My Entrepreneur Burnout


I came across an article on Entrepreneur.com by Genny Ghanimeh, Founder and CEO of Pi Slice.  This extract matched my experience as an entrepreneur, which I’ve been for close on 14 years now.

It was ac comfort to understand the experience I went through end 2017 when, after our biggest financial year, I was just done.  I wanted to quit, begged Darryn (my partner) to take over running the show so I could have a time out.  For 10 years the only break I’d had from working roughly 10 hour days was 2 weeks when we had a forced closure over Christmas and New Year.  Staff got to take their leave as they wished, bearing in mind the compulsory leave at year end, but as the boss there’s no way to take a break. 

Here’s the article extract with bold highlights being the things that I relate to:

“… I have observed that some entrepreneurs tend to identify completely with their work, which leads to their moods and sense of self-worth becoming intertwined with the ups and downs of their business. Other entrepreneurs get used to the initial high adrenaline of the setup phase, or hyper growth phase, that they lose any sense of meaning when things slow down– even though the business is still doing great. I have also met some entrepreneurs who can’t handle the pressure of having too many people whose livelihoods are dependent upon them, especially when the business is successful. A lot is at stake, and the constant worrying, and pressure can lead to debilitating and crippling anxieties. The last observation is about entrepreneurs who relate their own sense of purpose with the purpose of their business, which can be dangerous when the bubble bursts, leaving the entrepreneur completely empty.

It is worth remembering for entrepreneurs that nine out of every ten start-ups fail within the first two years- a common tagline even in Silicon Valley! Knowing that fact can be helpful in preparing and mitigating for failure.”

I totally identify with the business becoming so linked to my self-worth. I was Blue Juice.  I remember the day when a client referred to Blue Juice and not just me by name.  And then when a client referred us as an agency.  The transition from being a freelancer to having built an agency was an incredible feeling of achievement.  And soon I wanted to build a legacy to hand down to my children to run.

I recall the initial adrenaline rush of the setup phase, working until 2am many nights just learning, growing my skills and delivering to deadlines.  I was unstoppable. And later when we were well established a slow day sent me for a loop.  During Covid we’ve had slow weeks which still make me panic but things are good.  We’re still here as an agency doing well when many others have closed.

Managing a team of 22 staff and paying rental for 300 m2 office space in a premium location was stressful.  I felt the weight of their needs on me to ensure their happiness and income…. even though he business coming in was tremendous and we just kept growing to meet demand.  Until, at my point of burnout end 2017, the new year brought massive change to our status quo.  Corporates that had built inhouse agencies suddenly started to use them and our demand decreased drastically.  The world also recoiled from take over bids and pressure from retailers as well as cost savings measures our clients put in place.  They all seemed to be doing it simultaneously.  Seeing the writing on the wall, we didn’t renew our office space and sadly had to retrench half our staff.  That was very hard emotionally and came at a time when I needed pressure least.  My anxiety was through the roof.

Nevertheless, we survived 2018 and it slowed further in 2019.  And then I had a lightbulb moment.  With fewer staff, outsourcing services and a move to agile working, I asked our team if they would work from home.  They agreed which enabled us to move as soon as our eldest son finished matric.  We got on a plane on 1 December and moved to Cape Town.   The change of environment has revitalised me even during the worst possible time in history with Coronavirus.  I was lost after we had to change our structure.  Through mindful attention to self-care and taking up courses in crafts, I rekindled my creativity and love for the business I wanted to literally run away from a few years back.

For those who are burnt out, know that it’s normal.  Consider changing things up to give yourself new-found adventures.  Remember to carve out time for family, fun and selfcare. Remember the blessings you get from being your own boss and the joy of employing others.  Change your focus and thoughts. And if you need take the anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication.  It helps.  Entrepreneurs are born wanting to create and build, I believe it’s just something innate.  But we’re not all built for the pressure so seek help if you need it.  And outsource whatever you can as long as it’s still financially viable. 

Sandy Mays