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One Thing That Is Even More Fulfilling & Meaningful Than Being an Entrepreneur

Ever wonder if you’re burning out? If someone had told me six years ago that I would become a statistic I wouldn’t have believed them.

If they would have told me that it would happen because I lacked self-love, I would have thought them downright crazy.

When it happened, I blamed the long hours, the pressure to deliver, the work overload, my managers’ leadership deficiencies and the toxic culture on the work-floor. It was their fault, not the lack of self-love that caused it. They were demanding too much of me. They were instilling in me the fear of missing out; Conditioning me into competitiveness. It was their expectations that caused me to go into overdrive. Them! Not me.

And, so I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time. I left them. I threw in the towel. I resigned. Not just from that particular job; I resigned from the concept of employment altogether. I became a ZZP’er (independent contractor) instead. A self-employed, self-steering, self-empowered solopreneur!

I refer to this phase in my life as a wonderful “playground for my schizoflair” where I got the chance to flex and sculpt my entrepreneurial and value-adding muscles in a variety of projects and roles. I got the chance to wear different hats and fill different-sized shoes. I was enjoying my newfound independence and freedom.

Until, four years later, when just as I landed one of my most exciting assignments, just as I thought I had reached the apex of my career, just as I thought that I was finally reaping the rewards that I had worked so hard for… There it was. The burnout. Rearing its ugly head again.

This time, I couldn’t blame cultural toxicity — I worked from my own office. This time, I could not blame the long hours — I managed my own schedule. This time, I had no boss — I was in charge.

Once again, I was forced to step out of the game. Forced to throw in another towel.

Over the months following this burnout-encore, I became so determined to get to the bottom of it, that through it all, I managed not only to write a book on the topic but also to get a US publisher excited about it. I was living the American dream… in a state of total exhaustion.

With my book, I was determined to demonstrate how business concepts like “change,” “teamwork” and “professional development” are seemingly presenting new opportunities for prosperity, but in reality are undermining individuals’ health, and I found more than enough empirical evidence to support my claim. That made for a nice compendium of everything that currently goes wrong on the work floor. But what that didn’t do, is cure my dis-ease. And neither did the tens of specialists and therapists that I asked for help.

I took a sabbatical from self-employment and went on a journey of self-exploration instead. The more distance from work that I took, the more I started to see that on my quest to solve this burnout mystery, I was leaving a critical clue out of the equation and looking at an incomplete picture. Worse even, I was overlooking the main suspect. Myself.

Let me explain. All the factors of the high-performing job: the long hours, the pressure to deliver, the performance culture, the specific characteristics of leadership, and so forth, were relevant regardless of whether I was employed or independent. They played a part. But they could not have been the culprit, or I wouldn’t have fallen into the burnout trap the second time around — as a ZZP’er I had a say in how much of all of that I chose to expose myself to.

What I one day realised, and what eventually cured my unease was that it wasn’t how I was responding to all of those factors that made me uneasy, it was how I wasn’t responding that did.

Every single factor, in and of itself, was a call. A call to be true to myself. A call which I left unanswered and as such, placed myself in a place of unease in the process.

The long hours were a call to learn to delegate, to drop perfectionism and my belief that no-one can do it better than I can to explore my limiting beliefs related to trust, or better said — lack thereof. When it came to my grievances with management, the question I should have asked myself should have been: In what ways was I not stepping up to my own leadership? And so forth.

Burnout, I realised, is a social dislocation; it stems from our inability to take responsibility for our own worth. Instead of radical self-reflection, we become hyper-reliant on external sources for our self-identification. We let the OUTER overdetermine the INNER.

Be successful! Get rich fast! Run your own business! Launch the next unicorn! These, and other clarion calls to financial independence, power and success have been louder and louder as of late. The “solopreneur” is on the rise. These are the entrepreneurs, the freelancers, the start-ups — the savvy creatives with big dreams who are eager to answer those calls. We forfeit traditional models of employment that have failed to meet our needs and swarm in cohorts to swap long commutes, outdated hierarchies, and the nine-to-five grind for the freedom to be our own boss, in the belief that the pot of gold is on the other end of the rainbow. But the trap we don’t always realise we are about to fall into is that as a solopreneur we are even more prone to burnout than before. There is no pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow. Like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar, we are sitting on the pot. The challenge we are called to respond to is not about becoming a solopreneur, but about becoming a SELFpreneur. And this is what the SHFT Happens movement is all about: SELFpreneurship, or in other words — radical self-knowledge.