If there is one thing we don't talk about in startup culture, it is burnout. Company failure, spousal abuse and self-destroying habits are alright, but you're not allowed to admit you are exhausted. Living on liquid diets and no sleep will burn you out, though, and I know people who were so burnt out that they just disappeared without a trace. I walked the precarious line myself, juggling raising my baby, bootstrapping a top Apple app, and maintaining my writing career.
No one is Superman or Supergirl. It's a shame that we don't talk about burnout more because, like the proverbial dark night of the soul, there are some amazing, priceless gems we can gain only in the space between ending and doing. Keep these strategies in mind, particularly if you can actually make time to process your burnout.
Burnout means you don't have the energy or focus to continue on. It means excessive late nights, drawn-out meetings, and extra drama have to go away, simply because you physically, mentally, and emotionally can't carry the weight. Good! They shouldn't have been there in the first place.
In my reflective time post-acquisition, I've done judicious editing in my life: removing excess, ending relationships, and pausing action. Decisions are now based on gut, even if that means missing opportunities. Urgency is as addictive as envy, and just as deadly, since it is the comparison to the person you think you deserve to be as opposed to the comparison to the competitor you think you see. A forced pause makes you reconsider where you put your energy, since your stamina is now limited.
What are you actually working toward? The day-to-day grind leaves little to no room for actual strategy, as you've got real, tangible business problems at your doorstep. The problem is that you don't restrategize until you or a loved one gets sick, your career takes a left turn or... you get burnout. Burning out shouldn't be looked at as a failure, but as an internal switch going off to tell you the parts of your life that have been neglected need to be attended to. It might feel like the timing couldn't be worse, but it is always the right time for your body, mind, and soul.
The only way forward is to make career decisions more conducive to the life you need. As Warren Buffett famously said, the most valuable thing entrepreneurs can say is "No." What stuff are you carrying that you shouldn't have been carrying in the first place?
Like when I was guiding the growth of my startup, my time is limited to what must be done now. However, unlike an overflowing email box or an app update demanding my attention, the things that are demanding my time are my son, my intuitive leaps toward new ideas, and my own personal balance. I'm still running on a compressed time schedule, except it isn't filled with work, but with self care. In a sense, I'm still taking in the last startup roller coaster ride -- at least emotionally. And I'm already gaining more clarity on my higher purpose as an entrepreneur.
Whether your hamster wheel is a startup or a corporate gig, we all struggle to prioritize. Instead, we triage based on the values we had before we got on the ride -- prioritizing based on an outdated model that doesn't take into account anything we've learned before. Been doing the same thing for five years without a break? Then you are organizing and prioritizing your work, and your career, based on whatever you learned a half decade ago. It is difficult to take everything in while you're trying to put out the next fire, but it's not impossible.
Burnt out? Embrace it as much as you can. The next journey will begin soon enough.