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Entrepreneurial burnout is becoming a REAL problem (and here's how to fix it)

I always wanted to work for myself.

Then I did. I started Social Triggers, built a great business, and made a lot of money.

I should have been happy…

…but I wasn’t.

What happened?

A Day In The Life as an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs are now rock stars.

Just look at Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, or Richard Branson. These guys are more than business people. They are icons that people look up to for more than their success.

The reality?

Life as an entrepreneur isn’t as glamorous as these personas will have you believe.

Don’t get me wrong – I love it. I love the freedom to make my own rules. I love making an impact. I love helping people.

But it’s a rollercoaster for sure!

Life Of An Entrepreneur

I’ll go from…

“I’m sooo excited”

“Ugh this is harder than I thought.”

“It’s WORKING!”

“Oops. I messed up.”

“I think I’m going bankrupt”

“Wait a second. My life is GREAT!”

…all in the same day!

Can you relate?

Being an entrepreneur is hard.

Practically. Psychologically. Emotionally.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s for everyone – and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with NOT running a business.

But if you have that burning desire to create something out of nothing and build something that you own… Then you ARE an entrepreneur.

So, from one entrepreneur to another, I have an important message for you:

Keep your entrepreneurial flame alive!

Because NOTHING can replace it.

You have to do whatever it takes to keep the fire within you burning.

I know first-hand how hard this is, especially when you work at something for a long time.

My Big Confession – How I Lost My Way

I started Social Triggers in 2011.

And things went great…

Until about a year ago, when I got BORED of my own content.

And I lost my path.

Here’s a video where I describe the full story in about 60 seconds:

(As you can see, this daily YouTube show is how I reignited my flame. I take you behind the scenes of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. If you want more, raw, unfiltered, authentic business advice, subscribe here. What should you expect? Well, here’s one video: How I made $500,000 from one blog post.. But, still, you should subscribe.

Now, back to the point…

Chances are you’re reading this because you’re an entrepreneur, who’s building his or her business, too. Or maybe you’re a creator or freelancer and you want to make a bigger impact with your work.

If that’s the case, I’ve got some GOOD news and some BAD news for you…

The good news?

Your desire to create is your biggest advantage.

You look for the solution when everyone else only sees the problem. You see opportunity where others see obstacles. When they say “This doesn’t work,” you immediately think, “Let’s figure out how it COULD work!” – and roll up your sleeves. This mindset is rare. It’s powerful. You need to protect it.

Now…

The BAD news is:

As an entrepreneur, you’re at a higher risk of burnout than almost any other group.

Especially as a solo-preneur. I’ll explain WHY and what you can do to prevent it or reverse it below…

You see, when you’re your own boss, nobody’s telling you how to think. Nobody’s making decisions for you. No one’s even telling you what to work on.

EVERY decision is on YOU.

“Should I chase down that customer?”

“Should I check on the new product launch?”

“Should I wear pants today?”

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

And it’s not like you ever get a break. While others can “switch off” after 5pm, as an entrepreneur, you’re constantly ON. Plus, you’re constantly focused on one thing and one thing only – building your business. Tunnel vision. All. The. Time.

But there’s something even MORE STRESSFUL than a daunting, never-ending to-do list:

Besides doing the actual work, people expect you to keep a facade of high-energy, success, and confidence. But as you and I know, it’s not always smooth sailing…

And as your business grows, the stakes get higher, too:

As you grow, it becomes about more than you. Suddenly lots of other people RELY on your decisions, too. In other words, your decisions don’t just affect YOUR life now. They affect your partner, your family, and your employees.

All of these factors can WEAR YOU DOWN if you’re not careful.

So, it should be no surprise that entrepreneurs are a high-risk group when it comes to BURNOUT, as studies show. But that’s exactly why It’s VITAL that you notice the symptoms early.

When I saw it in myself, it was almost too late. In fact, I recall telling a friend, “Maybe I’ll just shut the whole thing down.”

