The Truth About Founder Burnout

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As entrepreneurs, we’re told to ‘watch out for burnout’, as if it’s something lurking around the corner waiting to pounce.

We’re told to ‘keep an eye out for the signs’, but many of us don’t know what to look for. Partly because we’re too wrapped up in our businesses, but partly because too few of us are willing to share our own experiences with burnout.

This is my story of almost getting side-swiped by burnout, and coming out a stronger person on the other side.

When Paradise Feels Like Hell

Life was good in 2001. It was an exciting, joyful time in my life. I was 26 and married to a wonderful, supportive man. It had been nearly two years since I founded my company, and I was already enjoying great success. For the first time in my  life, I was getting paid to do what I truly loved. I was featured on the covers of newspapers, in magazines, and on TV shows. In short, I had the world by the balls.

But I could feel trouble brewing just under the surface. I had what looked like a ‘perfect’ life, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was living in a fairytale.

I wasn’t sleeping. I was anxious. I was consumed by obsessive thoughts. My business was taking over my life. I was crashing. I was on the brink of a burnout, only I didn’t have the insight or experience to understand what was happening to my mind and my body.

What Real Burnout Feels Like

I often hear people saying ‘ya, I’ve been burnt out before’, when really they were just suffering from a minor bout of having too much on their plate.

Burnout is so much more than that. It is powerful and all-consuming. Luckily, I caught myself before things got more serious.

What burnout (or the onset of burnout) feels like, is the inability to feel at ease, happy, and restful. Everything pisses you off – traffic, lines at the bank, phone calls. Your mind is no longer your own. It is overtaken by ideas, worries, and concerns flying through your head at all hours of the day and night. Forget sleep. You are unable to shut your brain off at night, meaning that your body is denied sleep that it is so desperately craving, which only exacerbates your condition.

I was so focused on growing my business bigger, and bigger…but the more it grew, the less I appreciated the success. Every high became no big deal.

But one of the worst parts of this experience was the impact it had on my husband and my marriage. Our conversations were overrun with talks of my stresses and wins. There was only room for me, my problems, and my life.

Calling In the Professionals

So, how did I pull myself out of the depths of an entrepreneurial burnout?

Well, I credit my mother (a wonderful therapist herself) with pulling me aside and gently holding up a mirror to the frazzled mess that I had become. She suggested that, maybe, it was time for me to see someone professionally.

At the time, one of my workout buddies, whom I had gotten to know quite well, was a therapist herself. I made the bold step and asked her if she would see me professionally. And to this day I am so glad that she said yes. Gradually, with her help and the support of my compassionate, understanding family – I crawled out of the dark hole that is burnout, and found my old self again.

But the journey of self-care for an entrepreneur is never over. In the words of Lori Greiner, “entrepreneurs are willing to work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks”, and that lifestyle leaves us vulnerable to stress and burnout. Throughout the years, these five self-care tips have helped keep me sane through the highs and lows of business ownership and family life.

1. Get help
Find an objective ear and shoulder to lean on. Often just knowing that that person is there can be helpful.

2. You don’t have to stop, but you do have to balance
One of the most helpful things that my therapist said was this: “Don’t eliminate your gifts. Be your authentic self, but complement it and balance it with a calmer lifestyle.” You don’t have to give it all up, you just have to adapt your lifestyle a bit.

3. Create a ‘worry list’, and leave it on your nightstand
This is exactly what it sounds like. If you wake up with something on your mind, write it down and forget it. Give yourself the mental space to relax, knowing that you’ve recorded the concern to deal with it later.

4. Learn your limits, know your needs
Forget the status quo or the Jones’. Focus on what you need to be happy and healthy. Listen to your body and respect your limits.

5. Sleep
Sleep is your biggest immunity booster and stress fighter. It is impossible to be at the mental peak necessary to be an effective founder without sufficient sleep. Cut the caffeine intake, get some exercise, and set a cut-off time from work every night.

The struggle with burnout is common in the entrepreneurial community. Whether or not we care to admit it, many of us have had moments where it all felt like too much. It is also essential to know the signs of more extreme burnout (depression, suicidal thoughts, etc), which has been widely talked about in the community as of late.

I tell my story to start a conversation, and to let other founders who might be wrestling with stress and burnout themselves know that they aren’t alone. If you want to talk about work-life balance, feel free to reach out on Clarity. I’d love to hear from you.

Have you ever struggled with burnout? How did you overcome it?


About the author: Erica Diamond is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of the Award-Winning Women’s Lifestyle blog WomenOnTheFence.com. Her first business journey awarded her a Young Entrepreneur Award, Top 30 under 30 Entrepreneur Award, Top 40 under 40 Entrepreneur Award nomination, among numerous others, and finally, The Profit Hot 50 Award.

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Comments.

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  • http://twitter.com/DmytroPros Dmytro Prosyanko

    Written like someone heard my story! Thank you very much for this amazing article, it just made day. I wish you good luck and all the best! You rock!

  • http://twitter.com/DmytroPros Dmytro Prosyanko

    Could you let me know where I can follow you(twitter, blog, whatever) please?

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  • R. A. Kemple

    I believe that burnout is directly due to a persons ability to deal with stress. Some of us handle it better than others, mostly due to our personality. I’ve never suffered burnout, and I don’t think I will. I love what I do, but there are days when I sit at the dinner table trying to work through a problem while keeping costs down so my project comes in under budget. I’ve spent more than one night listening to my wife sleep peacefully, while thoughts of bankruptcy tumbled through my head. Those days happen, but when my business starts consuming my family time and my off hours, I make a special effort to go do activities that force my mind off business for a few hours. One of my favorites is rock climbing. (This isn’t a good idea unless you know what you’re doing) I have to concentrate on the cliff face. I cannot let my mind wander to business, but I’m not thinking of anything more stressful than, “will this rock hold my weight?” Yes, burnout can and does happen, but if you take time away from work, in an activity that forces your thoughts away from work, you will get that needed down time and avoid burnout. The less time you feel like you have to spend with your family, the more you need to make sure your spending time with your family. This doesn’t mean talking business to your family, it means actively listening to your spouse tell you about anything other than your work. For me, that often means listening to foreign politics. (My wife likes that stuff)

    • Blen Butterson

      Have you ever started or ran a growing business for an extended period of time? Maybe you just haven’t experienced burnout yet.

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