The topic of entrepreneurial burnout and entrepreneur stress is a bit sensitive, and somewhat of a departure from what I normally write about.
It’s that time of year, once again, where my wife and I had to say our goodbyes to our two children.
My son and daughter joined us on a one-week family trip to Portugal.
At the end of the Portugal trip, our kids flew back to school while my wife and I continued our vacation in Croatia for 10 days. That’s me in Dubrovnik.
It’s now my fourth time saying goodbye to my son, and my second time for my daughter. I must admit, it doesn’t get any easier.
The night before my kids flew home, my daughter mentioned to me how excited she was to go back to school.
She was excited to see her friends once again and get back into the whole school environment. PLUS, although she didn’t say this to me, I suspect she’s equally as excited to have her complete independence for another eight months without her parents looking over her shoulder.
She was excited. Her parents, not so much.
On the one hand, nothing makes me prouder as a father than watching my children grow into mature and responsible young adults. On the other hand, I find it challenging saying goodbye to my kids knowing that they’re getting older and, with each passing year, they need their parents just a little less (incidentally, I wrote a blog last year when she left for school).
I’ve always viewed vacation as an occasion to spend as much quality time with my family, but throughout the years when I was running a business, I played this constant game of tug-of-war between my business and my need to unwind and relax.
It’s obviously much easier for me now to switch off my phone because I receive maybe three emails a day that needs to be dealt with, compared to when I was president and I received many dozens. It takes me maybe ten minutes, total, to reply to all of my emails now, and I do them all from my iPhone.
When I was president, while on vacation, I spent at least three hours a day working from my laptop. I woke up at 6 a.m. and got at least two hours of work done in the morning and then another hour before bed.
What I did was not healthy.
In my 27 years as president, I never took a full day off work. My wife can attest to this.
I would sometimes find myself sneaking away, iPhone in hand, to check my email.
I’m not proud of the above.
I don’t wear the fact that I never took a day off work as a badge of honor, and while we did go on many family vacations, I never fully unwound.
I lived the life of the consummate entrepreneur workaholic working countless hours, and dealing with entrepreneurial burnout and stress.
Here’s what I did learn much later in my working career …
Business Size Does Reduce Stress.
At least for me, it did.
The larger the business got, the easier it was to disconnect. It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
The larger the business, the more management we had in place. The more management, the less I had to get involved in the day-to-day minutiae, and the more I could rely on my senior managers to make decisions, deal with client issues, and run the business.
Here’s something else I learned much later in my working career.
When I was young, I was invincible. I believed I would live forever. The notion of entrepreneurial burnout, stress, or being a workaholic never occurred to me. I kept plowing along. There was no need to relax, exercise, eat healthily, or manage stress.
I didn’t look after myself.
I worked long hours. I ate poorly. I slept horribly, and I got easily irritated and stressed.
My unhealthy living habits, and the unmanaged stress especially, eventually did catch up to me.
Quite a number of years ago (at least 15), I found myself having a personal mini-breakdown (more on that later in this post).
I knew something had to change because I couldn’t continue as I was living.
I came to the realization that I had to put as much dedication and determination into living healthily, and in dealing with the entrepreneurial burnout, as I did in growing a business. I owed it not only to my family but to myself, especially.
Running and growing a business is super-challenging work, and if the person at the helm isn’t healthy, then the business will eventually suffer.
To Much Stress on the Entrepreneur and the Business Will Suffer
And here’s the big BUT …
But YOU will suffer even more.
I spend a significant amount of time writing about the following three things: increasing revenues, profits, and creating wealth.
What I don’t spend enough time writing about is probably the most important topic: taking care of your personal and mental health. I suppose that’s best left for other blogs, and frankly, it’s definitely not my area of expertise, but I’ll provide my perspective.
The Magnitude of the Entrepreneurial Burnout, Workaholic, and Stress Problem
There’s a psychiatrist in California, Michael Freeman. He studies mental health among business owners.
What he’s found is that most business owners are more susceptible to things like substance abuse, more predisposed to conditions like ADHD, and more prone to episodes of depression and burnout.
It isn’t overly surprising that many entrepreneurs suffer from depression. Being a business owner is a lonely and stressful job. That’s what can lead to entrepreneurial burnout.
We don’t have to look very far to find stories like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, two recent high-profile entrepreneur suicides, to recognize that mental health is a major issue among people like us.
While there is no easy solution for managing mental health conditions, things, like eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and cultivating supportive and nurturing relationships, can go a long way.
Take Care of Yourself First
We need to take care of ourselves before the needs of our business.
