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Founders Burnout: Why You Should Care, and 6 Tips on Combating It

5 minute read

Building and running a successful business takes a great deal of grit and tenacity. During these uncertain times, the pressure of making important, high-stake decisions can leave founders overwhelmed, drained, and devoid of passion.

Founder burnout happens to the best of us. Look at the likes of Ajay Kori, co-founder of Urban Stems, or Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla. Here’s why burnout can hit harder as a founder, and how you can manage it.


What exactly is founder burnout?

Burnout is real. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized burnout as a medical condition in its 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), highlighting its importance.

This looks different, from one founder to another. In entrepreneurs, this typically shows up through an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, paired with a severe lack of drive and motivation.

It is the result of constant exposure to stress — something that many will share is a common friend, when starting and running a business. This is thus unsurprising that entrepreneurs are more proportionately affected by burnout as compared to others.

But why is this so?

Why entrepreneurs are more prone to burnout

As business owners, we’re always striving to push ourselves to the limit. We’re the most driven, passionate, and ambitious people out there — not the worst qualities when describing oneself.

However, the flipside is that we’re also often the most stubborn (or overly determined) in acknowledging when to take a break. We overwork ourselves to the point of complete exhaustion simply because we feel that’s what is needed for the business to succeed. This eventually leads to burnout where feelings of bitterness, dissatisfaction and frustration creep in.

On top of that, entrepreneurship is just an intense journey (kudos to you if you have started on this also rewarding journey!). Running your business is no easy feat, especially if you’ve just begun. Many sometimes tie their business success to their personal self-worth, and find it difficult to not see the business as an extension of themselves.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but with the volatile nature of businesses, some entrepreneurs may view business setbacks as personal setbacks. These combined factors are the perfect stress cocktail for even the most capable and determined go-getters.

Be compassionate to yourself

Before you enter self-blame, it’s important to recognize that burnout happens to everyone. Take it from our co-founders.

"At my previous startup, there were moments where I would feel unusually exhausted and depressed. Eventually, I realized that the pressure of running a business and trying to turn things around was just taking a toll on me."

"They’re like phases where you feel like you are swimming against a heavy current. As entrepreneurs, we’ve all experienced burnout as part of the journey. It takes on a heavier impact than we think. Ultimately, you need to manage the lows."

Burnout is more common than we think. Founders are more susceptible to mental fatigue with 50% being more likely to suffer from mental stress. Also, the perception that founder burnout only happens to failing businesses is false. Successful business founders do feel the increased pressure of trying to keep their companies profitable, as they reach for future successes, milestones and expansion.

In the end, the size, growth, or profitability of your business is irrelevant. Burnout is inevitable if stress levels are unmanaged.

Founders Burnout Self Assessment Test - Sleek

6 tips to combat burnout

If you think you might be suffering from burnout, we’ve got some good news for you: it’s not permanent. Here are 6 tips to combat burnout.

  1. Shift your mindset. Understand that while your business is part of your identity, it is not your sole identity. It’s important to recognize that you are more than your business. So take a step back, outsource when needed, and enjoy the business journey. As Julien puts it, “There are always more important things in life than your work — like your family, loved ones, and health”.

  2. Take a break when needed. Hustle culture has ingrained in us that working long hours is the determinant of success. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Resist the temptation to power through, and take that well-needed break. Trust us, it’ll make the world of a difference. Here’s a pro-tip from Adrien: “Limit how much time you spend on social media. It paints a much prettier fantasy than what reality is; it’s completely false”.

  3. Have a strong support system. It goes without saying the power a strong support system can have. Whether this refers to your (work or real) family or friends, it’s important to reconnect with the ties that remind you that you’re still human.

  4. Don’t neglect your physical health. Multiple studies show the positive effects that our physical wellness can have on our mental health. It’s time to step outside, eat better, and clock in those 8 hours of sleep. Even a quick walk outside can improve your mood threefold.

  5. Reach out when needed. The road to burnout recovery is not a solitary journey. If you ever require a helping hand along the way, never be afraid to seek professional help.

  6. Be kind to yourself. Perhaps the most important of all: recognize that you’ll have both good and bad days. Entrepreneurship, just like life, has its ups and downs. As the saying goes: it’s just a bad day, not a bad life.

The bottom line

In today’s climate, founder burnout is more prevalent than we think. With the added stresses of an ongoing pandemic and recovering economy, this is as common as experiencing stress itself. The most important thing? Recognizing when it’s happening to you and taking the necessary measures to recover from it.

While we strive towards a successful business, true success lies at being able to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. This includes our overall well being, and never at the expense of our physical and mental health. At the end of the day, your business will thank you.

Amidst these uncertain times, Sleek understands the challenges that many entrepreneurs and businesses are currently facing. Need help or advice on scaling your business operations? Schedule a free consultation with us today.

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