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First of all, congratulations to you for doing the impossible. Everyone knows the statistics behind how many startups fail every year, and you’re already beating the odds. The wind is at your back. You are intelligent and motivated. You have a huge vision for your company and you’ve hired a killer team. Raised your first round of funding or brought your company to profitability. And for all the momentum and success, there’s still a high chance you’ll burn out eventually.
This is not a new phenomenon. Founder burnout is well-documented, and the majority of entrepreneurs understand the challenge they’re signing up for when they start their companies. It doesn’t make the experience any easier, and no amount of exercise, sleep, or therapy will completely eliminate what you’re feeling right now.
Here are some ideas for coping with burnout that you might not read in another founder’s self-help book:
Related: 3 Ways to Stop Founder Burnout in Its Tracks
1. Get busier
As founders, we often obsess over the businesses we build. Our venture is all-consuming, and our mental energy goes toward keeping the company alive, making payroll, shipping products, and satisfying customers. All this concentrated energy is focused in one direction. The problem with this approach is that never you fail, all your self-esteem is wrapped up in that direction.
To move beyond a single point of failure, step outside of yourself and distribute your self-esteem and energy into more responsibilities. In other words, get busier.
During my fourth year running the Disco, I chose to sign up as my 3-year-old daughter’s PTA President to help support fundraisers and charity events for families throughout the school. I spent more time giving back to the local community in my hometown of Wisconsin. I advised startups in which I had no interest or financial stake.
My wife and co-founders thought I was crazy at the time for taking on tasks and responsibilities that yielded seemingly meaningless returns. However, what I found was that by diversifying my workload and contributing to other causes, it forced me to think better of myself, build relationships with others outside of my business, and manage my time more effectively.
Related: The Startup Marathon: How One Founder Avoids Burnout
2. You keep revisiting “why?” your;
You are human and humans always evolve. It takes at least five to ten years to build a meaningful business, and the person you are when you start your company will hopefully not be the same person ten years later. As you grow and develop, your “why” behind starting a business will likely change as well. It’s a dynamic and iterative conversation with yourself — a conversation you should revisit regularly.
Salesforce has a famous framework for introspecting our personal and professional aspirations called V2MOM (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles, Measures). Employees at Salesforce mention their V2MOMs in development discussions and performance reviews because they anchor employees in the vision of where they see their careers going and what the employee values. Plus, they track it over time to see how they’re doing against it.
When I first started Disco, my vision and purpose for starting the company was based on my family’s financial stability. I wanted to offer a better quality of life to my wife and daughter. Over time, monetary value lost its luster, so I became obsessed with proving non-believers wrong. In the early days, literally hundreds of investors rejected us, and I turned that rejection into fuel. This made me feel quite empty. So I began to ask myself “Why does this work matter?” Once I reexamined my “why” behind being an entrepreneur, I began to truly empathize with the pain our customers were experiencing and changed my “why” to serving and supporting others to help them live their company values . Your “why” matters when you’re starting a company, so remember to revisit that purpose to find the energy or purpose you need to keep going.
Related: The Simple Trick This CEO Uses to Prevent Burnout
3. Develop a strong BS filter
When you start your company, everyone will have an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do, what market you should or shouldn’t be in, and how much you should raise. You’ll hear feedback from your family, your investors, your partners, your customers, your neighbor, your doctor, your mailman (you get the idea).
It’s okay to cast a wide net to learn and gain opinions and multiple perspectives from different people. However, over time, you’ll want to create a system to filter out comments that aren’t relevant or helpful to the mission you’re trying to accomplish.
During the creation of Disco, I had a couple of partners at prominent VC firms telling me that we couldn’t build a real business and that we should just sell the company. Exhibit A of the unhelpful BS. To combat this, we created a very strong advisory board to consult on various aspects of what we were building. I also joined a mastermind group with three other founders I respected, who each ran different types of businesses, including a media company and a custom sock business. Each of these groups helped provide an unbiased perspective and opinion on key strategic issues I had struggled with.
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to founders who have previously exited or raised a huge round in your category. The first year I started my company, I had the founder of a company that was previously in our category tell me to get out and that failure in our category was inevitable. Exhibit B of the unhelpful BS. Every business is unique and so is the time in which that business is built. So if this information or feedback doesn’t help you continue building your business, filter it out.
Every founder experiences burnout at some point, so it’s important to recognize it and try to reshape our circumstances to keep living when we feel like we’re dying. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal has an inspiring TedTalk titled “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” In her talk, McGonigal uses her research and findings to point out that stress can only kill you if you believe stress kills. As founders, if we can positively reframe our view of the challenges we face, we can thrive when things seem to be at their lowest. If we demonize these feelings, they will eventually break us. However, if we see our burnout as a trainer and source of energy, it has the potential to propel us forward if we choose to run towards it.