Most entrepreneurs have it wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I also sometimes fall into that camp of not taking good enough care of myself. Fortunately, I’m now working under much less stressful conditions, so I’ve sort of resolved my stress, but I did, and still do, try to live as healthy as possible.
So how can entrepreneurs live a less stressful life?
Find Your Park Bench (Figurative) to Reduce Stress
I have a client who I started working with about a year ago,and we’re working together on building his business, expanding sales, and so on.
He does something that I believe is genius.
He spends 15 to 30 minutes a week sitting on a bench tucked away on a quiet path near his house. He gets in a mental zone where he focuses on his personal priorities and spends time every week thinking through his life and whether he’s on the right track.
His mental zone of clarity comes when he’s at a park bench.
That’s where he finds peace.
Some people find meditation helps with finding mental clarity.
Here’s My Challenge to You
Find your park bench.
Not literally and necessarily a bench but figuratively. Find your place where you can spend some time alone, at least 15 minutes a week, thinking through your life’s priorities.
Ask Yourself These Four Life Questions:
- What do you want from life?
- What are your priorities,
- What is your vision? And,
- Are you living true to those priorities?
Recognize that there are more important priorities in life than your business. Your physical and mental health, family, friends, and peace of mind all trump business, because, without these important ingredients, you’ll have no business in no time.
The entrepreneurial burnout and stress will make you suffer, and your business suffer even more.
Seven Signs that You’re Dealing with Entrepreneurial Burnout and Stress.
- You’re having a hard time staying focused
- You’re not sleeping well, or waking in the middle of the night and not able to go back to sleep (this is one I’ve dealt with for many years)
- Your business is stagnant, or worse, suffering
- Your staff notice that you’re more stressed than normal, and are getting angry about small things that normally wouldn’t bother you
- Your family is noticing that you’re acting differently
- You’re not as creative as you normally are
- You’re constantly exhausted
So beyond “finding your park bench”, what are some of the other things that you can do to address burnout?
Recognize and Acknowledge The Stress-Related Problems
The first part of dealing with an issue is recognizing that you have a problem in the first place. Of course, unless you can acknowledge the problem, it isn’t going to get addressed.
Did you answer YES to some of the seven questions listed above?
Are you having problems sleeping, for example?
Sleeping, or lack thereof, was my first sign that I had a work stress-related problem and that I was dealing with entrepreneurial burnout.
Once you’ve admitted to yourself that you’re dealing with burnout, depression, or stress, then set commit to dealing with it. It’s also important that you recognize the “why” it’s happening in the first place.
Promise to Make Changes
The word “promise” is a personal commitment, and clearly the first step to dealing with an issue.
The changes that need to happen could be as simple as “finding your park bench”, meditating, spending more time with family and friends, exercise, and getting more sleep, but, the “fix” only begins once you recognize that you have a problem.
My stress issues resulted in me not being able to sleep, which made me tired, stressed, and burnt-out.
As a result, I wasn’t as creative, and in turn, my decision-making abilities suffered.
I stopped playing tennis, which I was playing once to twice a week.
It started a negative cycle that needed to be addressed.
I remember the morning after I hadn’t slept in two days (and I’m not exaggerating), that I was in the kitchen, nearly in tears, and asked my wife for help.
That for me was the first step toward fixing my issues.
It started a new beginning. I started exercising once again. I took more time off work, and became more aware of how I was feeling.
Entrepreneurial burnout is real. Stress is real. You might think that being a business owner workaholic will help you and your business succeed.
It won’t. In the end, your business will suffer.
You Only Have One Life … Live it With No Regret.
I heard Steve Jobs speak this line at a Stanford University convocation speech.
If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you will be right.
So what does your tomorrow hold for you?
Will you live your life with regrets, and only after it’s too late, stop and realize that you should have found your bench? Or, that you should have slowed down.
Recognize that workplace stress is real. Commit to dealing with it, and recognize that you need to be healthy in order to run a successful business.
Ask yourself every day, How are you living?
Ask yourself these questions, FIND YOUR PARK BENCH, and it just might be for you, like it was for me, a life-defining moment.
Now, go take a vacation, spend time with your family and loved ones, and try like heck to not check your email.
Good luck with your small business and wealth-creating journey.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy this one: Profit Isn’t a Disease. It’s the By-Product of a Well-Run Company. If You’re Not Yet Profitable, Fix It or Get a Job.
You should also consider subscribing to my blog. I publish one article a week on small business and wealth creation. You can subscribe here.
Also, I published a book during the summer of 2018, “The Kickass Entrepreneur’s Guide to Investing, Three Simple Steps to Create Massive Wealth with Your Business’s Profits.” It was number 1 on Amazon in both the business and non-fiction sections. You can get a free copy here.