How I Reset My Life and Tips to Avoiding Burnout
Sleep more. Eat well. Celebrate often. Build great things and other ways I took back control of my entrepreneurial life.
Almost two months ago, I flamed out pretty publicly, hit rock bottom, and was ready to throw in the towel. I detailed what I was going through on Medium in the hopes that it would help me to clear my head. It was also helpful in explaining to so many different people in my life the rationale behind my decision. Maybe, too, it can help others in similar places in their lives — though honestly, that was not my purpose.
I’ve taken the past two months to reset my life, my priorities, my work style, and my mental outlook. No, I didn’t travel the world and have a revelation while sleeping in a hut in some remote corner of the globe. Instead, I doubled down and wanted to experiment with a bunch of different business ideas. I tried to trick myself into believing I could walk away from them come September and find a “real” job in the “real” world.
As an aside, what makes your world more “real” than mine? I’m confident that while my challenges may be different, that I don’t have a commute or retirement plan or even a life plan does not make my world “fake” or “imaginary.”
Pardon the digress.
After jettisoning myself from the wheel I was stuck in, I found myself slowly being drawn back to it. I actively made the decision to continue to start companies, build products, and straight-up hustle. But now I’m doing it on my terms. I’m not getting in that hamster wheel again; I’ll buy a treadmill instead.
To most, it must seem like I’m continuing with my life as it was in April. To me, it’s as if I’m starting over.
Tip 1: Read More.
When I was starting out four years ago, I would devour books, articles, and any content that seemed like it could help me. There’s no magic pill of knowledge, especially in business. Think of each book like a small rock that you’re piling up on one side of a scale. When the scale tips, you gain insight.
I got away from reading and inadvertently stopped learning.
There’s so much new material on market validation, ideation, audience building, and customer segmentation that a quick visit to Amazon with my prime membership had my book shelf restocked with new material.
Tip 2: Write Everyday.
This advice comes from a presenter at the Northside Festival, Jeff Steinmann, if I’m remembering correctly. Write no less than 750 words a day.
While I don’t publish daily on Medium anymore, I still try to follow this advice. Most of my writing is for my eyes only.
And no, emails don’t count towards the word target. Write for yourself — it will force you to communicate your thoughts and deal with complicated issues otherwise left to storm in your head.
Tip 3: The End Times are Nigh — NOT
I wish I could remember where I read this advice, but for the life of me, I can’t place it.
In summary, it read something like this: Realize that as bad as a situation is, it’s highly unlikely to end your business. But even if your company fails, it’s still not the end of the world.
I lived my daily life in so much fear the past two years that it paralyzed my thoughts, limited my actions, and led to self-destructive behavior.
Not anymore. I’ve come to terms with having to close everything down and walk away — the fear of failure no longer keeps me lying awake with cold sweats. More than anything else on this list, grasping this lesson has unleashed me to take bigger risks and, more importantly, take joy in doing so.
Tip 4: General Maintenance.
Sleep seven hours a night. Get 10,000 steps. Eat veggies. Exercise for an hour. Drink more water.
To put it another way, regardless of the make of a car, it can’t go anywhere or perform at peak levels without proper maintenance, a full tank, and an oil change.
Every time when I called my grandmother, she always asked me three questions: 1) Are you getting enough sleep? 2) Are you eating well? 3) Are you having some fun? That’s a pretty good checklist to live by.
Tip 5: Embrace Your Competitor’s Successes
I spent a lot of mental energy battling my competitors’ victories. This zero-sum approach to life and business is draining and leads to cynical, mean-spirited behavior.
As difficult as it is at times, I’m trying to find happiness in watching competing businesses score wins. Most markets are not zero sum and any impact to grow the aggregate market by any actor yields greater positive results — more customers, more revenue, more profit — for all parties.
Pro-Tip: Your competitors may not see things this way but don’t let that send you into a spiral — like it had done to me. Keep your hand and mind open to friendship and coordination even if it keeps getting slapped away. For all the talk of wanting to collaborate, most people don’t want to do it. Let that be their loss, not your own.
Tip 6: Celebrate Your Victories
A lot of talk in the startup world centers on analyzing failures and iterating quickly. I consider myself a disciple of this lean startup ideology and teach its methods to my students.
However, it’s easy to slip into a place where you are entrenched in failure. I’ve taken more time over the past two months to appreciate my wins and what I’ve been able to achieve.
Go beyond reflection. Mark your win with a physical celebration and enjoy them — go out for a celebratory drink, reward yourself/your team with a few hours off, get a special lunch, anything to mark the moment.
Perspective is a powerful tool. Don’t lose sight of the positive impact you have.
Tip 7: Expel Ghosts
It’s easy to be haunted by the past. Ghosts of past failings, particularly sizable ones, hanged around my head for months, even years. They clouded my vision and distracted me from accomplishment.
For example, I had a student break a contract with me, which cost me over three-thousand bucks and seriously dented my reputation. To add insult, his family then threatened frivolous litigation and he started a competing company to one of my ventures.
Not an easy episode to move on from. But what choice do you have?
Tip 8: Make People Happy
Seems like a no-brainer, huh? There are three groups of people on whom to concentrate.
Make Your Customers Happy
Notice that I didn’t say “keep.” To-do lists pile up with activities relating to keeping customers happy, but “keep” is the baseline. You want customers who will tell everyone about how you went out of your way to make them happy. Plus, happy customers mean you should have much less to stress about. Devote at least 3–4 hours every day to making your customers happy.
Ensure Your Team is Happy
Keep your team energized and excited, especially if they are customer facing. Respond to their needs and give them room to complete objectives with their own style.
Be Happy with Your Partners
Harmony among business partners is paramount to success. Small cracks form from frustration and gradually breed resentment. Keep lines of communication open and honest, and create a culture that incentivizes performance.
Tip 9: Make. Build. Create.
I think in the heart of every entrepreneur is a drive to create, whether that’s coding software, prototyping physical goods, or fostering a community.
I’ve enjoyed building new products more than any other tasks over the past two months. Engrossing myself in daily building challenges reminds me of solving advanced problems in my high school AP Calc class. There’s sweet victory in problem solving and tangible advancement.
I’ll be posting an update on each of the projects that I’m working on sometime this week! I’ve been busy preparing for all of the summer programs with my students — the one-week Young Entrepreneur Challenge, the one-week Diplomacy Academy, and then leaving for China + India with my travel teams. My next post will outline my goals for the rest of the summer — make sure you follow my Medium account to stay tuned!