A Tale of Entrepreneurial Burnout (and how to avoid it)

By Justine Clay

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, over-worked or anxious as an entrepreneur?  I know I have.

This Spring I hit one of the lowest points in my eight years as a small business owner. I was running two businesses, I had a young family and, quite frankly, I was stretched too thin.  I was overwhelmed by the number of balls I had in the air, and feeling guilty when I dropped one.  I was bursting into tears way too often and I didn’t want to talk about my goals for growing the businesses because it stressed me out. Something had to give.

And give it did.  I finally acknowledged that I needed help and sat down with my husband/business advisor/saint to look at the “brutal facts” (his words).  In that safe space I was able to objectively look at what was working and what wasn’t. I was also able to be honest about what I REALLY wanted and where I saw my future.  The upshot was that I decided to close Plum Creative, the talent management agency I’ve run since 2006, and focus all of my time and energy on my coaching business, Pitch Perfect. 

Immediately, I felt a huge shift.  I felt aligned with my mission, excited about the future and a huge amount of mental space open up.  I won’t lie, I still scared, but many of my fears about what my clients and talent would say, turned out to be unfounded. Everyone was incredibly gracious and supportive, for which I will be forever grateful.

Being a small business owner means living on the front lines. We don’t have the luxury of a buffer and business-as-usual just doesn’t exist for us.  If we are to fulfill our potential and build a thriving business, have to do everything we can to make sure we’re in fighting shape.  Luckily there’s a lot we can do to maximize our chances of success and build resiliency.

Here are a few strategies that help me:

1) Exercise
Cruise control doesn’t really exist for entrepreneurs.  As soon as we get comfortable, it’s a sure sign that we need to push our boundaries. As a result, full-tilt becomes the norm.  Unfortunately, it’s not sustainable and sooner or later our bodies tell us so.  

Exercise is one the best ways I know to re-calibrate my body AND mind.  A morning run improves my productivity, boosts my creativity, helps me solve problems and I sleep better. Which brings me to number 2

2) Get enough sleep
I’m so happy that the likes of Arianna Huffington are calling out the workaholic, I-don’t-need-sleep, chest-thumpers.  Accept it, you’re human and humans need a lot of sleep.  Know how many hours you need (I need eight) and protect them like your life depends upon it.

3) Eat well
As an entrepreneur, your number one goal is to deliver and excellent product or service.  If you put crap into your body, it’s going to reflect in your output.  I’m not saying you need to be extreme (I love coffee, enjoy a glass of wine and have never done a cleanse), just be mindful about the choices you make.

4) Share your fears
I’m convinced that a healthy level of vulnerability is essential to a successful business and happy life. We may think that our clients/employees/co-workers and family need us to be invincible super-heroes, but the opposite is actually true. When we share our vulnerabilities with others, we allow them to offer their support, ideas and resources.  I know it can be scary, so start small. Share something a little scary with someone you trust and see what reaction you get. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


5) Invest in your life outside of work
Our businesses are our babies and it’s all too easy to tie our identity up with our successes and failures.  Hobbies and spending time with family and friends keep things in perspective, while giving us the support and reprieve we need.

6) Make a plan
If you’re consistently feeling overwhelmed and anxious, it’s a sure sign that something’s wrong. The answer is rarely to work harder or put in more hours, but rather to find a way to align with what brings you joy and provides others with tangible results.  It’s not always easy for us to spot our own unique gifts, so ask yourself this:  What would you do all day for free? What do others come to you for? When we mindfully build our business around our true talents, the clients, money and success naturally follow.

If you’re ready to build a business around your unique gifts, but don’t know where to start, let’s set up a time to chat. I’d love to hear your business challenges, answer questions and talk about solutions.

Here’s to your health, happiness and success!


The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship – Inc Magazine

If you’re ready to look at the ‘brutal facts’, I’d recommend Good to Great (especially chapters 4 and 5)


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