- Enduring the lows
- Short-circuit your reward system.
- Start your own “Wins” collection.
- Lean on your friends and loved ones.
- Optimizing the highs
- Working on the right stuff
- Avoiding the Cliffs of Burnout
The path of entrepreneurship is a winding, twisting, emotionally perilous road that takes us in every direction. The cover of Scott Belsky’s book,
From start to finish—where “finishing” means retiring, selling your business, whatever it is for you—the road is unpredictable and truly all over the place.
I like to say this:
You’d better have your emotional seat belt on.
If not, you’ll get whipped around corners, pulled out of your seat, and thrown right out of the windshield. This is the metaphor I like to use for when entrepreneurs “burn out,” “lose it,” or any similar term you might hear.
Enduring the lows
There are a few ways you stay “strapped in” by building your emotional seatbelt. The primary objective here is not to fix the problems—yet—but simply to damage control your own psyche.
When things are bad, we need to be extra-attentive to our own needs and be our own best friend, our own biggest fan. Here’s how.
Short-circuit your reward system.
Our brain is wired to reward us when things go well, and punish us when things go bad. It’s a great design for survival, but can be dangerous in our safe, cushy, modern lives.
Use this system to your advantage: engineer small ”wins” for yourself.
Accomplish something easy. What is one small thing you can accomplish that takes little-to-no energy or thought?
Start your own “Wins” collection. Whether it’s a folder on your computer, a page here in Notion, a Google Drive folder, or anything else, the key is to start a collection of reminders that you’re doing good work.
I have a folder in my computer called “wins” where I collect screenshots of emails, comments and messages from people who paid me a compliment or that noticed my effort in a situation. It’s not there for me to check to remind me how great I am, it’s there to remind me I’m lying to myself when I don’t feel capable of doing something. When I stumble upon it, it always puts a smile on my face, and the Chimp [the more emotional part of our brain] appreciates it too. –on Medium.Rick Veronese
Take screenshots or copy down what people said, and save them in that place. Consult it whenever you need a reminder of why you’re rad.
(And read more about the Chimp brain in
Start your own “Wins” collection.
Whether it’s a folder on your computer, a page here in Notion, a Google Drive folder, or anything else, the key is to start a collection of reminders that you’re doing good work.
Take screenshots or copy down what people said, and save them in that place.
Consult it whenever you need a reminder of why you’re rad.
Lean on your friends and loved ones.
It’s easy to think, “I don’t want to be a burden,” or “How will they think of me?” but you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t lean on your friends and loved ones during tough times.
Good friends actually expect this of you—they feel honored that you’re coming to them for help; they drop what they’re doing if possible; they come to your rescue. Unfortunately, not everyone is fortunate enough to have this type of person in their life.
if friends or family turn you away or make you feel bad for coming to them in need, or for being a “burden,” then you’ll want to find better people to reach out to. Hiring a professional, like a therapist, is excellent—there is nothing bad about seeking therapy. If you can’t afford it, then at the very least there are online communities like r/depression, hotlines, and live chat services that you can take advantage of. Don’t hesitate if you need it—those services are there for moments just like that.
Optimizing the highs
Of course, the second half of this lesson is all about getting the most out of your high-energy, high-motivation moments. When things are good, we need to make the most of it without burning ourselves out. Here’s how.
Working on the right stuff
When you’re on top of the world, it’s tempting to revel in optimism and see everything through rose-tinted glasses. Don’t. Enjoy the feeling, but channel it. Channeling your emotional highs into your work is how you turn a purely emotional experience into something that got results. When you focus your positive energy into your work, you can easily double, triple, tenfold your output.
This comes in the form of both raw productivity—how much you get done—and perhaps even more importantly, strategy/creativity—what you accomplish. It’s not enough to simply type away like a mad hatter at your keyboard for hours on end if what you’re creating isn’t any different than the rest of what’s out there. You need to optimize these periods of mental energy and motivation as opportunities for strategic planning.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is what you’re spending most of your energy on the most important stuff? (See .)
- Does your work more often feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, or chasing down after it?
- Have you ever considered changing up what you offer to clients?
These kinds of prompts are helpful for addressing the possibility that your craft and business operations may have room to improve.
As a blogger/content writer, you may have wondered whether there isn’t a better way to get the types of marketing results your clients are after. You may have had ideas for how to manage your workflow more efficiently. Whatever you’ve been considering, there’s a strong chance it’s a good hunch!
Optimizing the highs means tapping into your most creative and productive mental space, and thinking strategically about your own business/work as well as your clients’. Anyone can burn mental energy knocking out huge task lists. But the most successful practitioners and consultants use their “highs” to think up creative ways to improve every part of their business: what they sell to their clients, how they find new clients, how they can operate more efficiently, and more.
Do the same—audit yourself with the questions above, and more questions like those Chris Guillebeau includes in How to Conduct Your Own Business Audit.
Avoiding the Cliffs of Burnout
Have you ever gone careening over the edge of the Cliffs of Burnout? I have, and I can tell you it’s not fun or easy to come back from. Most of us do eventually find our way back to reality, but the experience takes a huge toll on your mind and body. Best to avoid it entirely.
To begin, learn the “leading indicators” of burnout. Here are some of the most common:
- Starting to fatigue/lose focus earlier in your work day
- Losing clarity on what you’ve set out to accomplish
- Feeling a loss of motivation for what you’re working on
- Feeling general disappointment in yourself, your work, the world, etc.
In short, when you start to notice that you’re losing your superpowers, it’s time to engage the landing gear. You’ve been lucky enough to experience a “high,” and you don’t want to crash and lose a ton of momentum from all your efforts.
When you’ve noticed one or multiple of these leading indicators beginning to creep into your awareness, it‘s time to exit the stage gracefully. Do this correctly, and you can maintain an impressive level of creativity and productivity as you “level out” from your high.
If you’re working a lot, you can start by forcibly reducing the amount of work you’re doing each day. Call it quits a half hour earlier, take an extra-long lunch, start a bit later in your day—whatever works best for you and your routine preferences.
You can also start to reintroduce certain kinds of activities that help keep your mind and body in peak condition. If you haven’t already, look into yoga and other forms of physical activity, as well as guided meditations and other forms of mental exercise. Not every type is everyone’s cup of tea—just find something that works for you, and start practicing it often.
Finally, when you start feeling the leading indicators of burnout, you should start practicing the items listed in Enduring the Lows above—short-circuiting your reward system, leaning on friends. Essentially, all the ways to avoid the Cliffs of Burnout are the same tactics used to endure the lows. You’ve come full circle!
Master the art of not crashing, and you will have an extremely productive career full of soaring highs and steady, non-destructive lows.