Burnout, defined as "physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress," is a very real possibility for all entrepreneurs. The emotional intensity, long work hours, and high risk can all lead to levels of stress and exhaustion that are overwhelming.
Who is most at risk for burnout
One study found that 34 percent of entrepreneurs reported feeling worried and 45 percent were stressed, numbers that are higher than the general population.
Another group of professionals particularly susceptible to burnout? Nonprofit professionals. A national survey found that three-fourths of nonprofit executives were planning to leave within five years; 69 percent felt underpaid.
Mash together nonprofit professionals and entrepreneurs, and you get socially motivated entrepreneurs, who are especially vulnerable to working themselves into the ground.
Why those who care burn out more
The stakes can feel higher and the burden heavier when you're trying to solve major social challenges for the sake of others. Investing every waking hour to a social cause can lead to compassion fatigue, which, very tellingly, is also called secondary traumatic stress.
If someone is dedicating their life to the good of others, they seem like they would be particularly deserving of rest. But here's something else that entrepreneurs and professionals who want to positively impact the world struggle with: guilt. Loads of it.
Taking a night off--or, heaven forbid, taking a vacation--feels petty when faced with the world's problems. "In light of human needs at home and around the world and all the many displaced and suffering people, in light of environmental concerns and the continuing strain on the planet, isn't my concern for self-care rather selfish?" asks pastor and author April Yamasaki.
Consider Elon Musk's recent erratic behavior, which many attributed to his likely burning out. Not coincidentally, Musk has said that he is motivated by the desire to save humanity from extinction. That's a massive weight for any individual to carry, even one as well regarded and well resourced as Elon Musk.
What you need to believe to avoid burnout
Burnout limits sustainability and endurance. If you want to keep doing the meaningful work you love, you absolutely have to pace yourself. Or else your world-changing career will be far shorter than you wanted it to be.
There are plenty of practical things that socially motivated businesspeople can do to avoid burnout. Many of them revolve around setting boundaries, resting, and spending time and energy on other things besides work.
These habits are essential for personal health and family well-being, but no entrepreneur is going to follow through on these practices unless they believe this fundamental truth: I inherently have value as a human being.
When you're not working, you still have great value. When you are taking a break or resting, you still have value. When you're not trying to solve a social problem or even thinking about a social problem, you still have value. You are worth taking care of.
It is, ironically, this truth about the value of the individual human being that motivates many social entrepreneurs and nonprofit professionals in their work. They see the importance of the well-being of others, and yet don't prioritize themselves in the same way.
How self-care serves the greater good
We would all be better off if our most innovative and empathetic leaders took care of themselves. Then, more of us could benefit from their energy, creativity, and passion over a longer period of time.
If you find yourself flirting with burnout for the sake of a meaningful, world-changing mission, ask yourself this: Do I believe that I am worth taking care of?
The answer to this question should be yes. If you're not there yet, I hope you'll start telling yourself that you are worth taking care of.
And I hope you'll keep telling yourself this until you truly believe it--because the world will be better for it.