Our (Dysco’s) content theme for November is Happiness & Wellbeing at work, a theme we chose because it’s something that’s been on our (collective) minds for a while now. We live in an age which seems to glorify hustling or working 24x7 — but is that what we truly believe is healthy and important? The more we’ve been chatting and sharing, we realised that what we all value our personal wellbeing and mental health, which is closely tied to how we feel about work. We want to create an encourage a work culture that facilitates that, and not just mindlessly driving ourselves to exhaustion. For me, this really became clear a couple months ago when I took time off for a 12 day holiday to Morocco.
Thinking of being OOO for 12 days
The very thought of taking an extended holiday seemed to riddle me with guilt and anxiety. Being an entrepreneur who’s leading a small team makes it tough to leave without feeling like things will fall apart while you’re away. Or if you decide to go away, you probably would have to stay connected and looped it no matter where you go.. Many people are surprised by this (and most often these are people who work in larger organisations) and say “But it’s a small company, if you go away for a bit, there’s not so much to worry about.” And that’s the counterintuitive thing — because there are so few of us, the work each of us do is actually quite core to the normal operations and functioning of the business. It’s not easy for your work to get covered up by someone else. And I would know — in 2018 I took a 10 day trip to Iceland, and while I was away all hell broke loose..
I had told myself (very begrudgingly), that I needed to stop micromanaging things and also thought I needed to test the capabilities of the team. Many people advised me that it’s important to step back and see how things function without you overseeing them all the time. Rather than me spinning off into a tirade of everything that went wrong, let’s just leave it at — I really regretted not having tested this out sooner, probably while I was actually around to do immediate damage control. Articles were going up without being spell-checked, creatives were being published in incomplete formats, new updates were being pushed without fixing crucial bugs.. and so my stress levels were skyrocketing especially because I was on the road, in the middle of nowhere, with limited cell phone and wifi access.
So come January 2019, when I had hired an all-new team and we were ramping up operations again, I didn’t even think of taking more than 3 weekdays off in a row. The great debacle of 2018 was still fresh in my mind and since this is a big year for us I didn’t want to take any risks. By the time September came around I was honestly exhausted, overwhelmed and in dire need of a break. I just needed to switch off, and tune out from work completely. I wouldn’t say I was feeling completely ‘burnt out’ but definitely needed someone to pump me with a macro-dose of energy and excitement again.
Setting boundaries between Dysco and me
I think this was the first time I had time to sit and really think about the fact that I needed to create a distinction between Dysco and Khrisha. Being CEO, and running your own startup means that often your own identity blends into that of the company — or at least it did for me. Because it came from a place of such deep passion and conviction, I find it hard to not think about Dysco all the time (I sound like an overly clingy girlfriend, I know).
In my case, this is exacerbated because my co-founder is also my brother. And since Mishal has another full time job as well, we need time outside of his working hours to catch up on work. For us this means that we take work home with us — we discuss work in the car while travelling; we share updates and ideas at home in the living room; we have quick reviews in the morning at the breakfast table; and we have work conversations while watching the news with our parents. So it never really stops… Evenings, weekends, holidays all are potentially opportunities to work.
Suddenly I realised that my risk of burnout was because I needed to first figure out how to set boundaries between Dysco and myself, and time to work on Dysco, and time to work on myself. I realised that I needed to build a team that can function without everything relying on me. I want to build a company that is self-sustaining, and with a flat structure. I should create a working environment that doesn’t celebrate being overworked, even if it’s me who is feeling overworked and stretched. It’s important to remember how you want to feel everyday, and how you want your team to feel everyday. And using that emotion, I want to build a career and a company that enables exactly that.
Hustling hard and working all the time is not healthy, not productive and not feasible. It’s not just okay, but it’s essential to to pause, draw some boundaries and take a break.
Making the first move
So I did it — I booked my trip to Morocco and set my automatic replies on. Previously I felt guilty about admitting that I was taking time off, I felt like I had to pretend like I was always working really hard.. and if I admitted that I was taking 12 days off, I’d come off as a slacker. I realised that these were misconceptions and insecurities that I had to figure out, and instead of worrying about people would think, I should be more honest and true to what I actually feel and believe. So this time, my OOO message proudly said:
“I’m travelling at the moment, and am eager to switch off and recharge over the next 10 days!
If it’s urgent and you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to Vanshika Chaudhary or Mishal Shah. As we’re a small team, a lot of things rely on me — but they’ll do their best to help you out.
I appreciate your patience in waiting till I get back for a response.”
And honestly, after putting it out there — I felt so much better about leaving. We try to put a strong face on, and tell the world everyday — I love my job! I’m hustling hard! I’m equally excited everyday — but the reality is that we all need a break, we need to reenergise ourselves and we shouldn’t feel guilty about admitting it. So I did it, I took the first move and I took it proudly.
Taming the itch, swatting my own hand
And how did my holiday go? It was fantastic. But not without a bunch of learnings for myself. I kept seeing notifications from Slack and Whatsapp and Gmail popping up on my phone. Occasionally there’d be something worrying, and I’d be so tempted to jump in, reply and find out what’s going on. Just one quick reply over lunch won’t harm anyone right? Just one check on social media to see how that latest advertisement is going? It’s a lot easier said than done, but I managed to largely stop myself and only take a couple of calls, and reply to a handful of messages or emails. Not having internet connectivity everywhere, and not checking social media certainly helped, and it actually pushed my team to take decisions in my absence. As we grow, it’s not possible for me or Mishal to be everywhere, in every meeting, overseeing everything that happens at Dysco — delegating is important. Of course, this wouldn’t have been feasible in 2018, but this time round things were different.
I had a strong team behind me. We spent the last year focusing on recruiting the kind of talent we really wanted to have by our side — people who were determined and passionate, but most importantly, people who had an innate desire to do more and take on more responsibility. People who are proud of the work they put out, and don’t settle for less. People who like to ensure that their work is consistently of a high quality, whether or not it’s being checked by me. So when I told my team that I needed a break and was considering taking a longish break, they didn’t bat an eyelid. They pushed me and encouraged me and actually handled things in my absence.
The good, the bad and the Instagrammy
Of course, it wasn’t all hunky-dory when I came back. I had a massive reading list to get through (because I have to read every single newsletter I subscribe to). I did choose to delete the less relevant ones, and told myself that no one will know if I skipped last week’s editions. It took me a good week to get through all the pending emails, messages and phone calls. I gave myself a day off in Mumbai, before getting back to work — just so I could tick off some of these tasks while staying home in bed. And coming back on social media after a 10 day break, made me like social media even less than before — because that’s when the comparison and guilt creeps in (everyone accomplished so much while I was gallivanting around on a camel!).
But hey, the world moves on and work will still be right there when you come back from a break. I came back from my Moroccan holiday feeling refreshed, inspired, excited and brimming with new ideas for Dysco — including how to contribute to local businesses, how to celebrate unique cultures and communities, and how to create ecosystems that help each other grow. I also realised that I don’t want to be a hustler — I want to be an empathetic leader. And what I want to do, is lead by example.