3 ways to stop founder burnout in its tracks

3 ways to stop founder burnout in its tracks

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As the founder of a new or growing startup, do you know what is the most important aspect of your business? Most people give answers like the product, the client either the brand. But do you want to know the real answer? It is your!

You are the most important element of your growing startup. This will not always be true, but it is true today. You can think of it as the analogy of a father and a son. It is impossible for a baby to be safe, happy, and healthy without a caring parent. Babies need a father’s support, care, nurturing, and strategic leadership to have any chance of growing up happy and healthy. Eventually, there comes a time when that child becomes a teenager and becomes capable of some level of independence. However, for many years, the father is the most essential ingredient.

There may come a time when your business can thrive without you (Apple and Steve Jobs are great examples), but when you first launch and scale, the business demands the best of you. Unfortunately, many companies never reach their full growth potential because the founder is a victim of burnout. I encourage you to proactively fight founder exhaustion before he has a chance to destroy yours.

Related: How to Recognize and Beat Burnout

What is founder burnout?

In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included “burnout” in its International Classification of Diseases. While he didn’t go as far as listing it as a medical condition, he did label it an “occupational phenomenon.”

According to the WHO, “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic job stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by three specific dimensions:

  • Feelings of exhaustion or depletion of energy.

  • Increased mental distance from one’s own work and/or feelings of cynicism and negativity related to one’s work or profession.

  • Reduced professional efficiency

While burnout is something that professionals in all walks of life deal with, there is a special “variant” known unofficially as “founder burnout” that affects… you guessed it… founders.

I’ve heard founders say things like:

  • My company just raised $90 million, but I’m so exhausted I want to quit.

  • We just expanded to six locations across the country. I want to get out, but I don’t want to leave my team hanging.

  • I don’t feel like I have any purpose in life, just a business that I’m working to keep alive.

  • I’ve spent the last five years of my life growing this company, but I’m tired and I don’t think we can sell the business.

These may seem like anomalies, but feelings like these are more common than you think. If you have ever felt this way, you are not alone. Symptoms of founder burnout include depression, anxiety, isolation, escapism, apathy, and burnout. It’s a feeling of losing your touch. In short, startups are tough. He feels trapped, but at the same time hesitates to leave when the opportunity arises.

Related: This Founder Thinks He’s Found the Answer to Burnout

Causes of Founder Burnout

Burnout can be frightening, alarming, and frustrating, especially when you realize you’ve worked your whole life to get to this moment and now can’t seem to get any joy or satisfaction out of it. So where does it start? Here are some possible causes:

  • Misalignment between vision and reality: As founders, we often start businesses with a particular goal, mission, or vision. Unfortunately, circumstances change, pivots happen, and the reality is often very different. If this misalignment between your original vision and business reality becomes too severe, a feeling of helplessness and confusion sets in. You begin to wonder why you are doing what you are doing.

  • Lack of passion: Burnout is rare when the founder has true passion. It almost always comes up in people who are pursuing a business idea that is outside their true realm of passion. For example, someone who starts an accounting software company because he sees the financial potential, but his true passion lies in being outdoors and spending time in nature. That lack of passion will eventually catch up with the founder.

  • too much control: If you are personally involved in every project, task, and decision within your company, you will burn out. As the business grows, this becomes increasingly unsustainable. You will feel the pressure building to the point where you resent the business.

  • Without work-life balance: In most cases, burnout is directly related to a lack of work-life balance. There is nothing else to ground you or tether you to reality. Your whole world is built around your business, which makes you feel like you can’t escape.

There are dozens of other contributing factors, but this at least gives you an idea of ​​some of the driving forces behind founder burnout.

Related: 7 Tips to Avoid Burnout When Growing a Business

How to overcome founder burnout

Beating burnout isn’t easy, but it is possible. The key is to act quickly and be proactive at the first signs that something is wrong. Here are some tips:

1. Start the day right

Avoid waking up and immediately jumping to work. You need some time to prepare for the day. Take at least 60 minutes in the morning and start the day totally unplugged. Try meditation, journaling, or even exercise.

2. Do a dopamine fast

Dr. Cameron Sepah believes that one of the best ways to interrupt the exhaustion cycle is through something he calls “dopamine fasting.” The idea is that his brain is constantly exposed to quick, cheap hits of dopamine throughout the day, making it difficult to achieve a true state of flow. By doing dopamine fasts, which means disconnecting from your screens, devices, and apps, you can give your brain a break and allow it to reset and calibrate.

It’s a good idea to incorporate daily dopamine fasts in the form of at least two hours of inactivity each night. Play with your children, go for a walk, or read a fiction book. Just stay away from your screen and work-related tasks. It’s also smart to have extended dopamine fasts, which means a full day off once a week (like Sunday).

3. Take care of yourself

Finally, be sure to take care of your mind and body with good sleep patterns, healthy eating, hydration, exercise, and meditation/prayer. If you do these things on a daily basis, you will be much less susceptible to burnout.

At this stage of the game, you are the most important asset of your startup. Don’t let burnout compromise the business and interrupt your momentum. Learn to identify it, so you can overcome it. That is the key to your success.

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