How to get over your time anxiety and start something new ft. Anne Laure Le Cunff, Ness Labs Founder (an interview)
We explore how the worry about timing (being too late, not having enough) stops so many people making their entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
This week: the question of timing our new ventures.
Anne-Laure who talks about time anxiety, amongst other important topics in the life of entrepreneurs and creatives.
What is time anxiety?
While death anxiety is the fear of running out of time, time anxiety is the fear of wasting your time. It’s an obsession about spending your time in the most meaningful way possible. And when society tells us—or when we interpret signs from society as saying—that it’s too late to achieve a particular goal, we don’t perceive it as meaningful enough. We need—we demand—that what we do with our lives actually matters.
— Anne-Laure Le Cunff, Time Anxiety: is it too late?
Read on for my take on the topic, and the exclusive interview with Anne-Laure.
The world is open and we have less time.
We’re in May, how did that happen?! London is officially reopening and life has become a lot more like before … a little bit hectic, a lot more fun, and way more to juggle. When life moves this fast it’s hard to imagine how and when all of the plans I have for The Ask will materialise. I need more… time.
The world opening up and being able to see friends, family, shop, dates etc is a really great excuse not to work on my business in the name of fun and doing normal life again.
But unlike pre-pandemic life, I have to work on my business.
It pays my mortgage and enables me to lead a life where I can do all those fun things. So I’m not really worried about not working on my business, as that isn’t a possibility.
In the past, however, when my business was a fledgling idea, barely tangible or revenue-generating, there were plenty of excuses not to work on it.
Lack of time (due to working in a day job and just living a full life generally) would be a major theme.
Months and then finally years went by where I would talk about running a coaching business but not a lot more than that.
I registered a domain name or two over the years. Ellenkdonnelly.co.uk and joblovers.com being two (pretty sure they are now defunct).
I’d spend a weekend looking at graphics, slogans, landing pages and feel really good about myself. Not sure why… look how bad this logo is!
Then Monday would come along and my enthusiasm would wane, the work week would get on top of me and then literally months would pass before I found time to do anything else on it.
I didn’t have a business back then.
I liked to pretend I did but there was nothing tangible there. Time was passing and my dreams felt further and further from materialising.
My saving grace came in 2019 with a dodgy career decision that led me to leaving a new job as Head of Talent in a VC-backed startup — a job which sounded shiny on paper but the reality left me anxious and depressed for many reasons. I left after ten weeks I hated it that much. I was out of work in December 2019 and that company soon laid off all of its team in March 2020 when the pandemic struck.
Between Jan-March 2020 I’d managed to set up a Ltd company and land a corporate client (BCG Digital Ventures) as a freelance consultant. I was able to watch the startup I left unfold and go close to bust, but from a place of my own safety and security.
It was from the position of being a freelancer that it felt much more achievable to set up a coaching business, which soon became known as The Ask.
Psst.. Check out The Ask website if you haven’t before. Its rebranded!
I had more time to complete the full six months of coach training and to build a brand and an audience.
Now, just over a year later I’ve been able to generate over six figures as a self employed business owner.
I say this not to brag but show you what was possible when excuses get taken away. I had to make this work and was absolutely helped by the fact that lockdown took away the option for me to socialise and fill my time with more excuses not to build the business that lay inside of me.
I don’t want this for you.
I don’t want you to have to quit a job without a backup plan it’s giving you that much anxiety.
I don’t want you to need a global pandemic to happen in order to have a reason to focus on your dreams.
You should get to build your business from a place of choice not pure necessity.
The window of time you have right now might not last forever so ask yourself really, when will you work on your business?
Committing to working with a coach in 2020 was such a big investment for me that it signalled my absolutely intent to make it work now, not later.
It’s from this place of knowing exactly what steps you need to take to get your business up and running and after a decade supporting entrepreneurial people do the work they love, that I have doubled down on coaching people who are at the stages of defining what kind of business to build and make those early, ambiguous steps happen with momentum, clarity and excitement.
If you are feeling that nagging concern that time may be slipping away and stopping you from you making your dreams a priority, get in touch for a complimentary consultation. I’ll be signing five new clients in May, and then there will be a waitlist until Q3 to work together.
And now… excited to share with you an exclusive interview Anne-Laure.
Anne-Laure is the epitome of a digital creator being paid to do work she loves.
