Every entrepreneur I know goes through periods where they’ve lost their oomph.
It can be due to a struggling business. Perhaps that growth curve has stagnated (or flatlined) or the feedback you’re getting is that your product is all wrong. Perhaps your team is in conflict, perhaps your expansion has failed, perhaps you’re having to go through layoffs or cutbacks or stop the growth of a new division.
Maybe everything is going fine but you’ve reached a point of exhaustion. Sometimes burnout hits hardest in moments of success.
- One freelancer found her passion waning because her business had succeeded. She spent years pursuing financial freedom and when she finally reached it, she felt like she lost her drive.
- Another founder felt like his business had gone in a new—and very successful—direction, but that new direction didn’t align with his strengths. He found himself distracted and disengaged.
What is burnout?
The psychological term for “losing your oomph” is burnout. The concept was developed by Christina Maslach, a professor of social psychology at UC Berkeley. She talks about burnout as a state of chronic stress that leads to:
- Physical and emotional exhaustion
- Cynicism and detachment
- Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Burnout is no longer caring, no longer having energy, and no longer feeling like our effort matters.
Burnout is not depression and it isn’t just a result of long hours.
The recipe for burnout is chronic stress without support, without meaningful goals, and without much control over how we carry out our work.
Burnout is associated with significant mental health and physical problems.
Founders and burnout
Entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to burnout because many of us work alone or on small teams. As a group we tend to value personal freedom and control so much that we are vulnerable to deep discouragement and frustration when confronting problems that are beyond our control.
Ironically, many of the most burnt-out entrepreneurs I know are very successful.
To go from freelancer to CEO in two years is a popular dream, but it may be a recipe for burnout.
So what do you do about it?
My first suggestion is to stop. Sit still for a bit. Get back to the basics.
No one is able to spend a lot of time doing something they don’t care about and aren’t good at—time on the hamster wheel makes anyone, but especially an entrepreneur feel burnt out.
Once you find out (or remember) what your strengths and passions are, the next thing you need to do is stop doing the things that aren’t in that wheelhouse. Or at least stop doing them so much.
One founder client had a small business that was thriving. Everything seemed to be going well—revenue was pouring in, his product was getting rave reviews, his team was growing—but he felt like he was ready to give up. He was so burnt out that he had trouble getting up in the morning and the idea of going in to his office felt daunting. He began to wonder if he should sell his business and go back to his old 9 to 5 job.
After some careful contemplation, though, he realized that his exhilaration and drive came from time spent problem solving and finding solutions to big problems. He loved coming up with solutions and technology that helped other businesses thrive. What he didn’t love was the day-to-day management of the office. He isn’t a gifted administrator and the idea of running an actual business made him feel completely exhausted.
Eventually he hired someone to run the day-to-day aspects of his business so he could hole up with the development team and create. He got that oomph back, and his business continued to thrive.
When you feel like you’ve lost that oomph, the solution is not to keep pressing forward, but instead to stop and take time to re-evaluate.
I do understand that as a business owner, there are some things that you just have to do. I get that you may not be passionate about bookkeeping or payroll or cleaning out the supply closet. And I also recognize that depending on where you are in your business, you may not have the financial resources to outsource these jobs. You may not be able to completely stop doing everything that doesn’t drive you, and that’s okay. Because at the very least, you can begin spending as much time and energy as you can pursuing your strengths.
Reconnect to what drives you.
- You may want to spend some time taking Strengthfinders 2.0 or the Personal Values Assessment. Make sure you haven’t wondered too far from your personal and professional superpowers.
- Go on a retreat (here’s our guide).
- Reach out to your mastermind group, entrepreneur community, or Tribe (need a Tribe?)
- Connect with a mentor, friend, or professional who can help you sort through the causes of your burnout.
And then go back to a time when you were hungry and motivated and full of oomph and pursue that again.