If I ask you what comes to mind when you think about entrepreneurship, you’ll likely think of buzzwords like ‘success,’ ‘money,’ or ‘the American Dream.’ Or maybe you’ll think of entrepreneurs who embody these traits, like Warren Buffet or Sara Blakely.
We think so highly of entrepreneurship because we romanticize startup culture. We imagine entrepreneurs pouring themselves into their companies and coming into work every day with a smile on their face. We don’t address concerns like burnout because it erodes our perception of what entrepreneurship should be. But this is reality. There is a real mental health crisis happening in the startup community right now and it gets swept under the rug.
While burnout doesn’t discriminate against industry, experience or age, it does favor entrepreneurs who are the most passionate about what they do. And this usually triggers a very dangerous cycle. Being overly productive can incite burnout, which stifles productivity, which leads to even higher levels of burnout. If this cycle continues on without regard, it isn’t just going to chip away at your mental health, it could take your company down with it.
There’s no secret that will make you immune to the effects of burnout. From my own experience, entrepreneurial success is contingent on how mindful you are about your productivity. The old adage is true: it isn’t about how hard you work, it’s about how smart you work. I’ve always said that productivity is one part passion, one part desire and one part competitiveness. But they only work when they’re in perfect balance.
Chase your vision
Every entrepreneur wants to be successful, and success is only possible because of money. You need it to grow your business, but you also need it to sustain your entrepreneurial career. However, money should never be your only motivator. You see this all the time in the startup world — new entrepreneurs looking to make fast money. But the majority of the time, these entrepreneurs are pushed out of their industries with a failed business under their belts.
Entrepreneurship is hard. You have to dedicate your entire life to building your company, especially in the first few years of business. Some entrepreneurs report putting in upwards of 95 hours of work in any given week. If money is your only motivator, the challenges and tribulations won’t be worth it. The long hours and financial stress are only manageable when you’re chasing your passion.
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, says it best: “Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.” My passion didn’t only allow me to build a successful company, it’s what made me want to put in the necessary time and work to achieve what I had set out to do. Because I pursued my vision, my interest in my industry hasn’t waned once, even when success felt impossible. Money has just been a great byproduct of my passion.
The ‘love what you do’ narrative of entrepreneurship may be overused, but it’s what manifests the productivity that will be the difference in whether or not you become another ‘failed business’ statistic.
Don’t wish. Do.
You should continuously set new goals for yourself. To wish these goals into reality is sensible, but simply wishing for something to come true is different than having an actual desire to bring it into fruition.
You can wish to hire more experienced employees that will add breadth to your company, but what are you doing to make it happen? Are you allocating your budget in a way that allows you to have increased flexibility with salary negotiations? Are you enhancing your onboarding and training resources to nurture these more experienced employees from day one? You can hope to achieve these goals, but aspirations are nothing without desire.
Harnessing this desire to accomplish your goals sounds obvious, but it’s actually one of the hardest things you’ll do every day. It’s a conscious choice; you have to show up and choose to get things done, even when you’re having a bad day and just don’t feel like it. As you achieve your goals, more will fill their place. Exploit your desire so that you are constantly pushing yourself towards your next milestone, while also knowing that it’s a never-ending journey to the top.
A healthy sense of competition
Notice I used the world ‘healthy’ here. Entrepreneurs are in constant competition with themselves and the world around them. As such, it’s easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with your competitive side.
Jillene Grover Seiver, PhD, professor of psychology, found that people performed better when matched up against a rival. Entrepreneurs do this every day. Whether it be an established company or an up-and-coming startup, there is always someone that will be trying to steal your spotlight. If that happens, it could undo all of your hard work. Entrepreneurship is a lot like sports in this way.
Competition drives innovation and creativity, while also making us more productive. But keep your competitiveness in check. If you become too obsessed with competition, it could consume your thoughts and deplete all of your energy. Instead of using competition to push yourself to do better, you’re going to manifest burnout, which could kill your business.
Everyone’s entrepreneurial journey will look different, but the ones who find success do so on top of passion, desire and a healthy sense of competition.