guest post: finding the balance between the working for myself and working on myself / nathaniel cole

Photo credits: Sebastian Barros (

I’m lucky enough to work for myself at the moment. My ‘side hustle’ (Swim Dem Crew) that I’ve been working on for the last five years is finally bearing the fruits of my labour and afforded me with enough opportunities that I can use it (and other things) as my main source of income.

I never set out to work for myself — it has happened almost by accident — but I love it, ‘I love the journey that I am on.

I can vividly remember arguing with my mother about work when I was younger. We were sitting in her kitchen and she presented me with the question every graduate who has no idea what they’re doing dreads, “what are you going to do?” and I didn’t have an answer for her. Obviously, I knew that I had to work but I didn’t know what it was that I would do.

“I want to help people!”

“That’s not a job!”

My Mother was right. At the time, that wasn’t a job (for me). I didn’t have a plan to follow and as the age old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

After we had that conversation, I went off into the world of work and did a variety of jobs. I’ve worked in the building, cleaning, creative, recruitment, research and swimming industries over the last decade. Alongside my work I have blogged about my weight loss, finding myself, understanding my mental health, written about my friends and started Swim Dem Crew:

‘an inner-city swim club that believes in the power of community. We want to change what swimming looks like to our community, showing that it’s a life skill and not just a sport. We want to empower our people to swim.’

I’ve learned a lot of skills by doing these ‘side projects’ but one that I’m still trying to master is the art of finding balance.

The balance between working for myself and working on myself. Nobody teaches you how to be an entrepreneur. Millennials and generation z are creating businesses that are more socially minded than ever before, I often look at ‘Green Box Shop’ as a great example of this. It’s a small company that has a global reach with its messaging that seeks to amplify the voices of the oppressed. They’ve been featured in numerous news outlets but haven’t compromised on their brand for financial gain; that’s the type of company that we’re trying to build right now. It’s hard to run a socially conscious company and turn away money in this time of a looming financial crisis, but it’s what we do to ensure that we work with and reach the right people.

The toll that it takes on my mental health is quite extraordinary. Swim Dem Crew meet twice a week with both sessions arranged and coached by myself and my business partner; we are responsible for delivering those sessions not only at a high level but an enjoyable one too. Being responsible for people’s emotions — like running a business — is scary.

  1. The working hours are relentless because you’re always technically working and struggle to switch off
  2. Every second in London feels like time that is wasted, I regularly remind myself that if I don’t do something, someone else definitely will.
  3. The creative bursts at 12am that you get, so you’re working when you’re supposed to be sleeping.
  4. Then there’s the lack of affordable desk space. So you work from home until you can afford that expense. 

All while dealing with chasing invoice payments and trying to sneak in your packed lunch at whatever café you’re sitting in.

I’ve done the majority of this while trying to understand my mental health. The approach I take to mental health at the moment is that we all have mental health, and should view it the same way that we do physical health. If you’re in pain, you talk to someone about it — a professional at that. So in 2016, I signed up for talking therapy and also went on antidepressants. There are so many traits of my Anxiety and Depression that made Swim Dem Crew suffer as a result. Frustratingly, it was out of my control.

As I write this, in 2018, I’m proud to say that I’m in a better place and as a result, my business is better for it. Why do I say all of this? I say it because these are the factors that affect my ability to find the balance. While I reeled off point after point about why being an entrepreneur is hard and why poor mental health can lead to a poor business, I ignore all of the things that make it worthwhile.

There’s something deeply empowering about being in control of your own money, and charging what you know your time is worth. Working with brands to realise my vision for Swim Dem Crew is wonderful. I’ve created a community of people that support each other through testing times and I can honestly say that I’ve changed lives with Swim Dem Crew, we are a strong group of friends and we’ve done some amazing things. I am truly thankful for each memory that it has given me.

Then there’s the effect that it’s had on my mental health. I have 60 people that I can talk to about anything that’s on my mind and that’s so reassuring. I never have bad Mondays because I’m at Swim Dem, and my weekends always start off right because I’m with my friends.

Finding the balance between Entrepreneurship and my mental health is actually more manageable than I previously thought. It’s like a relationship. A relationship (according to Casey Neistat) is about two people coming together for a relationship while maintaining each others sense of being. So, for me, it’s about acknowledging the good and bad points from Entrepreneurship, the good and bad from mental health, and focusing on how it all affects me. I am the relationship in question and these two aspects of my life work together to better my life experience. Sure, there’s plenty of bumps along the way but it’s all a part of the journey”

Nathaniel Cole is a writer, researcher and founder of both Swim Dem Crew, an inner city Swimming Club and Blacxellence, a site that showcases Black activists and creatives.


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