For me, it’s not being able to sleep or a lack of appetite for real food (I’ll quite happily substitute carb-laden things) or I just stop being joyful. That’s how I know I’m careening towards burnout.
Towards the middle of our fizzling Kickstarter campaign, it became very clear to our team that things weren’t going to come out the way we’d hoped. That this living and working on a shoestring was going to continue being the norm for now. That it was going to be a bit harder for a bit longer. It took its toll on the entire office. If you’re like us, you’ve already been working hard on your dreams for many months, possibly many years. Blair, our CEO and my husband, has been working on his dream (StoryStylus) for well over 2 years now. We officially opened our indie games studio in January 2014 with 5 co-op students from the local college. For the past 16 months, it’s been go, go, go, go with very little respite.
At first you think you’re invincible – that you can handle spurts of crazy hours, that working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day is fine. But what you fail to see (because you’re swimming in your entrepreneurial amniotic fluid) is the impact of your tunnel vision… you’ve neglected relationships with non-company friends, you’ve neglected your health because who has time to shop for groceries let alone cook, and in our case, you’ve neglected nurturing your marriage because you work together 7 days a week, 16 hours a day. You’re working side by side, why would you need to nurture your marriage?
There was always a milestone we needed to hit – a conference we had to prepare our prototype for, potential investors we were hoping to woo, early testers who were going to be promising allies in getting our startup off the ground… it never ended. My body began with its not so subtle objections. It was not amused with the intensity. Over the past 16 months, I was one step away from flesh eating disease, woke up to arms and legs that felt like they belonged to an 80 year old woman (and not the kind that swim the Atlantic), my migraines increased and I was no longer the joyful person I used to be. I certainly wasn’t the person who’d spent the previous 18 months teaching JOY Bootcamp.
So back to that Kickstarter and the taste of defeat, confusion and self-pity (which tastes a lot like wine and cheezy poofs)… our bodies said it was time for a break. Several of us in the office got sick and instead of go, go, go, it was cough, cough, sleep, sleep. We let our students finish their term early and we gave the incoming students an extra week off. Two glorious weeks off for us full timers meant we could get the rest we needed to recover from our illnesses… and more importantly, it meant we could get the perspective we needed. Yes, we have to work hard to make our dreams happen, but we also have to work smart.
When you’re swimming, sleeping, eating, breathing in the amniotic fluid of your entrepreneurial dreams, you can’t see anything else. At the end of our two weeks, we visited with some friends who were visibly under tremendous pressure. The stress emanated from them, you could feel the panic and worry and anger. They’ve got a lot on their plates. After offering what we could, Blair and I could see that we weren’t that far off from being those people. We needed to take that step back from our business, despite being a few weeks behind schedule now, because we’d LOST ourselves and were on the verge of doing more damage to ourselves, our relationships and the business from burnout.
You should love your business – otherwise it’s probably a whole lot easier for you to work for someone else. But you also need to show yourself some love in the form of respect for personal time. And if you’re working with your spouse as I am, it is absolutely critical that you create dedicated pockets of time to be with them – not to talk about work – to enjoy life together. Otherwise you’ll be a burned out and possibly failed entrepreneur drinking wine and eating cheesy poofs all by your lonesome.
Don’t let that happen to you. Take stock of where you’re at and take some time off. The world will go on and you’ll be better equipped to tackle challenges with a fresh perspective.
Here’s an article on 17 tips to deal with workplace stress from MoneyCrashers.