entrepreneur burnout

You finally started your own business. Don’t let burnout snatch it away from you! Passion will get you far, but it does not prevent burnout.

Burnout is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $300 billion annually, and entrepreneurs and small business owners contribute their fair share.

I have been an entrepreneur for more than 25 years and I clearly remember the unexpected stressors I had to deal with that I never expected when I first began my business.

Burnout can creep up on entrepreneurs

For me and many others, the stress of starting a business stems from working long hours in order to accommodate every client and not turn away money. Sometimes it’s also a result of taking on projects outside our areas of expertise that take many hours of research and development to complete.

But the biggest stressor for me was that in the initial startup phase. Money was tight, so I did not reach out and get the help I needed. Isolation can creep up on us. Entrepreneurs tend to think they are just doing their jobs, and they don’t notice that they’ve cut off their lifelines to other people. We often limit our connection with others when we need it most.

I coach many self-employed clients who come in barely holding on due to extreme stress, Herculean demands, and overall exhaustion. With those symptoms, they are headed toward burnout.

What does burnout look like?

What is burnout? The American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD, describes job burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.”

The warning signs include exhaustion, difficulty focusing on the work, and a lack of motivation. Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from working long hours regularly, being connected 24/7, and the frustration that comes when you don’t have the income you want and need to keep your business moving in the right direction. Entrepreneurs in the startup mode sometimes find that they need to wear many hats and “do more with less.”

Resilience is the key to overcoming stress

The antidote to burnout is resilience. Resilience is not about being able to power through the challenges and keep going. It’s about developing the skills to adapt, recover, and recharge ourselves so we can be productive and satisfied in our careers and lives.

During the first 10 years of my coaching business, I provided career counseling and assisted professionals in transition—many of these individuals had been let go from their jobs. Some of my clients were thrown off by this transition and began to second-guess their competence, even though they’d had very successful careers.

By comparison, the individuals who had to learn skills to boost their resilience were able to navigate much more effectively through their career transition process. From this work, I identified five common strategies that these resilient people possessed as part of their career toolbox. These later became my Benatti Resiliency Model, and I use it with all my coaching clients.

5 strategies to boost resilience

The Benatti Resiliency Model includes well-being, self-awareness, your brand (strengths), the ways you’re connected to others, and innovation, or making space for trying new things.

1. Well-being: Take care of yourself

Well-being focuses on self-care: your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It includes sleep, exercise, nutrition, and knowing your stressors and creating a plan to deal with them.

Well-being resiliency booster: Make Sunday fun day. Plan something fun every Sunday, and also plan what you will do the following weekend. The anticipation will power you through the workweek. Don’t wait until you have free time to do something fun—you may never have free time.

2. Self-awareness: Check in with your purpose

In the self-awareness strategy, I ask clients to explore their purpose because that defines the direction in which they want their careers and lives to move. A mindset “checkup” helps people move forward by emphasizing the control they have over their reactions to circumstances. Knowing the natural gifts and challenges of your personality type is key to functioning well in the workplace.

Self-awareness resiliency booster: Do you take on more work than you can realistically handle because you’re afraid only you can do it “right”? Give yourself a reality check and realize that there may be more than one right way of accomplishing a task, even if it isn’t your way.

3. Brand: Focus on your strengths

A brand isn’t just about differentiating yourself in the marketplace; knowing your own personal brand helps you be more visible and proactive in your career.

You need to ask yourself, “What do I want to be known for?” Knowing your personal brand will help you focus your attention, so you only take on projects that complement your strengths and energize you, rather than creating more stress.

Brand resiliency booster: Do you use your strengths in your career and your personal life, or are you constantly trying to do everything for everyone? Think about how can you incorporate them to energize you, focus your attention, and prevent burnout. Doing a simple SWOT analysis on yourself can help—take an honest look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

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4. Connection: Avoid isolation

Connection is about cultivating relationships. Strong relationships are a predictor of life and career satisfaction, so don’t try to go at it alone, even if you’re running your business by yourself.

Connection resiliency booster: Schedule time with friends and colleagues who support and energize you, and limit your time with toxic people. When meeting with colleagues, notice whether they drain your energy or give you energy. With friends, notice whether you feel renewed and refreshed or dragged down and negative after spending time with them.

5. Innovation: Try something new

Incorporating space and time for innovation in your career and personal life keeps you recharged. This can include introducing new interests or competencies.

Innovation resiliency booster: Creativity and play are important for innovation and recharge. What are you doing this week that is creative or playful? What are you learning? What are you curious about?

The single question that can prevent burnout

The easiest way to prevent burnout is to begin with this basic question: “What do I need to feel more energized, better taken care of, more focused, and more inspired?” Write down some ideas and commit to one small step for your recharge, beginning tomorrow.

Do you need to take more breaks during the day, get more rest, exercise, get together with friends or colleagues, or maybe take life less seriously and have more fun? Whatever it is, start boosting your resilience now and you will see how it will spark not only your professional success, but your personal success too.

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Beth Kennedy

Beth Benatti Kennedy, MS, LMFT, is the author of Career Recharge: Five Strategies to Boost Resilience and Beat Burnout. She brings more than twenty years of experience to her role as a leadership and executive coach, resiliency-training expert, and speaker. With an extensive background in career development, she coaches high-potential individuals on how to use their influence strategically, collaborate effectively, and focus on innovation.