The Burned-Out Entrepreneur

Imagine a warm summer night, a meadow away from the city lights and a cloudless, moonless sky. A blanket is spread on the ground and you stretch out on your back and gaze at the heavens above. Trillions of pin dots twinkle back at you. Suddenly, as luck would have it, a streak of light crosses right in front of your eyes – a brief moment of intense action in an otherwise passive setting. Yes, a meteor is truly a sight to behold and provides a metaphorical warning to us as entrepreneurs.

The romanticism of a shooting star quickly gives way to the realization that we have just witnessed a piece of interplanetary debris burning up in the earth’s atmosphere. The operative words here are “burning up.” In entrepreneurial parlance, we’re talking about “burnout.” We all know what burnout is, so I don’t need to describe its symptoms. In fact, we’ve all probably experienced burnout in some form over the course of our careers. More important are two central questions. How do we prevent burnout in the first place? And how do we get out of burnout if it already holds us captive?

Preventing burnout in the first place is actually easier than figuring out how to get out of it once we’re in it. Consider this example. Jeff is focused on his software training business in laser-like fashion. He eats, sleeps and breathes software training and hasn’t had a vacation in six years. The business is growing in a very profitable fashion, but Jeff worries every day that if he takes his eye off the ball, his competition could easily overtake him and he’d begin losing money. He justifies his herculean efforts as the right way to provide for his family (but he’s missed eight of his son’s last ten soccer games). By contrast, Amy has a competing software training business. She is passionate about her company which is growing like Jeff’s and is also profitable. Amy has learned through time management techniques and following a carefully thought plan, how to be incredibly productive while she’s at work. She serves on a non-profit board, exercises and meditates every day, volunteers at a local homeless shelter, plays tennis and takes a ten-day vacation every six months. It’s pretty obvious which entrepreneur is a prime candidate for burnout. Because she has embraced a life balance, Amy is more creative and innovative. When Jeff finally hits the wall Amy will blow on by him because she has learned how to build a strong team to which she can delegate.

Extracting ourselves from the clutches of burnout is a real challenge. The first step is to go back to the basics and determine if our vision and mission are the same now as they were when we were filled with passion at the outset of our endeavor. Do they need to be tweaked? What made us passionate about what we started doing in the first place? Are our core values intact? Reconnecting with our passion is critical and can only happen when we become grounded in our vision, mission and values. Without this re-set we cannot know for certain if the passion is truly alive.

Next, we need to make the choice to move toward a more balanced approach to life. Nothing prevents us from adopting Amy’s M.O. Experts say that it takes three weeks to form a habit. Every day we must become intentional about identifying and implementing the different elements that will compose our newly balanced life. Getting out of ourselves and doing good things for others is one of the best ways to break out of the burnout cycle.

Finding a balance in life is the best preventive medicine for warding off burnout . . . and for getting out of it. While shooting stars are spectacular to watch there’s no need to be one.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Entrepreneurial Insomnia

How well are you sleeping? I know many entrepreneurs who aren’t. The reasons are many. One particular friend of mine has been struggling with this for a while. He has started going to bed earlier each evening because he knows he is going to wake up around 3:30 or 4:00 and won’t be able to go back to sleep. So, he has resorted to getting up at that time and working for a few hours from home before heading to his office.

My friend explains that he is awakened because his mind starts churning. The frustrating thing for him is the fact that he knows he’s obsessing over small stuff – sometimes it’s infinitesimally small stuff. Most of the time the thoughts he is having are about things going on in his business that he shouldn’t even be worrying about. I certainly understand what he’s going through – I’ve been there many times myself. So what’s the solution?

For starters, my friend knows he needs to delegate. There are others in his organization who should be handling the issues that are keeping him awake. Thus, the first step in fixing his slumber problem is to make sure that he has people on his team who are responsible for handling the nitty-gritty items so that he can focus at working on his business rather than in it.

The next step in my friend’s process is physical activity. He is used to working out but there are days where he blows it off. Physical exercise produces endorphins which help reduce stress and generate positive feelings. A brisk walk or run along with lifting weights for 30 minutes or more each day will do the trick. If I miss a day due to travel I find myself actually craving my workout regimen. Generally I find that physical activity first thing in the morning gets my day started off right. My friend has re-committed to doing the same.

In addition to daily exercise it’s critical that we spend time becoming centered through meditation. This practice enables us to clear our minds of the clutter that tends to accumulate. My friend has attested to the benefits he enjoys when he meditates for 15 minutes each day. He finds that meditation lowers his blood pressure and pulse rate. He feels calmer as his anxiety melts away.

Journaling is another technique that has been helpful for my friend. He is working to become more disciplined at recording the various aspects of his day in a journal. Notes are made about the high points and the low points – he can then look for patterns that shed light on what might be working in his subconscious to keep him from sleeping.

Each of us has much for which to be grateful. My friend acknowledges this and is working on starting and ending each day in gratitude. I like to take this a step further. Before making any phone call or entering a meeting, I try to hold a thought of gratitude in my mind. It may just be an image of one of my daughters, my wife or my grandchildren. But whatever the thought or image, it sets the tone for my encounters with others, and it keeps a smile on my face throughout the day.

I gave my friend another piece of advice that works consistently for me. One way I avoid becoming too wrapped up in daily frustrations is to “get out of myself.” What does this mean? Very simply I find that when I am doing something for someone else I forget about my own troubles. There are so many ways to do this – large and small. Turning the focus away from ourselves and onto others can be a powerful sleeping pill. We go to sleep with the satisfaction that we helped make a difference in someone else’s life.

My friend is amazing at creating trust and building relationships with others. His whole face shone as he professed that the high point of his day is when he can make a sales presentation or interact with a prospective customer. I told him that he ought to program his schedule so that he can do this at least once a day. We should all make sure that we are doing what we love and enjoy every single day.

Entrepreneurial insomnia can be cured by a cocktail of physical activity, meditation, maintaining a journal, living in gratitude, getting out of ourselves and dose of doing something we love each day. I guarantee that if you follow this recipe you’ll sleep like a baby. Sweet dreams.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 2 – The When Affliction.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.