That’s how TIRED I was of my own business!

Luckily, I didn’t shut it down. And I’m slowly rediscovering WHY I started Social Triggers in the first place: to help you be the exception.

So, let my story be a warning to you.

Are You at Risk of Burning Out? Ask Yourself These 9 Questions

“Me? Burned out? Get out of here!”

I didn’t really know what it meant to be burned out. All I knew is that I lost my motivation. Slowly, at first…

But it got bad quickly. Really bad.

So, I looked into the science of “burnout.” I wanted to know what was really going on with me. What I found can help you figure out if you’re at risk… and what you can do about it.

First, what is burnout?

As it turns out burnout is a form of DEPRESSION.

Yes, I know that’s a big, scary word. People are afraid to say it. But let’s not sugarcoat anything – the science is pretty clear on this.

The cause is pretty clear, too:

Burnout is the result of long-term, unresolvable STRESS at work.

It’s way more common than you may think. According to the Harvard Business Review, about 50% of people are burned out.

(This data includes traditional employees, too. So the number among entrepreneurs and freelancers is likely to be much higher.)

This is to say: You’re far from alone if you’re feeling burned out.

So what are the symptoms?

Here are 9 questions you should ask yourself:

  • Are you exhausted all the time?
  • Do you feel more anxious about your business than you used to?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed and indecisive?
  • Are you struggling to focus?
  • Are you having headaches?
  • Are you suffering from sleeplessness?
  • Are you getting angry about small stuff that used to not bother you?
  • Are you emotionally more and more disengaged from your business?
  • Do you feel totally frustrated, stuck, or uncreative at work?

Now, the symptoms may be different for everyone.

For me? I couldn’t sleep.

No, not like I had a hard time falling asleep. I couldn’t sleep. At all. There were weeks during which I got a total of 6 hours of sleep. As you can imagine, it impacted my work in a massive way. I needed to make a change.

So…

If your answer is “yes” to 4 or more of the questions above, it’s probably time for you to make a change as well.

I have some suggestions.

How to Re-Ignite Your Entrepreneurial Flame

So what can you do?

Let me give some insanely practical advice. I want to share 6 ways to prevent – or recover from – entrepreneurial burnout. Each tip is either backed by research or my own experience.

The good news is, by reading this, you’ve already taken the first step…

#1: Notice (and Admit) It Early

You’re reading this.

So, my guess is:

You or someone you know is going through entrepreneurial burnout… and you’ve NOTICED IT.

That’s the first step.

Look, being an entrepreneur IS stressful. But there’s good stress and bad stress. Good stress pushes you to create your best work and gives you a feeling of fulfillment or joy. Bad stress just makes you age faster.

Sure, we all have bad days. But when you feel uninspired or unmotivated EVERY DAY… Something needs to change.

Now, the hard part is:

When you notice it, you have to ADMIT that it’s happening.

The sooner you admit it, the better.

This is where I struggled. I was probably burned out for a year before I admitted it to myself. Once I did, I was finally able to make the changes I needed to make in order to find back to my old self.

Remember:

When you run a business, you’re at a higher risk of burnout. Probably more than half of all entrepreneurs people go through it at some point. So, it’s not just you. In fact, it’s totally normal.

#2 Commit to Making a Change

It’s time to make a change. So what can you do?

First, you need to identify the root cause.

You see, we know that stress leads to burnout. But where is all the stress coming from?

Well, research shows that the root cause of ALL stress is a mismatch between you and what you do.

I’ll explain.

For example, it may be a mismatch in TIME.

If you’re constantly running out of time, not delivering projects by their deadline, or showing up late for appointments, there’s a mismatch between your time and your work. This causes stress. Over time it will lead to burnout.

As another example, there may be a mismatch between your effort and your results.

In other words, if you’re working your butt off with little to no results for a long time… eventually you’ll burn out.

