Starting my 8th year of founding and being CEO of Chewse, I’ve learned a few nonconventional lessons. One topic that’s kicked my ass is motivation and energy. We’re told that we burn out when we’ve worked long hours for a long time. Oddly, I’ve found that the relationship between hours worked and burn out isn’t always correlated. Sometimes I work normal hours but still feel drained.
While burnout has many contributing factors, my new hypothesis is that building a culture that’s inauthentic to the founding team will lead to burnout. Fighting burnout isn’t about the hours or stress but rather the motivation to continue fighting for the mission you love with the team you love working with. If either of those things doesn’t ring true, then you’ll lose steam.
Four years into running my tech company in San Francisco, I was facing down a low cash position and a critical fundraise. I was intimidated and tired. It was then that I (re)discovered the deeper reason that I started my company.
I attended a CEO Retreat where an ugly piece of my childhood came back up: being bullied. At ten years old, I was so severely bullied that I used to eat lunch alone in the bathroom. Talking this out loud in a room of 15 other CEOs, all the loose connections in my life suddenly fused together. It suddenly made sense why I was fighting so damn hard to grow Chewse — our mission is to ensure that no one eats lunch alone.
The retreat helped me reconnect to my purpose in an almost spiritual way. I came back from it and shared the story with my team, which made me extremely nervous. Would they find it weird? Would they judge me? Quite the opposite. It absolutely invigorated my team and I, getting us through a difficult period before raising our Series A. And we shifted our culture towards an authentic expression of love and connection, in alignment with my own personal values and history (and overlapping with the values and backgrounds of my teammates).
This is why I’ve made it a top priority to build a culture that I align with. And even knowing this I still grapple with feeling “selfish” for wanting a culture that accommodates me. But then again, is it that crazy that a leader wants and needs to build a company that aligns with her values and purpose?
If you want to read more about how we built a culture uniquely and authentically grounded in my twin values of Love and Excellence, please read on here.