When I was 29-years-old, I thought I had successfully ticked off many of the things I wanted to achieve on my bucket list. I married the love of my life, became an accomplished pianist, and built and helped others to build several companies.
I had to be happy, right?
Yes, but everything comes at a price. The triple and sometimes quadruple responsibilities of the different ventures I was involved in took a toll on my balance.
Without learning meditation, I have no clue how I would have got through. There was a period where I didn't sleep. I’d meditate for an hour, then work for seven hours, then meditate again for an hour and work for seven hours, and so on. Mathematically speaking, this is the maximum I could fit into a 24-hour period and it went on like this for weeks.
Despite managing this challenge successfully from a work point of view, the whole episode burnt me out. At the time, I didn’t really know what a burnout is, what it would feel like, or how it compared to depression. I just noticed that my interest in starting new ventures or even pushing the current ones I had farther had lessened over time.
What caused this?
On reflection, there isn’t that one but many specific reasons to pinpoint for why I burned out. First of all, when you meditate for three hours a day, even if it’s split into three different sessions and you don’t sleep, your consciousness, interests, and priorities shift. A natural, almost healthy “lack of interest” in the more worldly things begins to develop.
The lack of sleep (or deep calmness, rather) also meant that I wasn’t experiencing this natural and small form of “death,” which occurs every time we go to sleep and wake up in the morning. Good or bad, most people have experienced it to some degree.
For instance, being angry at someone in the evening doesn’t mean you'll be angry with them in the morning. And the elevated feeling of a wonderful realization in the evening may not last into the morning. You could wake up with a headache or be in a bad mood.
So if the lack of interest brought on by happiness didn’t cause my burnout, what did?
Looking back, I can see that at the time I stopped doing two things that I usually enjoy, playing piano and cooking. Both are creative outlets, and in retrospect, I should have noticed that once I let those slip something was wrong.
In fact, the sheer volume and diversity of the work I was doing required so much of my creative energy that it took up this reservoir completely. Despite not having any physical ailments, my mental capacity to create was becoming incapacitated. Eventually, I had to take time to rebuild that. So while creation in itself may be unlimited, your individual creativity--depending on the creative energy you’ve got available--is not.
Without meditation, this “work-overload” could have certainly had more physical consequences and after what others have shared with me, I’d still consider this a minor burnout. But I can completely understand that people who experience a burnout can easily slip into longer depressions. In fact, there is a clear link between burnout and depression.
What can be done?
Entrepreneurial life shouldn’t be this way and yet to many it is. I was one of them, but today I’m changing my perception. It may be hard to see the first burnout or depression coming. But when analyzing one’s self later, he can point out some symptoms that serve as signpoints. In my case, the depletion of creative energy in relation to a huge workload and no sleep--or to put more generally, a lack of interest, was the red flag.
It’s important then to learn about the root causes of things that affect us beyond our control, epecially with subjects like depression or burnout that are often not understood and hard to discuss openly.
To me, a better effort is needed to coordinate and share experiences and observations that people have made and recipes they’ve come up with in those phases so that these could be reduced to a bare minimum. Even better, one burnout should be more than enough in one lifetime.
I’d be interested to hear your experiences, especially the triggers you’ve come across which cause burnout or depression. What do you do to avoid burning out? Is it possible?
This post originally appeared on Nathan Zeldes' blog and has been reprinted with the author's permission.