Look, there are a lot of things in business you CAN’T control – accept it. To prevent burnout, you need to focus on things you CAN control. So…

Now, I don’t know exactly what’s causing stress for you. But I’d bet that it’s some kind of mismatch. It could be a mismatch in time, control, values, confidence, or something else.

Figure out what it is. Then eliminate it.

Once you do that, you’ll be able to…

#3 Give Yourself Some Room To Breathe

When you’re working for yourself it’s tempting to work all the time. I call this the “I’m so busy” trap. It’s the fast track to entrepreneurial burnout. That’s why you need to take some guilt-free time off.

However…

In my experience, when you’re already burned out, even a few days off won’t reignite your entrepreneurial flame.

In fact, I went on a vacation last year. I came back feeling great. I was ready to DO THIS. Yeah… the energy lasted for about half a day, and I was right back in the same rut.

That’s why making a real change to your work – by realigning the mismatch that’s CAUSING all the stress like I talked about above – is so important.

Here’s something that might help:

I often see – especially new entrepreneurs – agreeing to projects and meetings they don’t really want to do. I used to do this all the time and get really p*ssed off at myself for it.

Then I jumped on the “No train” and learned how to politely say no. It made a huge difference for me.

#4 Connect With Others

If I didn’t have to I’d never leave the house. That’s part of the reason Social Triggers is a remote company. Meaning, I’m in New York City, my employees are spread across the country.

Overall, this is great for everyone. Thanks to collaborative tools like Slack, Google, etc. there’s really no “technical” reason we need to be in the same place. But it comes with one big challenge.

Loneliness.

We discovered this in one of our weekly team meetings. Every team member had the same experience… including myself. Research data backs this up, too. Feeling lonely can reduce your happiness at work by 12%.

That’s why as an entrepreneur, it’s important you build yourself a support network and connect with like-minded people.

If you’re a solopreneur, go out and meet others in your industry. Not to network. Just to feel like you’re not alone. It will keep you motivated and your ideas flowing.

Here’s a cool thing we did at Social Triggers:

To create a more collaborative space, we started a #callforhelp slack channel.

Anytime someone has a question, needs some quick input or feedback, they can post it there. Whoever on the team has the time or can offer some feedback can jump in. It’s been a great tool for us. You could start a group like this with your co-workers or like-minded entrepreneurs.

But it’s not just about the support AT WORK.

It’s just as important to spend time with supportive friends and family. The key word is: supportive.

Seriously. There are some people who like to take a big fat firehose to your entrepreneurial flame.

I say, f*%$ ’em.

So, ditch the haters. Here’s how.

#5 Make Life Easy

Remember, burnout is a result of constant stress. Both at work and OUTSIDE of work. That’s why I always try to reduce the “everyday struggle.” Aka I just keep things as simple as possible.

For example…

I try to limit my decisions. Kind of like Barack Obama only wears gray or blue suits:

You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.

For example, I wear the same, black v-neck t-shirts every day.

The bigger point is:

Think about what’s stressing you out outside of work. Then, think of a solution. How can you make your life easier?

If it makes my life easier, I’m willing to spend money on it, too. That’s my rule. Because being cheap will only stress you out more.

Finally…

#6 Fuel Your Passion

Do you even remember WHY you do what you do?

Entrepreneurial burnout is the result of letting all the small stuff stress you out to the point where you forget why you started in the first place.

That’s what happened to me. I was so busy growing my business, I forgot why I started creating content in the first place.

I still created a lot of valuable content for all my courses. But all the FUN got lost along the way. I got bored. And people noticed.

Looking back, something really strange had happened:

I was working all the time. But I didn’t enjoy it. So, I kept telling myself, I’ll do the “fun stuff” when I’m done with the “work stuff.” But, I rarely got to it. I thought the “fun” was the reward for the work…

But I had it backward. The fun is the FUEL.

Light. Bulb. Moment.

This was the wake-up call I needed. I remembered how much FUN it was to create videos. I remembered how much I enjoyed the process.

