After building my first company, Wilmar, into one of the largest industrial distributors, as well as creating a corporate umbrella (Interline Brands) to house the brands we developed to serve a wide variety of different market segments, I was fried. Exhausted. I was burned out in every sense of the word.
We had gone from me selling hardware at a local flea market to being a massive company with 2,500 employees, 58 locations around the country, and over $630 million in sales. And because I had sold most of my stake in the company in a private equity transaction, as well as during the time the company went public, I wasn't thinking so much about "curing" my burnout. My "cure" was to step down as CEO and attempt retirement.
Now, was that the right move? Could I have just taken a sabbatical, delegated more, and stuck around? The truth is, there is no "right answer" when it comes to entrepreneurship. Founders become founders because they want to go their own way in life--which means it's their choice when they decide to get off the train. And for me, after 25 years of building Wilmar/Interline, I was ready to take a break.
That said, I can remember many different points in my career when I felt "burned out."
If that's how you're feeling, then here are 4 ways to re-approach your situation and continue moving forward productively, effectively, and most importantly, healthfully.
1. Make the time to ask yourself how you're feeling and what's going on beneath the surface.
There's a reason why I titled my first book, All In. Because when you're an entrepreneur, that's what you have to be--you have to be 100 percent invested, involved, and consumed with your business.
However, this is a careful balance.
Yes, your business and your entrepreneurial pursuits will need to be your number one priority for quite a while (if you want to build a successful company). But that doesn't mean ignoring yourself and your personal health completely. In fact, you are your company's most valuable asset. Without you, the whole thing falls apart. Which means it's actually in your best interest to make time, all along the journey, to check in with yourself and see how you're doing. Do you need to sleep in one morning so you don't get sick? Do you need a night off so you can get some distance from a problem you're wrestling with? Give yourself these things. You'll be thankful you did in the long run.
2. Work to understand what is causing these feelings of burnout.
Do you have too much on your plate? Did you take on too many clients, too quickly? Did you make a bad hire, and are they costing you time, energy, and resources?
There is always an answer as to why you're feeling burned out.
The key to keeping yourself engaged and committed to business over the long term is to constantly assess what is taking up the lion's share of your headspace. Do you find yourself constantly having to tend to a difficult client? Consider what else could be accomplished within your business if you let that client go and moved on. Or, have you been working late nights, seven nights per week, non-stop? What can you delegate? Who can you bring on board to help lighten the load?
Burnout is often (unintentionally) self-inflicted. So, pinpoint the problem, and then fix it.
3. Don't beat yourself up for taking a night off.
Being a workaholic is a real thing.
The problem is, it can be very difficult to discern between "over-working" and "doing what needs to be done in order to be successful." This is an issue founders everywhere struggle with--because the reality is, startup life is exceedingly demanding.
That said, building a successful company is a marathon, not a sprint. And even though you might feel like you have "so much to get done," you need to consider the time you'll lose if you work so hard that you get yourself sick (or worse, I've seen it, give yourself an anxiety-induced mental breakdown).
Play the long game.
4. Talk to other entrepreneurs who have had similar experiences.
Stress is one of those unspoken aspects of entrepreneurship a lot of people don't like talking about.
In the startup world, people love talking about how hard, and how often, they work. Stress, then, is something a lot of founders keep to themselves--and this becomes a dangerous thing. To avoid reaching a complete state of burnout, then, it's crucial that you keep your circle of entrepreneurial friends close, and actually talk about ways to continue striving for your goals without compromising yourself in the process.
Trust me, you're not the only one wrestling with this