Qs: What is entrepreneurial burnout? Who’s susceptible to it?
As: Basically, prolonged, chronic stress and everyone (business owners like us in particular).
Psychology Today defines burnout as a state of chronic stress that leads to:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Cynicism and detachment
- Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Signs that you’ve got burnout going on include doozies like:
- Chronic fatigue
- Increased illness
- Physical symptoms like chest pain or heart palpitations
INTENSE. Entrepreneurial burnout is no joke. Symptoms can be life-threatening. It’s amazing how stress can screw us up, especially when prolonged.
Entrepreneurial burnout is real and pervasive — how we deal with it can mean the difference between quitting our dream and running a thriving business.
Let’s talk about what burnout looks like for entrepreneurs and how some of us are overcoming it (because yes, we can!).
Suffering from entrepreneurial burnout? Join the club
Last month, Derek Halpern of Social Triggers published a poignant post on entrepreneurial burnout. It explained how he ended up perennially exhausted and even angry due to becoming BORED of his work(!).
But what about the “follow your passion” cliche that’s supposed to solve all our problems? L-O-freakin’-L.
Cal Newport (in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You) argues that you should become great at something and use that skill to help people. That way, you’ll succeed quickly and be happy. I’m not fully behind that notion.
My Entrepreneurial Burnout Story
That’s basically what I did with this business, Website Superhero: I started learning how to code, found it fun, and built an entire business around it. Fast-forward to a few years later, and I found myself burned out on making websites.
What went wrong?
What’s the magical balm that can keep us from burning out in the first place?
Almost two years ago, I wrote a post on reigniting creativity by finding a community. For me, at that time, what helped was going to conferences and hanging out in person with other web designers and developers. Taking my business from online to in-person to experience more connection. (FYI I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Miami in March, join us!)
Entrepreneurial burnout can look different for each of us. For me, the newfound inspiration didn’t last too long because I hadn’t addressed the root cause and, soon afterward, I decided to stop running Website Superhero full-time.
My reasons were complex and included my beloved dog Naomi getting terminal cancer and dying, so of course I was more preoccupied with getting her treatment than with my clients that summer (of course, when you run your own business, this creates havoc and you lose money when you need it most), and afterward I was consumed by devastating grief. Her illness and death are the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through.
I was also struggling with the loneliness that comes with working remotely, alone, from home, in a city that’s never felt right and that I wasn’t able to leave yet.
2016 was a year that tore me apart and I needed a huge change. So when a local company found me and offered me a position as their Web Developer, I took it.
Taking that job was a blessing because, not only was leaving home every day helpful as I dealt with Naomi’s death, but also I get to experiment freely within Website Superhero without fear and with more play (because the money continues to flow from my day job, which removes a lot of the risk). I also get to be around people every day (although that comes with its own challenges — being an introvert is tricky!).
Now, at Website Superhero, I therefore get to help my ideal peeps for less money — I’m even bartering with a healer right now — because I can and want to (not that there’s anything wrong with charging lots of money — it’s just that money isn’t my main motivator). If I were doing this full-time, though? I’d naturally have to hustle for more clients and charge them all more. But right now, a new breed of ideal clients is finding me while I take time to figure things out. And I’m so grateful for that.
Another benefit of taking a day job for me has been learning a TON of new tools and skills I wouldn’t have had space for (or funds to purchase/data to use) that I’m now using to add lots more value to my Website Superhero clients. It’s thanks to my day job that I learned what I needed to create my new signature service (data-driven content marketing strategy + tech coaching, still in beta) and became interested in different skills, so that I’ve been pivoting my business away from web design/development and toward pure digital strategy and tech coaching.
This is why the focus of the blog has shifted toward pure strategy and SEO and why I haven’t been pitching you services and courses right and left — I’m rediscovering my path and just don’t have the bandwidth for more than one client at a time (which — bonus! — means that each client gets my full attention).
Derek Halpern says he reignited his flame by putting FUN back into his business (in the form of a daily YouTube show) because it energizes him, despite how intense it is to produce.