That’s when I decided to start my daily vlog. Maybe I’m crazy. It’s a lot of work, for sure! But it’s giving me energy, instead of draining it.

And that’s my final piece of advice if you’re feeling burned out:

Do something fun.

Go back and ask yourself why you started your business. Or why you do what you do. I’ll bet you, you started because it was fun, too, right?

See if you can tap into THAT feeling again.

Then, make it a priority. Don’t just do the “fun stuff” as a reward. Because the fun is your fuel.

Entrepreneur burnout is real – and it’s brutal.

I experience it first hand. So I hope this was helpful for you. Now I want to hear from you…

Are you in a rut right now? Did you experience burnout in the past? What did YOU do to get inspired again?

Please share your story in the comments.

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18 comments Leave a comment
Sergiu

Derek, awesome video!
The level of vulnerability really made me connect with you on a deeper level than usual. That’s probably why it is the most viewed Youtube video out of your last 42 videos. Keep up with the authentic videos, showing the real life of an entrepreneur!

I love that you went back to doing something you really liked (Youtube videos), as an attempt to remedy the situation. But my gut feeling is that it may be just another thing that will fade away after some time, and you may end up back again in the same spot.

I’d like you to check out something that I feel could be useful to you. I believe that it could help you deal with burnout and get you back on the right path.
I’m talking about Simon Sinek’s “Find your WHY” concept and workshop/book. You’ve probably already heard about it. But did you give it a try?

His book with the process of actually discovering your personal why has been released in Sep 2017 and I think he has live workshops where you can go through his process, last time they were announced on his FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/simonsinek/events/

After I went through it, I highly recommend it to everybody I care about.
If you do it, most probably it can also be a great topic for a new video for your daily vlog.

Cheers

Tony

Your email came at the right time for me. I’m a “baby entrepeneur” – just getting going. The overwhelm is a big one for me: much of it from getting business building advice from all kinds of sources. I have to cut out almost all of those sources and stick to one or two. Also, I am having fun just making videos! Not doing it for the money right now, but just doing it for the heck of it. It has really helped reinvigorate me. thanks again!

Beth Q

Haha
Y’all need to learn from parents of young kids. That is burn out central. Sans kids you have so much control over your life you have no idea.

When I stopped opting in to convential culture with our kids our freedom started to open up and our stress went way down.

No to most birthday parties. No to a school other than the one given. No to extra classes. No to eating out. No to kids runnning the social schedule. No to F tons of toys. No to most friends without kids.

Beth Q

“ the fun is the fuel”
Stop the scroll
Then I do the slow blink. The one when I want to burn something into my brain

Rahila Narejo

Wowzee-wow-wow!
You’ve really hit the pains of entrepreneurship on the head.
I’ve been an entrepreneur for 17 years and have experienced burnout a couple of times.
I found that it hits when I start forgetting who I am and what I want from my life and start worrying about pleasing everyone else.
Stay true to yourself, your heart, and your art…if you do, the universe begins to align with you.
PS. Despite the struggles, ups-and-downs, I wouldn’t give up entrepreneurship for the world!
PPS. I’ve started creating a black and white wardrobe…and I’m using accessories to bring in a punch of color. It has made life super easy for me!

Trish

Great post. So true. I find breaking up my day in parts with breaks in between is very helpful – along with exercise, getting outside, and sleep.

Thanks Derek for the tips.

Cathy

Derek,
Yes! I have been in the midst of burn out. I recently started working with a coach because a big issue for me was I was working so much and have very little to show for it. Always financially struggling.

When I started doing website design and development, it was in the late 90’s and it was like magic. “You mean if I write this HTML code, it makes a page layout??” Making layouts in Photoshop, slicing them up and putting them back together in HTML was fun. Nowadays it’s more programming than aesthetics. Anyway, all that to say the work I do has changed a LOT over the years.

My coach just last week asked me to focus on WHY I do what I do. Just like you asked. What is my passion? Well, when I’m feeling burned out, it’s hard to think I’m passionate about anything.

