LETTER

Worried about burnout? It’s time to put happiness at your core 🎯

A traditional entrepreneur puts profit at the core of their business. A social entrepreneur would put purpose. What does it mean to put happiness there instead?

Laurence McCahill
Aug 9 · 7 min read

When I think about happiness, I’m inspired by Ghandi’s defintion:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

For me happiness isn’t a passive state but an intentional way of living where you’re in tune with who you really are, clear about your core emotional needs and act from that place of knowing.

As the leader of a conscious company I’m focused on creating positive impact and not just profits. I suspect like you, there’s a mission at the heart of my work and that mission is never far from my mind.

However, there can be a downside to being too focused on the work.

What happens when the needs of the many start to outweigh my own needs? What does it mean for the sustainability of our businesses when the pressures become so overbearing that we burnout from overwork, stress and anxiety.

At The Happy Startup School we’re building a community of entrepreneurs and changemakers who value purpose over profit. We believe that business should be a force for good and redefining what success means as an entrepreneur.

Along this journey we’ve met so many amazing people doing great things. Many are on their way to making a positive dent in the world but I also see too many struggling with the burden of their mission and forgetting their own needs.

They forget to pause, think of themselves and recharge.

Trying to explain why it’s important to look after our needs as well as the needs of others can be challenging.

I’ve found that talking about self-care in business can be seen by many as a sign of weakness and in particular, for purpose driven businesses, it can come across as being selfish.

How can we stop to think about ourselves when the world is falling apart around us? We’re told that we’re on a precipice and unless we take action now it will be too late to pull us back from the brink.

This is a powerful narrative but I hope I can offer a viewpoint for purpose-driven entrepreneurs that means they can achieve their goals in a more happy and sustainable way.

Because when we’re happy we’re more creative, more open to opportunities and are able to attract the right people. This makes us more impactful.

Many years ago I studied for a PhD in Atomic Physics (it’s not rocket science).

I did it partly out of curiosity and partly as a delaying tactic to avoid having to get a real job. Ultimately I had been driven by a need to understand how the universe works and what I learned inspired this article. By describing how the sun works I hope to help struggling purposepreneurs appreciate the need for self-awareness and self-care in their businesses.

The Sun

The sun (like some leaders) is just a huge ball of gas. So where does all the energy that gives life to our planet come from and how has it managed to shine for over 4.5 billion years? It’s down to two things: gravity and thermonuclear fusion.

Due to its size the sun exerts a huge amount of gravity that draws gas to its core where the pressures are immense and the temperature is about 15 million degrees celsius. In these conditions hydrogen atoms start to fuse together.

We know from Einstein’s equation E=mc2 that mass is energy and energy is mass. For the spiritually minded this will sound familiar, it means we are all just energy.

In terms of the science, when hydrogen atoms fuse some of their mass gets turned into energy. This energy needs to escape and so pushes outwards against the incoming gas.

Over billions of years the outward pressure generated by this thermonuclear fusion has counterbalanced the inward pressure of gravity, thus creating a sustainable sun.

But what happens when the energy runs out?

One of two things: either the sun implodes to create a black hole or it explodes to create a supernova.

You

In my analogy you are the sun.

As an entrepreneur you’re under all sorts of pressures that come from leading an organisation as well as catering to the needs of employers, investors, customers and society. Your drive, energy and enthusiasm is what helps you manage these pressures.

But what is really motivating you into action? Is it an internal motivation or an external one?

Some of us are driven by the need to meet external expectations. These could be expectations placed on us by society, friends or family. But these expectations are not coming from our core and so when times get tough they actually add onto the pressure we feel.

When we’re under pressure we physiologically react and go into fight, flight or freeze mode. While we’re able to cope with these situations now again, if we consistently live with this pressure our energies will be depleted and it can lead to our core collapsing and we’re all very aware of what a black hole can look like for a leader: burnout, anxiety, depression and sometimes worse.

We need to find our own version of thermonuclear fusion, a way to continuously generate energy from our core.

I believe this is done by identifying and always being mindful of our emotional needs. This is about aligning what we need as individuals with what the world needs.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

Like the sun, when our intrinsic motivation counterbalances the pressures placed on us then we can sustain ourselves better. This requires us to be more honest with ourselves and to get more clarity about who we are and what’s really driving us.

In business there are so many models to help us make our organisations financially sustainable. But I haven’t seen enough discussion around how we make people more energetically sustainable.

We’ve got so caught up with the mechanics of business that we’ve forgotten about its humanity. Businesses and organisations are just a collection of humans, flawed individuals with individual emotional needs.

On this journey of building The Happy Startup School I discovered the work of Marshal Rosenberg and Non-Violent Communication (NVC). In NVC unpleasant feelings and emotions are just signals letting us know that we have an unmet need.

If, in an effort to not look weak, we ignore our feelings we then neglect the underlying need. When this need is left unmet for too long we will deplete our energy reserves, often without knowing why or how. Working with your needs is a sure fire way of avoiding burnout.

Looking inwards

The first step is to expand your vocabulary so that you can accurately describe what you’re feeling. Next you need to identify the need that the feeling is pointing to.

For example, if you find yourself feeling impatient and frustrated while working in a company with a strict hierarchical structure, then maybe one of your core needs is autonomy. Or if you’re feeling anxious and worried while launching your startup it may be that your needs for safety and security are not being satisfied.

I encourage you to check out these lists of feelings and needs to get started with understanding what your core needs could be.

Being in a job or business that isn’t satisfying your core needs doesn’t mean you should leave or stop. It could just mean that you have to manage your energy better and look after yourself more. When I think of using NVC in this context I think of a pilot’s dashboard. The unpleasant feelings are just warning lights that help us decide what to do right now.

In an ideal world we would all be working in roles that allow us to positively impact the world while still being nourished mentally and emotionally. This for me is a key ingredient for sustainable positive impact. But given the world isn’t perfect, let’s start by being more aware of our feelings and needs. Let’s be more conscious and honest about what energises or depletes us. We’ll then be in much better positions to decide when to pause or persevere.

We’re all made of the stuff of stars so remember how the sun works and maybe that can help you shine longer and keep happiness at your core.

Until next time!

Carlos Saba
Co-founder, The Happy Startup School

Come shine with us next month ☀️

Two common needs for everyone in our community are for connection and inspiration. At our annual Summercamp you’ll get that in spades. We only have a couple of tickets so don’t miss out and join us in the beautiful UK countryside from 13–15 September – more info here www.happystartupsummer.camp

The Happy Startup School

Build a life and business rich with purpose

Laurence McCahill

Written by

Co-founder The Happy Startup School. Building a global community of heart-shaped entrepreneurs and leaders, one event at a time.

The Happy Startup School

Build a life and business rich with purpose

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