We’ve seen it happen, we can feel it coming on, yet why is it so hard to stop burn out? When you’re so fired up it can seem wasteful to pause and avoid the inevitable at full speed ahead. But it takes time, startups take time and the more you care for yourself the better your team will be, your company will be and most importantly your health.
I had just signed on to a company and was part of the founding team. It was an exciting time and we were all focused on our collective goals. We stayed up and pulled all nighters, worked on weekends and we were able to secure our first $2Million in funding with a promising path to profitability. Customers were signing up, we had thousands of people clamoring our servers at the same time to get tickets they hoped wouldn’t sell out. It was fun and challenging. As all startups do, we argued product direction, created nearly everything from scratch, hired, fired, and pulled it off in a very competitive market, yet I was burned out. I knew I needed to take a break but wasn’t quite sure how. Our CTO was getting sick because he never slept, our health was taking a toll, and forget about relationships- they didn’t exist. Our only focus was work.
I decided I had to take a time out to readjust. I had burned out and I didn’t want to admit it to myself or to the team or to our investors. I decided to stay on as an advisor and leave after two years of blood, sweat and a lot of tears.
I felt ashamed to have left, to feel like I was letting everyone down and that I couldn’t tell anyone I had left. For two months I went full throttle in the other direction. I only picked up the phone for close family and friends, email too. I spent the days working out and making every meal – I was like a navy seal training for the next round. Although I don’t have kids (yet) I think being at a startup is much like childbirth in that you forget how painful it is and how much work it is – sleepless nights, health slacking, zero personal life- and then you forget about the pain and decide to do it all over again.
Every startup is different, the unique challenges the uncertainty, the raising capital, the partnerships and external and internal factors.
The next startup I inevitably threw myself into the same spin cycle repeating several of the same patterns I had before, although this time it was my employees who kept reminding me that its ok to take a time out and ‘Monica do something nice for yourself’. I did. I wrote down a list of all the things that make me feel at ease in stressful times- getting flowers, listening to a great tune, going for a run, catching up with friends, getting ice cream. We all have to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and in order to be a successful leader we all have to take care of our #1- ourselves.
When I finally took a few days off this year for the first time in a long time, I reminded myself that it was ok to check out every now and then, after all your company and team will thank you for it and you’ll be more productive in the long run. Give yourself a break and remind yourself to check out once in a while. You’ll come back to the table refreshed and will avoid the existential threat of burn out and PTSD. We are not robots. We’re human.