It’s 3 a.m., but sleep seems out of the question. How could you possibly sleep when your mind is racing? There’s so much to be done. You thought that the tough days were behind you, that when your business started turning a profit, everything would change, and the stresses would go away.
How wrong you were.
Now you’re making money, but it feels like the stakes are that much higher. Everyone is counting on you — your family, your employees, and your stakeholders. You don’t want to let anyone down, but every day is an emotional roller-coaster, and it’s getting more and more difficult to carry on.
If you can relate, there’s both bad news and good news. The bad news is that you’re suffering from burnout. The good news is that you don’t have to.
Bouncing Back From Burnout
Burnout isn’t always obvious, mainly because it looks different for everyone. It can have serious physical and mental consequences, which means it can have professional consequences as well. Fortunately, other entrepreneurs and business leaders have been there. I connected with a few who have experienced burnout, and they shared how it affected them, what they did about it, and what they do now to prevent it. After hearing what they had to say, you may glean some tips for avoiding burnout in your own life.
1. Adam Tompkins, Co-Founder of Working Not Working
Although he cautions against looking for a universal cure for burnout, Adam Tompkins recognizes what usually precipitates his own: “For me, boredom is one of the biggest offenders in unleashing burnout. I like to have multiple avenues to exert my energy, hobbies included.”
In addition to having hobbies outside of work, Tompkins tries to strategically shift gears from one project to another to keep himself interested. Still, he explains that burnout will inevitably happen to even the most passionate individuals, so it’s important to take it with a grain of salt. “We often think burnout is a sign that we’re not doing what we love. Or that we’ve fallen out of love with what we’re doing. I push back against that. Sometimes you just need a break.”
2. James Lenhoff, CFP and President at Wealthquest
Overwhelmed and inefficient. That’s how James Lenhoff saw himself and his work performance when he suffered from burnout. He found himself extending his workday, keeping 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. meetings regularly, so he could feel as though he was catching up. He skipped meals and soon felt the physical effects of burnout, which for Lenhoff meant panic attacks and heart palpitations. “I felt paralyzed by the tasks I had to accomplish, and because I wasn’t resting, I wasn’t sharp or clear-headed,” he admits.
Lenhoff says we lie to ourselves about being irreplaceable, and that often leads to burnout. He explains: “We carry the weight of the world on our backs because we feel obligated. And, if we’re honest, it’s intoxicating. We feel important and valuable when we feel irreplaceable.” Lenhoff prescribes a simple cure: recognizing your own human limitations. To elite bodybuilders, rest days are just as integral as training days. Ultimately, the same is true of business professionals.
3. Mike Legatt, CEO and Founder at ResilientGrid, Inc.
As a neuropsychologist turned startup founder, Mike Legatt spent time early in his career focusing on what happens in the brain when people are excessively stressed, scared, distracted, exhausted, and despondent. He’s watched these feelings play out in others throughout his career and observed how burnout has affected his own health and work performance. To avoid burnout, Legatt believes that holding on to a sense of purpose is the most important thing. “No one ever suggested that entrepreneurship would be easy or fun all the time, but I find that keeping in mind the purpose of what I’m trying to do (and the lives it can save, etc.) makes it easier to forge ahead,” he says.
In addition to focusing on his purpose, Legatt takes time for activities he loves and surrounds himself with family, friends, colleagues, and mentors. He used his participation in the Ameren Accelerator, a St. Louis-based accelerator program that works with energy-focused startups, as an example of his approach in action: “It’s valuable to be a part of a large team of people — mentors, entrepreneurs, and coaches, all working to encourage and support each other. There’s a lot of inspiration, collaboration, and creativity in this space; the perfect medicine to keep burnout away.”
4. Christine Alemany, Chief Growth Advisor at Trailblaze Growth Advisors (TBGA)
When Christine Alemany was trying to serve her clients, hire staff, keep the pipeline replenished, and take care of ailing parents who lived on the other side of the country, she was forced to stop doing the things she loved — mainly yoga and spending time with friends. The result? “I was overworked and tense, and it came across in my interactions with clients and employees,” she reports. “After taking stock of what was important to me, I decided to lighten my workload, which meant that I had to cut the number of clients that we were supporting and declare a hiatus on pipeline activities.”
When she explained her situation and the reason for lightening her load, her employees, partners, and clients were all understanding and supportive. Most people tend to try to hide their burnout, but Alemany recommends facing it head-on by being honest with yourself and the people around you. She elaborates: “Share that you are getting burnt out or that you are facing a potential disaster. Set boundaries around your time and attention. Tell people when you need them to step up or pick up your slack. Thank people for being there for you. In the end, your team wants (and needs) you to succeed.”
5. Carl Godlove, President and CEO of Godlove Group LLC
Carl Godlove has occasionally worked himself into physical sickness, but he maintains that this drive to work a lot is not what causes burnout. “Burnout isn’t about working too hard. Burnout is about not knowing why you are working so hard,” he says. “Burnout happens when you’ve lost the connection between what you are doing and why you are doing it. Burnout happens when you lose the feeling that what you do matters to the people who matter to you.”
Worrying too much and tolerating things outside of your control can add fuel to the fire. And because there’s no magic cure for burnout, Godlove advises that you stay vigilant about preventing it. For him, this prevention involves recognizing when you’re no longer as passionate about what you’re doing and asking yourself why. If it’s possible, it’s up to you to rekindle the flame. He also states that leaders need to help prevent employees from experiencing burnout using the same method.
When, at age 20, Edy Greenblatt was faced with her mother’s debilitating health issues, she had to both lead their root cause diagnoses and then locate, enroll, and often lead a team of healthcare professionals to treat her mother successfully. At the same time, she was under pressure to complete first an undergraduate and then a graduate program at UCLA while juggling six part-time jobs to support two households.
After this daunting experience, Greenblatt developed the practice of Personal Resource Management (PRM). In PRM terms, burnout occurs when one or more of our personal resources drops below the level at which we can use our normal channels and practices to recover. She explains, “For example, pull an ‘all-nighter,’ and after a few nights of 8-9 hours of sleep, a good workout, and decent food, you are likely to return to your normal energy and resilience levels. However, if you are chronically underslept and pull that same all-nighter, you may end up sick, depressed, or otherwise ‘stuck’ below the burnout line, with a much heavier lift to recover.” To avoid this, she suggests being aware of what behaviors and conditions deplete your energy supply and which ones restore it.
Burnout is far more common than we realize, largely because most people who are attempting to deal with it try to keep it to themselves. Of course, it’s when you’re experiencing burnout that you most need the people you typically count on. All six of these successful businesspeople have experienced burnout and emerged on the other side stronger and more resilient than ever. You can, too.
Rhett Power is Best-Selling Author, Executive Coach, Columnist at Forbes, Inc. & Success. Rhett Power co-founded Wild Creations in 2007 and quickly built the startup toy company into the 2010 Fastest Growing Business in South Carolina. Wild Creations was named a Blue Ribbon Top 75 US Company by the US Chamber of Commerce and named as one of Inc. Magazine’s 500 Fastest Growing US Companies two years in a row. He and his team have won over 40 national awards for their innovative toys. He served in the US Peace Corps and is a graduate of the University of South Carolina. He now has a rapidly growing coaching and consulting practice based in Washington DC.