An ex-Googler, she left to study Neuroscience Masters at Kings College London and also write about what she was learning, on topics such as mindfulness, productivity, and wellness. Ness Labs soon exploded in growth and subscribers (30k+ at counting) which Anne-Laure turned into the Ness Labs community in early 2020 which today has over 2,000 paying members.
A topic Anne-Laure is well known for articulating is that of ‘time anxiety’.
The feeling that you are too late to do something new.
Whether you feel you are too old, the ship has sailed, others beat you to it or you just don’t have enough time to do the thing you want to do, time anxiety affects all of us at some point in our lives.
Anne-Laure recently launched her own YouTube channel despite the feeling that she was ‘too late’. After two months she’s at almost 3k subscribers.
Not too late after all…
So for The Ask community of new and aspiring entrepreneurs, time anxiety is something you too are familiar with I’m sure. Anne-Laure was kind enough to share some thoughts on this topic and more, exclusively for The Ask newsletter.
On starting something new
You talk a lot about time anxiety and the fear of being 'too late' to do the things we most want to do. You recently started your own YouTube channel (congrats!) despite feeling like you were 'years late to the party'... What is your advice to someone deciphering whether they are in fact, too late, for something new?
Anne-Laure: I know it’s cliche to say this, but — it’s never too late! As long as you’re alive, there is nothing you cannot start today. Instead on focusing on the finish line, focus on the journey. Whatever happens, starting something new will help you acquire new skills, get out of your comfort zone, and potentially even make new friends along the way. Plus, it’s good for your brain.
On having too many ideas
You are an extremely creative person. You talk about concepts like 'idea sex' whereby you are merging different ideas over time to create new insights in your creative work.
For many of my coaching clients, myself included, having 'too many ideas' can become a productivity challenge in itself. Any tips you can give on mastering this that you've used in your own work?
It’s important to keep a balance between your creative input and your creative output. Whenever you feel like you have too many ideas, ask yourself: what’s one idea I can turn into something tangible? It doesn’t have to be grandiose or overly ambitious, but it needs to be concrete — something you can actually put into the world. As long as you ensure you are turning at least some of your ideas into reality, you don’t have to worry about having too many of them.
On passion vs profit
For many people when starting their self-employed journey they are driven by passion, but what keeps them stuck is the practical or imagined fear of lack of money. Any advice on the balance between finding the thing that drives revenue vs following your heart?
You have to find your personal Venn diagram: the intersection between what you are passionate about, and what your audience cares about. This is not something you can just brainstorm and make up on the spot; rather, it’s something that emerges from consistent creative output. When you regularly put new work into the world, you will start noticing what kind of output resonates most with your audience. If you can align your audience’s needs with your own curiosity, you’ll rarely feel like you’re working.
On building an audience
Amongst many things, building an engaged audience of subscribers and now community members is core to your business. What advice do you have for someone in the early days of building an audience about how to stand out from the crowd, and create true followers not just vanity-based metrics?
Anne-Laure: “Do things that don’t scale” is actually a great mantra to live by for an early-stage community builder. When I started the Ness Labs community, I personally emailed all of my most engaged newsletter readers to ask them whether they’d be interested in connecting with other readers. It was a lot of work, but absolutely worth it. When you’re just getting started, you need to invest extra time and energy in trying to understand the needs of your audience. Ask questions, be open to feedback, make yourself available, help foster authentic connections between your community members.
On finding a niche
The decision and process of niching I believe is the absolute holy grail for creators and small business owners but when starting out it can be so hard to decide; you've not had time to explore other avenues. Would you suggest starting broad and then narrowing, or begin narrow and pivot if needed?
Anne-Laure: I actually believe in the concept of the “broad niche” — large enough that you’re not alienating yourself, narrow enough that you can target a specific audience. Being a creator is a long game; you don’t want your niche to be so small that you get bored after a while. But you still need to bring value to enough people in order to build a sustainable business. Rather than starting too narrow and then pivoting, I’d suggest creating a playground that’s big enough to leave room for exploration, with rules clear enough that it attracts the right kind of playmates.
That’s it for today, stay tuned for another post in two weeks time if you’re in the stages of defining your own entrepreneurial career path!
Some of my recent posts you may enjoy until next time…
Ready to work with me one-one in coaching?
Until next time ✌️
Ellen Donnelly, Founder + Chief Coach, The Ask.
Ellen Donnelly, Founder + Chief Coach, The Ask.