3 Ways to Stop Founder Burnout

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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 consumer Where the brand. But do you want to know the real answer? This is you!

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 parent and a child. It is impossible for a baby to be safe, happy and healthy without a parent taking care of him. Babies need the support, care, nourishment and strategic leadership of a parent to have any chance of growing up happy and healthy. Eventually, there comes a time when this child turns into a teenager and becomes capable of a certain level of independence. However, for many years the parent is the most essential ingredient.

There may come a time when your business is able to thrive without you – Apple and Steve Jobs are a prime example – 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 suffers burnout. I encourage you to proactively combat founder burnout before it has a chance to destroy yours.

Related: How to Recognize and Overcome Burnout

What is Founder Burnout?

In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included “burnout” in its international classification of diseases. Although he didn’t go so far as to list it as a medical condition, he called it a “professional phenomenon”.

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

  • Feeling drained or drained of energy

  • Increased mental distance from work and/or feelings of cynicism and negativity related to work or profession

  • Reduced work efficiency

While burnout is something that professionals at all levels of working life deal with, there is a special “variant” informally known as “founder burnout” that affects…you guessed it… The 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 out, but I don’t want to leave my team hanging.

  • I don’t feel like I have a purpose in life – just a business that I work to keep alive.

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

These may seem like anomalies, but such feelings are more common than you might think. If you’ve ever felt like this, you’re not alone. Symptoms of founder burnout include depression, anxiety, isolation, escape, apathy, and exhaustion. It’s a feeling of losing touch. In short, startups are tough. You feel trapped, but at the same time you hesitate to leave when the opportunity arises.

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

The Causes of Founder Burnout

Burnout can be scary, alarming, and frustrating, especially when you realize you’ve worked your whole life to get to this moment and you don’t seem to get any joy or fulfillment from it anymore. So where does it start? Here are some possible causes:

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

  • Lack of passion: Burnout is rare when the founder has a real passion. It almost always crops up in people who are pursuing a business idea that is outside of their true area of ​​passion. For example, someone who starts an accounting software business because they see the financial potential, but their real passion is being outdoors and spending time in nature. This lack of passion will eventually catch up with the founder.

  • Too much control: If you’re personally involved in every project, task, and decision within your business, you’re going to burn out. As the business grows, this becomes more and more unsustainable. You will feel the pressure building to the point of resenting the company.

  • No work-life balance: In most cases, burnout is directly related to a lack of work-life balance. There is nothing else that anchors you or ties 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

Overcoming 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 a few tips :

1. Start the day off right

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

2. Do a dopamine fast

Dr. Cameron Sepah thinks one of the best ways to break the burnout cycle is to use what he calls “dopamine fasting.” The idea is that your brain is constantly exposed to quick, cheap hits of dopamine throughout the day, making it difficult to achieve a true state of flux. By doing dopamine fasts, i.e. logging out of your screens, devices, and apps, you can rest your brain 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 downtime each night. Play with your children, take a walk or read a fictional book. Just step away from your screen and work-related tasks. It’s also a good idea 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 things like good sleep habits, healthy eating, hydration, exercise, and meditation/prayer. If you do these things daily, you’ll be much less likely to burn out.

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

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