Ironically, taking a day job has allowed me to pursue experimentation and fun in my business without having to worry about the financial repercussions of that decision. It’s allowed me to stop creating and selling to make bank, and instead to give myself space to breathe and ponder what new angle I may want to pursue next, to connect and help more people without expecting something back.
Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I’ve been showing my other passions and awesomely it’s boosted my engagement.
As you can imagine, it isn’t easy for me to share my story of entrepreneurial burnout. It’s taken me over a year to be able to write about this publicly.
I burned out from making websites, but that’s okay. Now, I nerd out about content marketing and SEO. I want to be challenged consistently — that’s how I grow, and I like to grow nonstop! So who knows what I’ll be doing in several years? (Don’t ask me for a five-year plan because I’d rather let the universe surprise me!)
How can I prevent entrepreneurial burnout in the future?
I hope that next time, I will switch gears and start on my new focus before burning out. Until then, my approach is to continue seeking that which fuels me, and to cultivate that. All the while helping my favorite people: health and life coaches doing the transformational work that changes lives. Website Superhero’s here to be the woman behind the life-changer that is you, superhero.
“If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?”).”
– Cal Newport
As a values-driven being, I resonate with this quote ^ and want to help and be of service. I’ve rescued and fostered several dogs and cats, volunteered outside a women’s clinic for 18 months, volunteered for a few animal welfare groups, and donate to organizations I believe in every month. I also go above and beyond for my favorite clients and consult for friends for free. And I work on myself daily through meditation, NLP, and other means to evolve and be a more peaceful and joyful person.
But the world is bigger than myself, than my circle, and I want to expand my wings farther. On the one hand, that is wonderful. On the other, I never see the finish line: there’s always more to do, see, learn, offer. And the downside of that is that it may never feel like enough (I’ve certainly experienced that dark side in other parts of my life and I will tell you: it ain’t pretty).
So how do people who share this demanding growth mindset balance it out, so we can stay helpful while honoring ourselves?
You’re not alone: Read others’ entrepreneurial burnout stories
I don’t have a solution to share with you. It’s a highly personal, highly delicate situation that many, if not all of us, will encounter at some point in our entrepreneurial journey.
- Heart Behind Hustle founder Kamila Gornia recently blogged about having panic attacks and secluding herself in her business during 2016.
- Business mindset coach and my friend Holly Worton just wrote an email about finding herself “in that messy middle again” and feeling “like things weren’t quite right” last month. (Her answer is to keep taking action, and she offers a podcast episode on How to Create More Ease & Flow in Business.) Also, check out Holly’s episode on burnout here to learn about the mindset you need to build a successful business without burnout, plus practical actions you can take to avoid overwhelm.
- Business coach Kyla Roma wrote an Instagram post about having big plans for 2018 but being off to a slow start and feeling seasick when sitting down to set revenue goals and business models. (Her answer is to rest and connect with her family.)
- Here again is Derek Halpern’s post on his burnout story
And these are the brave women and men willing to discuss the pain and possible shame of burnout or semi-burnout. Most of us would rather keep it out of the public eye, but a brave few are coming out of the darkness and sharing their stories and breakthroughs.
I hope these stories will help you feel that it’s okay to be open about your own.
So what’s a passionate business owner to do to get ahead of burnout?
Whether you’re having a rough month for personal reasons, or have been burning the proverbial candle at 92 ends for years and you’re running out of fumes, you can get past this, superhero! We’re in this together.
How to get past entrepreneurial burnout
This is a work in progress for me and I’m no expert. That said, below are lessons I’ve gathered so far, followed by tips shared by people like you and me who’ve gone through it and come out the other side, plus by people who are out there to help us not have to deal with burnout in the first place.
Entrepreneurial burnout is a thing, it’s a common thing, and we deserve to discuss it with each other, openly. It’s the only way we can help each other, share strategies, and evolve together. Burnout is worse when we feel alone, and clearly we aren’t, fellow superheroes.
