. Before taking an irrevocable step, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 and just talk with them.


If you are struggling on your own in your business, get help. Things can get better, faster than you imagine. Join the Service Roundtable or Service Nation Alliance. Visit serviceroundtable.com or call 877.262.3341.

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