Andrew Hyde – the wonderful, fun, and friendly founder of StartupWeekend – wrote a great post recently On Burning Out. He’s back – after taking a long break – which is great. Last week I had dinner with another long time friend and entrepreneur who told me he "had the blues." His company had a strong 2007 and is well positioned for 2008, but he’s been sick since the holidays, has been feeling down, and can’t seem to shake it.
Burning out is a chronic problem with entrepreneurs. In the early 1990’s – for a year before and after I sold my first company – I went through a tough period where I got very depressed. I held it together and got through it, but the memory of how I felt is never far away. I was completely burned out. I’ll be forever grateful to Amy and my business partner Dave for putting up with me during this time period since they were the ones that had to deal with the brunt of my depression.
A week ago, while lying in bed, I told Amy that I felt inappropriately anxious. Very little rattles me and whenever I feel anxious, I know something is up. I’d had a mild cold for a couple of weeks, had just come off three weeks of "chill out time" in Keystone at the end of the year (where I worked, but not that hard), and was off to a really intense start of the new year. I’m also running a marathon in mid-February and even though I had been sick have been logging plenty of miles.
I woke up at 4am (an hour earlier than normal) – wide awake. I got up, worked, and at breakfast with Amy a couple of hours later repeated that I felt weird. She looked at me and wisely said "I bet you are just exhausted." This didn’t really make sense since I’d just had three weeks of chill time, but I hadn’t slept much the first week of the year.
I fought through the day, got home early, and went to bed at 7pm. I slept straight through to 8am the next morning, got up, and felt great. The anxiety was gone and a week later I don’t really remember it very well.
I put in another 14 hours in bed on Friday night – sleeping well into the afternoon on Saturday. I ran 16.33 miles on Sunday and felt great. Whatever vestiges of my cold, fatigue, or anxiety were completely gone.
I have simple advice for all entrepreneurs – listen to your body. Remember the quote from Dune "Fear is the mindkiller" and remember that most fears and anxiety are born of fatigue. Sometimes I forget, but I have this awesome life partner who reminds me on a regular basis. Don’t worry about "pacing yourself" – that’s probably not possible – but when you see signs of burn out, take it easy for a little while.