Behind every successful, booming startup is often a founder teetering on the verge of burnout. Learn how three women learned to recommit to themselves.
By Nicole Bélanger (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)
While we each have our own labels and codewords we use to describe these challenging episodes in our lives, the experience is truly universal. Nearly every founder, maker and creator you speak to has some variation of the same story to tell about the psychological price of entrepreneurship.
The moment when it all became too much. The moment when they were jolted from their old patterns of thought and behavior by an experience -- or series of experiences -- that brought them to their knees. The moment when it became glaringly evident that the way they had been operating was no longer working, and that it was time to make a change.
The three stories you are about to read are representative of the wide spectrum of founder experiences -- from teetering on the edge of full-on burnout to a new year’s decision to recommit to self.
These entrepreneurs are candid about the fact that reaching this personal and professional juncture can be unsettling, but they also demonstrate it can be a moment of grace. An opportunity to pause and reflect, to become more conscious and deliberate in the way that we live and work. Their stories serve as an important reminder that no matter how alone you might feel in the middle of your “spiritual awakening,” countless other founders have been through the same struggle, done the hard work and are now better off for the experience.
As author, researcher and professor Brene Brown explained in her powerful TED talk on shame, “the two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”
Renee Warren, Co-Founder of Onboardly
I knew I had to make a change when…
I realized that, in a 24-hour day, the only time I had to myself was when I was sleeping. From dawn until dusk I was either a full time CEO, mother, housekeeper or wife, and there was quite literally no time for me. No time to work out, get a pedicure, read or even go out with my friends. Some may say this was self-inflicted, and there is a grain of truth to that. But I couldn’t figure out who would do all the work if it wasn’t me.
So, on January 1st of this year, I decided to make 2014 the year of Renee. This was an uncharacteristically selfish thought for me, and it took me some time to fully respect my decision to take time for myself. But as I progressed through the year, it became evident that this new practice made everyone in my life happier and better. Business boomed, my kids started regularly sleeping through the night and were less fussy and my husband respected me/loved me more.
When you slow down and “smell the flowers,” it opens up all your senses. You see things differently, you sleep better and your thoughts are more clear. Me-time means more focused work, more inspiring ideas, and bigger leaps forward. I am starting to realize who I really am and starting to see my path in life.
Here’s how I started practicing self-care…
1. Sleep is absolutely the #1 indicator of a healthy lifestyle. I told my husband that my only two requirements -- regardless of travel plans and workload -- was that I needed eight hours of uninterrupted sleep at night and the ability to work 45 hours/week.
As mothers will understand, this is a big deal. We have a 1 and a 2 year-old and thankfully we have had them on a decent sleep schedule since they were both three months old. They sleep 11-12 hour nights so asking for an 8-hour sleep was entirely realistic.
2. One hour of “me time” every day. It can be anything from having a bath, reading a magazine, working out or watching TV -- whatever I feel like doing in the moment. What matters is that I get at least one hour of uninterrupted me-time.
3. Eating and exercise. This, I like to do with the family. Planning and having dinner together every night is so important. We take the time to talk about each others day, and introduce new foods to the boys’ pallets. (My two year old loves salmon and falafel wraps, who would have thought?)
As a family, we hike together, go to the playground and run around, go for long walks and otherwise involve the kids as much as we can into our daily routines. Showing them from an early age how much we love to eat well and exercise helps to shape their healthy mindsets as well. We are their role models, so everything they see us eat, do, and say they interpret as something they also can and should be doing. It’s good practice for us anyway!
Erica Diamond, Founder & Editor-In-Chief, WomenOnTheFence.com
I knew I had to make a change when...
Somewhat ironically, the realization that I had to slow down came when I was at the height of my game. I was 26 years old, newly married and thriving by all accounts.
For years I dreamed of making my passion my paycheque and it had finally happened. My business was on fire, we were being covered on TV, in newspapers and in magazines, I was receiving numerous awards, and I was named to the Profit Hot 50 list -- the only female CEO that year.
On the surface it looked like I was rockin' it, but I was quietly suffering and getting dangerously close to burnout.
If you've never experienced burnout before, it feels almost like a constant agitation. Everything becomes irritating. You get into bed at night, unable to shut off your brain. Because of this, you do not get restful and restorative sleep, which leads to more anxiety and worry.
I became so fixated on growing my business, that what happened was, the more I grew, the more I stopped appreciating it. Every high became no big deal. I was monopolizing our marriage with talks of both daily work stresses and accomplishments. Everything was do or die, life or death. I mapped out and planned every minute of every day, and managed to become a highly functioning and successful MESS. Here's how I started practicing self-care...
Thankfully my mother, a therapist, noticed what was going on with me and suggested that I see someone professionally, which was a tremendous help. Getting into therapy was a gift to myself. One of the most helpful things she told me was that slowing down didn't have to mean diminishing my gifts: "Don't eliminate your gifts. Be your authentic self, but complement it and balance it with a calmer lifestyle." For me that meant yoga, but it can be anything that brings you feelings of peace and calm.
Sleep had become a major issue for me at the time, and another great tool was my "worry list.” Whenever I became confronted with stressful thoughts during my sacred sleeping hours, I transferred them to a piece of paper on my nightstand and let myself worry about it the next day -- off my head and onto paper to deal with tomorrow.
If I learned one thing through the whole ordeal, it's that good restorative sleep is absolutely essential.
Caroline Ghosn, Founder & CEO, Levo
I knew I had to make a change when…
I contracted salmonella and was unable to function for a week, and then unable to go back to eating varied foods for another two months. It made me realize the baseline state my body was operating in, and how tired I had been.
Here’s how I started practicing self-care…
From then on, I began what has become an increasingly ambitious wellness regimen, documented and monitored using wearable technology. I measure my sleep and aim for 7-8 hours a night, cut out coffee altogether for two years to eliminate my addiction (and now have, with a doctor's blessing, returned to a half mug 2-3 times a week in the morning for the antioxidant benefits), work out 2-3 times a week, and meditate once a week.
I'm working towards meditating once a day - that is my new goal and the next step.
You Don’t Have to Wait for a Crisis
A common element in so many stories of breakdown, awakening and transformation is the metaphorical ‘salmonella’ -- an event or experience that forces us to revisit our lifestyle choices, whether we’re ready to or not. But the good news is that you don’t have to wait for food poisoning, or major loss, or depression to start making changes.
While we still live in a culture that tends to conflate productivity with worth and constant forward motion with success, there is a noticeable shift happening in the way we think about work and business that is leading us towards a more holistic definition of what it means to thrive as an entrepreneur.
A moment of peace and presence is now just a tap away, and conversations about mental health and balance are no longer taboo in many entrepreneurial circles.
Now is the time to capitalize on this sea change and claim your right to do things differently.
What has helped you get back on track after experiencing burnout?
About the author: Nicole Bélanger is a writer turned coach and speaker who is dedicated to helping others find and live by their authentic definition of success. A two-time TEDx speaker, her writings on personal development, entrepreneurship, and careers have been published in Levo League, Business Insider, Women 2.0, Urban Native Magazine and Huffington Post Women. She tweets at @nskbelanger.