Burnout: Why Your Startup Might Not Blast Off the Blocks

One match burnt out in a line of matches

Burnout: Why Your Startup Might Not Blast Off the Blocks

The decision to open your own firm or set up as a consultant is a momentous one. So many dream of how they would run a firm or the changes they would make, making proclamations over Friday night drinks or in secret corners at the Christmas party, that you might think it would be a smooth process. You’ve already spent years working for other people and seen what did and did not work, so it should be easy, right?

It’s not just about the shift from working as an employed person to being self-employed or a business owner, which can be a tricky enough move (speaking from experience), but what you’re carrying with you as you step into this new stage.

It takes time to reach the experience, seniority and business development levels necessary to take the step away from employed life; what are you taking forward with you? How many hours of unpaid overtime, late nights and early starts, train journeys in the pre-dawn light, tight deadlines that took all weekend to meet have you experienced before reaching this point?

I ask my clients to think of burnout as analogous to a bank account. If you’re resting, working within your body and mind’s limits with enough energy left over to pursue hobbies, fun, relaxation, play and challenges, then your account is probably in credit; you might even have a significant amount of savings to play with.

However, if your account is anything like mine was, it’s severely overdrawn! Long daily commutes, marketing, networking and business development meetings at the end of over-full days. A desk that has never been cleared of work in all your years of practise!

Each day where you’ve finished so tired you’ve ordered a takeout, fallen asleep on the sofa after the first glass of wine, or the weekends where you’ve cancelled plans with friends, too tired to follow through on their energetic enthusiasm, have chipped away at your savings, digging you deeper and deeper into an overdraft.

Just like with finances, it’s pretty easy to repay our energy overdraft if it’s just a little overspending here, a lack of caution there. However, it’s far more difficult to dig ourselves out when we’re rapidly reaching the bottom with no clear plan of how to get back on top.

The deeper you are in the energy overdraft, the more likely it is that you have been living in habitual burnout.

Burnout is an occupational phenomenon that arises as a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Chronic stress means something that is long-standing, unremitting, continuous; I don’t think anyone reading this needs a reminder of the definition of stress.

What is interesting is our concept of stress often can shift. Chronic stress can be as everyday and banal an occurrence as the flashing light on top of your phone telling you your voicemail needs attention, the minute-by-minute ping of your email alerts, the feeling of dread when you see that number pop up on your mobile, or that email address in your inbox.

If you’ve been feeling exhausted or depleted, negative, cynical or disengaged from your work and struggling under an ever-increasing workload, then the likelihood is you have been living in habitualised burnout for quite some time. While burnout is completely manageable and reversible, it takes time to develop and reset the balance.

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