So here find advice from yours truly + other awesome humans:
I’ve been meditating daily for nearly 3 years, and in January I started hosting a local weekly meditation group. The results are sometimes immediate (you may feel calm and uplifted after one 30-minute session, just like with yoga) or you may just start to feel more generally calm within a few months. What happened for me was that one or two months into meditating daily, if I had a crazy day where I felt frazzled, I’d look at my day to figure out why and realize, “OH, I forgot to meditate this morning!”
Suggestions to get started:
- Start with guided meditations. Download an app like Headspace (where you’ll find short breath-and-body-focused meditations — I used this app for a year and it’s super useful) or listen to guided meditations by Tara Brach or from Against the Stream (note: some are dharma talks, not meditations). These are my favorites: Buddhist mindfulness meditations — I encourage you to experiment and find what you like best.
- Pick a time of day and schedule it in to make sure you do it. At night, it’ll help you unwind and sleep well. But I prefer doing them in the morning to set a nice tone for my entire day. Best of all is to do them morning and night!
- Pick a place where you’ll meditate. In the mornings, I like to turn off my alarm and immediately lie back down in bed under the covers, put crystals on my chakras (depending on what I feel I need that day), and press play on the meditation that calls out to me. At the meditation group in the evenings, I light a candle, dim the lights, and sit on my zafu (meditation pillow) in a particular spot in the room that I prefer. Perhaps you’ll want to use your desk chair or your couch and light incense. Make your practice your own.
- Done is better than perfect. Meditating here and there is better than not meditating at all. Do what you can. But I promise you that if you stat doing it daily, you’ll notice the most benefits!
- Join other meditators. If you want to do it in community or “sangha” (my fave), get on Meetup.com to find local groups!
Listen, ’nuff said. Try it online from your cozy home with Yoga Today (lots of styles/paces/teachers with a gorgeous mountain backdrop), Tara Stiles (faster paced, playful), Yoga with Adriene (check out her 30-day yoga challenge), or any that you like! Or of course, check out a local class!
Yoga is very powerful for not just helping with entrepreneurial burnout, but also calming your mind, toning your body, and helping you feel calm and peaceful as you encounter everyday stress.
Did you know there’s such a thing as adaptogenic herbs that help with stress? WHOA, right? I even used one to help me get off a prescribed medication for anxiety some 6 years ago (it’s rhodiola, if you’re curious! I still take it daily.). Take that, big-name psychiatrist who said I’d have to be on meds forever!
Two other rad ones that help with stress are ashwagandha and holy basil. And I’m sure there are others you can look up.
Disclaimer: I’m not a healthcare professional obviously, so talk to your favorite herbalist/naturopath/health coach/functional medicine doc to help you pick the best herbs for you.
Get on the “NO” train
This is one of my favorites for dealing with entrepreneurial burnout! This means avoiding new commitments until you feel ready again. I gave myself permission to start doing this after hearing Marie Forleo preach about it in 2013.
I put myself back on the “no” train whenever I need it. Get clear on whether you really need to say “yes” to new things that come your way because, most of the time? You can probably get out of them!
Writer Alexandra Franzen has a lovely free workbook called “How to Say ‘No'” with scripts you can use to very nicely — and firmly — say “hellllll nuh.”
Psychology Today advises that you make a list of things that bum/stress you out, and then next to each item, write something concrete you can do to improve the situation. This is excellent because it gets you to feel you have control over the situation again. I’ve done this exercise when I worked with a CBT psychologist and it’s legit useful.
What can you take off your plate and give to someone else? Or simply by putting systems into place? Ideally, you’ll be able to let go of the stuff that doesn’t light you up.
I try to go outside every day for a walk, even if short, and time in the sunshine amid the trees. The fresh air and sunlight recharge me and have the power to transform my mood — add some uplifting music as a bonus (hellooo, The Supremes and Louis Armstrong!).
Even if it’s below zero where you are and the idea of going outside is horrifying, get some air-purifying indoor plants and get far away from all your tech devices for some hours each day to help you both prevent and get past entrepreneurial burnout. Breaaathe.
