Burnout is a real thing.
Much like writer’s block cripples a professional writer’s career, burnout can have similar devastating effects on numerous professionals, including entrepreneurs, knowledge workers, and even healthcare professionals.
In fact, according to an article published by the Harvard Business Review, a study by Stanford showed that workplace-related stress costs nearly $190 billion and leads to nearly 120,000 deaths annually. The startling results? Burnout costs the global workforce an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity every year.
The article was written and published in December 2019, approximately three months before the COVID-19 pandemic sent the entire world into upheaval. However, even in our post-pandemic era, it’s safe to say that the costs and fatal results of burnout have only worsened.
But it’s not all bad news. Burnout can be prevented by making small changes to how you spend your time—specifically where you spend it. I will also share my own story about how I dealt with my most recent case of entrepreneurial burnout and how it completely changed my life.
My Entrepreneurial Burnout Story
It happened again…
The thought hit me like a ton of bricks.
I don’t want my business anymore.
I admit the thought about giving it all up and doing something different has been in the back of my mind, poking at me after every bad day, every client who didn’t listen, every month that overdue invoice went unpaid, and every time the money I had planned to pay myself went to someone else—an employee, a vendor, that surprise tax bill.
But I always persevered and told myself, “Julie, calm down. You’re just upset. Pull it together. Your clients and your team are counting on you. Remember why you started this business in the first place. You’ll get through it like you always do. These are the sacrifices you must make to keep your business alive. You should be grateful rather than resentful.“
Of course, every business has its ups and downs; its ebbs and flows.
But this time was different.
Something was broken, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was or how it happened. With my administrative and overhead expenses increasing daily—and I wasn’t working any less—something had to change.
I’ve experienced many moments of entrepreneurial burnout over the years. But one thing was for certain: I wasn’t happy. I lost the joy, passion, or fulfillment in my work. And that alone was disheartening.
I knew it was time to do something different… but what?
According to the 1-Page Marketing Plan by Allan Dib, three personality types contribute to the success of a business:
- Entrepreneur – the visionary, or the “ideas” person
- Specialist – the “executor”, or the person who brings the ideas of the visionary or entrepreneur to life
- Manager – the person who oversees the day-to-day and attempts to put the business on autopilot.
Dib explains that an individual entrepreneur is rarely all three “types”. In most cases, entrepreneurs are the visionaries, specialists, or possibly both, but few are managers, and even fewer are all three.
That’s 100% me.
Reflecting on my own experience as a business owner, the moment I hired a team and had to be the “manager”, I hated it.
It became clear that running a business was no longer what I wanted for my life. I was sick of accepting work just to pay the bills. In short, I decided to dissolve my company.
I recently reminded myself that as a business owner, my business should give me the lifestyle I want. And if it doesn’t offer that, then what is the point?
Now, maybe that is selfish.
Fine. I suppose I’m selfish.
But I couldn’t ignore that my fear of things remaining the same was more profound than the fear of change.
So what would I do now? There are many things I enjoy doing, but what am I truly in love with?
I’ve never been materialistic. Living and working to compete with others or to show off what I could buy has never interested me. I’m the type of person who lives simply and appreciates the little things. I’ve always been grateful and content with what I have.
But therein possibly lies the problem: Was I settling with being content with my career, or was I supposed to do something… more?
I didn’t know.
The Back Story and the Rocky Climb to Epiphany
“Just don’t give up on trying to do what you really want to do. Where this is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”– Ella Fitzgerald
In 2020, I uprooted my entire life. I left my cushy, cookie-cutter Cape-style childhood home in Massachusetts and permanently relocated to New Hampshire. Born and raised in the fast-paced, rushed, congested, and conceited culture and lifestyle of Massachusetts, I knew I was stressed and unhappy, but I didn’t realize how much until after I left. You wouldn’t think moving 167 miles up Route 95 wouldn’t make much of a difference, but it did.
Many non-native New Englanders think I’m crazy, but this move has changed me in every possible way—for the better. Moving to the middle of the mountains, perfectly nestled within the “Lakes Region” of New Hampshire, forced me to slow down and… breathe. For the first time ever, I appreciated my surroundings. I spent more and more of my free time walking, running, and hiking outside rather than in a stuffy and crowded gym.
Nearly three years later, I spend nearly all my free time outside. (Yes, even during the winter.) I learned how liberating it can be to fully immerse oneself in the beautiful forestry I now call home.
It was my true home all along; it just took me a while to find it.
Over the last decade, I have learned that running a business is like hiking a mountain. It’s fun and enjoyable, and the view from the top is phenomenal.
But it’s a challenging, strenuous, and rocky uphill climb.
Only the strong survive.
Dissolution or Evolution?
Despite the emotional turmoil inside me about what to do about my future, I sit atop the mountain, far above the rest of the world, and write this blog. I feel at ease, at peace, and like nothing else matters. Stress is far away and down the mountain in the world below to deal with on a different day.
Hiking allowed me to put things into perspective; despite how much my body hurts, my muscles scream in pain, and my heart beats out of my chest. Looking ahead and seeing how far I still have to climb, fighting the angst, exhaustion, and overwhelm, I have two options:
- turn around, go back down, give up, and try another day, or
- keep going.
It was such a beautiful, clear, and crisp spring day… the views from the top must be phenomenal. If I turn around and give up now, it will surely be a missed opportunity.
So I push myself. I keep going. I don’t give up; rather, I evolve.
After weeks and weeks of working through stress, anxiety, and depression and repeatedly asking myself, What do I want to do? The answer came to me while hiking:
I want to write.
I want to consult.
I want to coach.
I also realized I had been looking at everything all wrong. Rather than thinking of dissolution as the inevitable end, it became an opportunity to be better—to work with who I wanted, doing what I truly wanted.
It wasn’t failure. It wasn’t even a complete dissolution but an evolution.
Rather than thinking about failure, it was an opportunity to change my career path—and my life—for the better. To flourish.
Suddenly, the nerves, stress, and anxiety disappeared and were replaced by excitement. I looked forward to regaining control over my schedule. I looked forward to a simpler business model. I looked forward to just… work.
The Power of Nature in Your Own Adventure
Getting outside regularly has significantly reduced my stress levels and allowed me to slow down and rethink life, reminding me of my purpose and what truly makes me happy. It also helped me get through one of the most challenging and pivotal points of my career.
And it’s not just me. Many studies show that time in nature can yield numerous cognitive health benefits, including the following:
- Increased focus
- Improved mood
- Improved cooperation
- Reduced stress levels
- Reduced risk of psychiatric disorders
Even a short walk can calm our busy minds and improve brainwave activity.
Staying Small Versus Going Big
If there’s one thing you can take away from this article, it is this: Don’t underestimate the positive power of spending time in nature.
Through this long and hard journey, I learned that I needed to take my own advice: Live simply. Live minimalistically. Trying to do “all of the things” just leads to burnout.
As author and business analyst Jill Schlesinger noted in her book, The Great Money Reset, sometimes staying small is better than going big. It all comes down to what brings you the most joy and what you want your lifestyle to look like.
Take time to also discover what helps you reduce anxiety and stress so you, too, can avoid burnout. Maybe it’s taking control of your schedule and changing when and how you work. For me, it’s taking the time—and giving myself permission—to slow down, get outside, and appreciate my surroundings. I encourage you to do the same.
Even if you aren’t an outdoors person, there’s something to be said about getting out and exploring without an agenda. In fact, according to the Washington Post, even taking a walk through the grass barefoot is healthy.
Regardless of your journey or adventure or what uphill battles you face, I guarantee the view from the top will be well worth the climb.