Blog Post: How Burnout Can Happen (even if you love being an entrepreneur)

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Perhaps you left the world of corporate to go and start up your own business? Maybe you left corporate life because it burned you out?

Yet low and behold, that familiar feeling is creeping in again, and you think but how can this be burnout, I'm finally doing something I love!?

Here's the thing with burnout - it doesn’t discriminate between those who are worked to the ground and hate dislike what they do and those who love what they do so much, that they could happily work late into the night for it.

Burnout happens when you've been going about things in a way that doesn’t work in the long term. 

A useful question to ask yourself: Is the way I'm working right now, something I could keep up with for a month? Six months? A year?

In other words, is your weekly schedule physically, emotionally and mentally sustainable - long-term? You'll know the answer to this immediately. If it's sustainable, you'll probably be feeling good at the end of the day with energy left over to enjoy your downtime. 

If you're getting to the end of the day and feeling frazzled, and the tank is showing fuel empty, then it might be time to look at things. If that's you, I can imagine you'll be thinking I know it's not sustainable but it's not going to be forever (this is known as the Great Entrepreneurial Lie by the way).

The reality is that burnout can happen to anyone, and it has nothing to do with how much you enjoy your work. It’s to do with how much you think about it, and are consumed by it. Here’s an example:

You wake up one morning after a good night’s sleep, and during that time an amazing new idea has come to you. You reach for your notebook and write it all down; pages and pages of genius-like thoughts go into that notebook. Even though you have to get on with the rest of your day, you’re still thinking about the idea – in the car, out walking, with other people. It utterly consumes you, it’s that good! A few days later, the idea starts to give you doubts, was it really a good idea? Maybe I shouldn’t do it after all?  Why was I so excited, and now I’m not? More writing, more thinking. This way, that way. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What should I do? This carries on for some weeks before you either drop the idea or take it forward.

Er...exhausting isn’t it? Yes, it's exciting, but my goodness - exhausting!  You see, that right there is an example of how burnout can start; too much thinking.

Now, let's not forget, thinking is the most natural thing in the world for human beings, and we cannot (nor would want to) stop it; but there's a difference between thought-streams that flow effortlessly, and thought-storms that rain down hard and last for days.

Thought-stream is our default setting and thought-storm is...not. So when we're in the middle of a thought storm, we can do one of three things to reset and return to the calm flow of a thought-stream. 

  1. We can take action on our ideas, and start making some progress. 
  2. We can let it go, and choose to stay focused on our original plans. 
  3. We can choose to make a note of it, and come back to it in the future (by which time, we'll be in a different emotional state and it may not feel as important or relevant)

But if we just continue to think over and over about the same thing without doing one of the above, then we’re overloading the system and depleting its resources.

So if you’ve been struggling with burnout, yet you love what you do, don’t take it as a sign you’re in the wrong business. Instead, take it as a sign that the way you’re working isn’t working – that’s all.

Find that useful? I'm Sarah Swanton, and I'm the Founder of Happy Healthy Entrepreneur which supports entrepreneurs with their mental health & wellbeing so they can enjoy the 'inner journey' of being self-employed and create a business that supports them, not exhausts them! If you'd like to delve more into what it means to be a happy, healthy entrepreneur, then sign up to receive my weekly newsletter, or check out my self-study online course Reignite Your Entrepreneur Resilience.

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