Get together with other humans IRL
IRL, you know, in real life. In person. Get some hugs in! Get some laughs in! I’m largely an introvert but even so, I need human contact and I need a lot of it, especially when it comes with affection.
We are social beings, like it or not. At least, get to a yoga class a few times a week, or somewhere where you can be with others in a positive state and exchange vibes with like-minded peeps.
If you have a partner or other loved ones in town, you are lucky. Be with them! Make the time. It’s important. We are wired for this. Don’t give me any of that #foreveralone bullshit, we humans need each other!
Tips from fellow entrepreneurs and wellness experts to overcome entrepreneurial burnout
Business Coach Ashley Gartland loves boundaries – and they are so important! (Remember that “no” train?)
“To prevent burnout in my business, I put boundaries in place (and then respect them). I also set my days and weeks up by scheduling the most important life stuff (family time, trail runs, yoga, etc.) in my calendar first. THEN, and only then, do I schedule my work hours and tasks around them.”
“I took a long rest from pretty much everything [for two months] and hibernated, sleeping and resting a lot.
I spent a lot of time reconnecting with my body through Ostheopathy, Feldenkrais sessions and meditation during my downtime, because I realized I’d gotten very out of touch, even though I exercised a lot. I worked through Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Workbook to get some perspective on the year and did a lot of journaling to get back to the core of what’s true for me.
I also took great care to make sure my basics were covered as best as possible:
1) Sleeping as much as I needed as much as possible.
2) Staying well hydrated, particularly drinking water as soon as I got up to shake off sleep fog.
3) Eating well, though I also allowed my body to follow its cravings and ate some comfort foods I don’t tend to normally eat much.
4) Getting outside in the sun and fresh air whenever possible.
5) Spending time alone
6) Spending time with people who lift me up
7) Normally exercising is also one of my essentials, though in this case my body craved rest and I let it have it. I think the long rest, physically and mentally was really crucial for me to really recuperate.”
Business Strategist Carrie D. Clarke recommends the following revolutionary approach:
“Taking breaks and treating yourself the same as you would treat your VIP clients. Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint, and we often feel ‘guilty’ taking time out, but guess what? We are more productive for it — so consider it an investment in your business.”
Natie Kwait, Life Coach, wants you to prioritize yourself to overcome and prevent entrepreneurial burnout:
“Make time for you daily, I invite you to keep your phone off until you are ready to full-blown start your day. Perhaps meditate, breathe, journal, set daily intentions, or turn on your favorite song to shake your booty! Guarantee you will feel different and get way more done during the day!
Set your alarm for at least 3 scheduled times throughout the day for you to take breaks, perhaps even have a mantra that you see every time your alarm goes off, such as, “I give myself time and acknowledge my wins.” It’s a time to stay grounded and centered regardless of how busy you are.
Turn off your phone at least 1 or 2 hours if you can prior to bedtime. This is so beyond helpful, along with some Yoga Nidra or Chi Gung.
Have at least 1 or 2 other entrepreneur friends who you can connect with on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. It gives you your motivational cheerleaders tribe and rawly honest colleagues who will speak truth to you no matter what.
I find that the number one thing for me to avoid burnout is to GO HAVE FUN, and the only way to do that is to literally schedule it. I recommend blocking out “fun time” in your planner. It’s so beyond important to allow yourself that time to enjoy life, creating space for creativity to flow.”
Kyla Roma, Marketing and Profitability Strategist, shares her insights:
“A lot of burnout comes from the fear of missing out and fear that we won’t be seen as nice. It’s been crucial for me to realize that while I close off opportunities when I say no, having a loaded schedule means I say no to just as many opportunities. We fool ourselves when we slip into thinking that saying no and having boundaries makes us miss out. When we say no, we make space for a future hell yes.”
Entrepreneurial burnout is a thing and if you haven’t already, you’ll probably face it at some point.
The good news is: we’re in this together! Being part of a community that understands it is healing.