What I learnt from my entrepreneurial burnout
I always imagined burn-out to involve a Britney 2007 moment that would end with me catatonic in a fancy rehab clinic on the coast somewhere. I often joked that my medical aid allows for two weeks of madness per year where I would check myself in at a Crescent Clinic, but I am yet to make use of this ‘perk’ of being a Discovery member.
And so when burnout hit me this year, I put it down to difficult clients and a little extra stress than usual. When I found myself apathetic to my team, the clients, the bills, I ignored it. I put it down to these tasks being mundane, to me being built for the high-level stuff like business development. But when even landing new business lacked the usual thrill that I loved to chase so much, my alarm bells began to ring.
The truth is, I think I had reached burn- out a good six months before really giving it the name. There were anxiety, fear and a general feeling of being out of love with everything, including family and friends. My need and cravings for alcohol and drugs seemed to increase and any sort of activity that was not eating and watching NetFlix was a lot of hard work.
I called it depression, I called it addiction, I called it marital issues, but I never ever called it burn-out. Burn-out was something fictional that life coaches preached when encouraging you to go after your passions. It was something employees felt when working for a slave driving boss for a pittance. I was living my passion, was my own boss, made my own hours and loved the hustle. Burn-out was for the weak minded, the quitters, the whiners.
It took a lot of introspection, which first started with the blaming of others, clients, team, friends family, my spouse before the word burn-out even cropped into my head. In fact, it was not even a word ever thrown around with anyone in my circle while going through the motions of what everyone called depression. Not once, did anyone say, “slow down, you’re heading for burnout.”
In fact, all anyone ever said was how much they admired my drive, my hustle, the number of balls I was able to juggle at once and how I easy I made it all look. All this did was validate my need to keep pushing on, to keep moving forward.
What was the hustle for if I was going to be so unhappy in the end? Where was the end anyway? Was I going to spend the rest of my life chained to this desk for 10 hours a day, only to rush home, pat my kids to bed and continue to slam away at my keyboard?
It got to a point where I couldn’t bring myself to read emails, to open social media, to watch another Goddamn motivational Facebook video! Life stopped being fun!
So much has been said about Instagram models and the pressure they feel to live up to the standard of beauty portrayed via the filters and makeup apps. People talk about the photoshopping of cover girls on our glossy mags, but that pressure is just as real in the world of the entrepreneur. When it seems the rest of the world is #LovingTheHustle as #EntrepreneursOfInstagram, it can be very tough to admit that while financially things may be well, mentally and emotionally you are pretty fucking exhausted!
This feeling felt a lot like the rock bottom feeling I had as a drug addict before getting clean. For me, that meant it was time to refocus on something else. My business needed to take a back seat for a little while I fixed my head and heart.
I began focusing on training again. I got my butt back into gym. Martial Arts and combat sports has been a consistent place of refuge for me over the last 12 years or so and this time would be no different. I plowed myself back into the gym, training daily, sometimes twice a day. I stayed away from the digital heroin that is social media for a while and opted to connect with people in person and in small groups, rather than the large-scale networking I had been doing and I opened channels of communication again with my mentors and coaches.
What I found was that I was not alone. So many of counterparts were feeling the same strain but were to ashamed to speak up. They took comfort in my courage to air my feelings. The truth is, I don’t know any other way to be. I have always spoken the truth about my challenges, as a mother, a wife and if business and while I am just doing me, if I am able to encourage and provide hope for a few people along the way, then that’s great news too!
Burnout is not stress
Burnout is a term that is used loosely these days. It’s often confused with stress but there’s a big difference between the two.
Stress is usually short-term.
If you are working on a project with an impending deadline chances are you will feel stressed for a few weeks.
But once that deadline has passed, your stress will lighten or disappear altogether.
Burnout on the other hand is a slow burn.
It can creep up on you slowly and before you know it, you feel overwhelmed, emotional and can’t stop crying.
If you’ve ever experienced any of the symptoms of burnout, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Burnout changes your outlook on life and your situation gradually worsens over time.
Left unchecked, burnout can drain you of energy, leaving you feeling lost, lonely and depressed.
You find yourself feeling disconnected from your job, as if you are simply going through the motions. Unlike stress, these feelings do not go away but seem to gain in intensity as time goes on.
You start making excuses to miss work. You become more easily irritated with your colleagues and, inevitably, thinking more and more about quitting your job.
Burnout doesn’t only affect you at work either.
It often spills over into other areas of your life and if it isn’t brought under control can wreak havoc on your relationships with friends and family.
Burnout can also impact your health and lead to sleeplessness, worrying, anxiety and depression so don’t ignore it.
The Universe has an amazing way of slowing you down when you’re going too fast, but you need to pay attention. A burnout, while anything but pleasant, comes with it a time to reflect, start paying attention to your mind and body again and begin to map a way forward more sustainably.
This burnout has taught me three things:
1.Goals and things that make you happy are constantly shifting. What may have been energy evoking previously, might now be energy sapping, pay attention that those signs!
2. Take time for YOU, just YOU. Being selfish is 100% okay.
3. Pay attention to yourself! The road back from burnout is a long one, if you listen to your body, you can avoid a lot of famage.