Your suggestion that the FUN IS THE FUEL is a HUGE revelation to me!! Thank you!!

D'Angelo

This is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately in my full-time job, which requires a lot of mental gymnastics and is super demanding. I suspected for a while that’s it’s been due to a lack of NON-work-related events in my day-to-day.

“All I do is work, work, work, no matter what. Got my money on my mind and now I’m in a rut. Every time I turn on my computer, my inbox and my stress goes UP… AND THEY STAY THERE!”

Sorry, got musically inspired while I was typing this.

But all in all, I think you’re onto something with “FUN IS THE FUEL.” I could definitely use more fun in my life.

Daleen

Derek, you moved out of your productive zone. In your zone you will always be enegized no matter how hard you work.

You will be like a well or fountain that doesn’t run dry. If you move to activities and engagements that fall outside of your productive zone you will quickly run dry, almost like taking water from a tank, and it leads to burnout, depression, procrastination and will affect even your health.

The key to staying happy, energised and insanely productive is to spend at least 80% of your day in your productive zone.

There are 7 productive zones but only in one of these will all your cylinders be firing.

    Milos

    Hi Daleen,

    Could you please elaborate further on those 7 productive zones that you mentioned? Thank you in advance for any help you give in that regard. 🙂

Chibebe

I’m in a rut right now. A dear friend realized this and sent me the link to the article and I’m glad.

Having read this, I will go ahead and begin to implement the steps I ve learnt here, starting with a social hangout tomorrow, which I was considering skipping before now.

Thanks for this article Derek!

Cara

Great post! I’ve found the same thing. I had a 2-year period where I thought I didn’t have time or money to do road trips, and they are what spark my creativity. I think it’s a combination of pushing out of my comfort zone (I travel with 3 kids solo), boredom from all the driving, and fun of experiencing new and different places that all help. Last June I started again, and I’m back on track! It feels great.

Having a mastermind group is super helpful too- I just started one with local business owners and it’s been fantastic for troubleshooting problems with fresh solutions.

Beatrix

Eat well: no takeout.
Sleep: at least 8 hours during the night.
Move: get outside.
Get some Rhodiola or similar for handling the stress better.

Jeffery

Hi Derek, I had the same experience as you did, no wonder I didnt hear and see your video for quite sometime, now I knew.

Myself was burned out two years back, got stuck with my works and passions, everyday live like zombie, cant sleep well, felt alone and sometimes lonely. The feeling was horrible, while need to pretend steady and act nothing to struggle through these periods. I suffered for this burn out period for one two years, and finally I decided to move to another smaller city and started another new business.

Thats a real big decision, as I have been living in the capital city for almost 20 years, now moving to a much smaller town with less population and working opportunities. But as an entrepreneur, I managed to find my own blue ocean market, in the new city. I am slowly adapting to it and find myself much happier and relax, life got more balance.

I am happy to read this post Derek, thank you, at least I knew I am not alone 😀

Matt

Thanks Derek.
For the past year I’ve been asking myself, not wanting to accept it, “am I burned out” … “I think I’ve burned out”… as you’ve highlighted, the path to fixing it is only through accepting it. Thanks again for sharing a great article … Now it’s time for me to deal with it

Cheers,
Matt

Sadiyya Patel

Hi Derek,

Thank you for the timely post. For the first time in several years of working like a maniac, I’m on the verge of a burnout. I think some time spent away from my business, just focusing on other areas of my life for a while will work wonders.

Jose

Dude, I also loved Casey’s video.
What an AMAZING piece of content.

Your post is so on point.
I experience this a couple times and if fucking sucks.

But thats the way it is.
You learn and adapt.

Very useful tips Derek!

Keep pumping new vids!!

Promise

Great post, Derek!
So, I was right about the black t-shirts.
I am also currently in the process of making my wardrobe simpler to choose from. I’m not out there to impress anyone by meeting up to their expectations. Rather, I aspire to be the best version of myself possible.

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