After spending close to 15 years as an entrepreneur with five companies under my belt, I’ve come to see some patterns in the mindsets of myself and my fellow founders. One of those is that despite the odds telling us otherwise, we go in wide-eyed and hopeful that we will be able to take this seed of an idea and turn it into something real, lasting, and profitable.
Another is that we often ride the wave of our adrenaline-fueled fervor for the early stage of growth and development, perhaps noticing our founder friends around us who have hit walls because of exhaustion, but not slowing down to consider how that might catch up to us, too.
Whether you’re building a lifestyle-led business or a high-growth, investor-backed one, pressures mount. Your livelihood (and perhaps the livelihoods of others if you have a team) is on the line. Add to that the unpredictable ups and downs of market conditions and economic forces you may or may not have been able to predict and it’s a recipe for stress and anxiety.
According to Startup Snapshot’s April 2023 report “The Untold Toll: The Impact of Stress on the Well-Being of Startup Founders and CEOs,” 72 percent of founders report an impact on their mental health. That’s a familiar story to executive coach Mandy Lehto, who helps high achievers avoid burnout. She says, “The pressure and perpetual sense of urgency that founders feel can lead them to self-destruct unless they recognize the red flags and put support structures in place to protect their mental well-being.”
Here are three ways to burnout-proof your founder journey so you emerge with your sanity, as well as your business, intact.
1. Manage Your Stress Levels
Low-level anxiety is part and parcel of being a founder. As serial entrepreneur and ClearScore CEO Justin Basini said on the podcast How to Fail With Elizabeth Day, “Anxiety is the price you pay for responsibility.” Anxiety means you care and it can be productive, but Lehto advises “watching out for those red flags that indicate that your nervous system has become dysregulated by chronic, unmanaged stress. The signs include sleep, skin and gut problems, irritability, and [feeling] overwhelmed.”