If you’re just starting out your business, try to remember this first year because it’s going to fly by in a flash. Sheer excitement and adrenaline will push you through the first few months, and every challenge will simultaneously terrify and thrill you.
But, beware. I’ve counseled thousands of small business owners and have seen that same excitement turn into burnout really fast. Whether you realize it or not, you’re dealing with a whole host of new stressors that are taxing your mind and body, and even when you’re at your highest highs, you’re likely still putting a strain on yourself.
Here are four patterns, which I’ve seen time and again, that distinguish successful people from those who burn out early.
1. Overcome the "Seal of Hesitation."
One of the more common patterns I see is a fear of truly starting, or a reluctance to break what I call the Seal Of Hesitation. Everyone has a natural resistance to starting something new, especially when a mountain of unknown risk is involved. There are plenty of excuses to draw on: You convince yourself, for instance, that there’s more research to be done, that the business plan needs to be rewritten or that you need to take more lunch meetings with mentors before taking any action toward your goal.
But it's all just delay tactics. Many new entrepreneurs have an emotional resistance to starting on the critical work, like product development or marketing, because preparing and ideating is a safer activity than making and selling. Getting stuck in that early phase, where money is being spent and the stress of anticipating the delivery phase is only getting worse, is the fastest route to burnout. You don’t need to just break the seal, you need to shatter it.
2. Always be expanding and preparing for growth.
Growth can sneak up on you faster than you may realize. Many first-time entrepreneurs think they’re being prudent by staffing, planning and building inventory only in line with their current, and often modest, needs. However, one day you’ll get an order or client that requires you to double operations overnight. It will be the big break you’ve waited for but suddenly you'll have to scramble to scale. In this way your dream can quickly become your waking nightmare.
So, try to be operating at 70 percent to 80 percent capacity at all times. Give yourself room to grow. If you’re doing your job right, you will grow quickly -- it just won’t happen at a steady rate. Instead, you'll see your sales take big jumps at certain points and realize that you rarely have the ability to plan for those events. Instead, build in the capacity to grow quickly as needed.
3. Make it part of your job to treat yourself.
All work and no play doesn’t make Johnny a dull boy; it makes him an angry, bitter, burned-out mess that can’t enjoy the entrepreneurial process. If you keep internalizing the challenges that every founder goes through, you won’t have any energy to appreciate the triumphs that will also come your way.
Venting to your spouse or friends may ease the pressure, but it won’t clear your head. Sure, you’ll be working most weekends, but you have no excuse to miss a dinner party with friends once in a while, or go out on a date with your partner. There’s a false belief that good founders sacrifice the entirety of their personal lives. Working nonstop and always being stressed out has little correlation to success. So, make time to enjoy yourself. Remember, your business is ultimately only part of a good life.
4. Don’t let that one obstacle ruin your day, month or year.
This is perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give. Failures don’t happen in your first year, only setbacks. The difference is that setbacks can be corrected, can be informative and can lead to whole new opportunities if you let them. Don't let one obstacle get in your way or ruin your day (or week, or month, as it often does with many new entrepreneurs).
You are going to have things always standing in your way. A true entrepreneur can face those obstacles and get around them.
You might not have the answer now, but trust that you will find it. That’s the magic of owning a business. If you keep your mind open enough, solutions will reveal themselves.