I hung up the phone, put my head in my hands and siiiiiiiighed a deep, deflated exhale that brought my bumbling mastiff-mutt careening in from the next room. (dogs are too good for us…)
I’d just had a high-octane conversation with a client. After months of struggle and slog to keep her ship afloat during the pandemic, the SBA loan had finally come through and she was pumped to put the pedal to the metal on marketing and promotion.
So what was my hang up? This exchange should have left me excited and energized, but instead I wanted a cold compress and a glass of wine. After shamestorming about how I should feel for a minute, I pulled up my Google calendar.
I hadn’t taken a day off in more than four months. FOUR MONTHS.
Now, you may be thinking, “but Mary Beth, during quarantine we got all sorts of time off, so why, oh why, would we need a break?”
Did we though?
When I looked back on my last few weeks, I saw hustle. I saw me invest twice the effort for a quarter of the (tangible) return. I saw me leap from crisis communications to arm chair therapy in a blink. I saw me lying awake at o’dark hundred thinking about my clients, their business babies, and what more I could do to support them. Hustle, hustle, hustle.
All that hustle was exactly what I needed to do. And for it, I am grateful - grateful for the work, grateful for the trust and grateful to help.
But I was on the edge of burnout.
There is plenty of buzz in the entrepreneur space around avoiding burnout - set boundaries, practice self care, pace yourself - but this is different because we’ve never been here before. Unprecedented times and all...
I have come to understand that the same rules for avoiding burnout still apply - perhaps now more than ever.
YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID
Put words to how you feel sans shames and shoulds. This does not mean you’ve lost perspective or gratitude - it means you are choosing to deal with the brewing shit storm before it deals with you.
To get this party started, I’ll share where I landed:
All the escapes and adventures I planned and looked forward to for months - lights at the end of long tunnels - were cancelled. Rightfully so, but I mourn what was missed and did not hold that time/space for a break.
Every interaction is charged - good, bad and ugly - so each one requires more attention, patience, empathy, and, ultimately, emotional labor.
I have been the object of projected boredom, anxiety, frustration and fear. Logical brain knows it has nothing to do with me, but emotional brain is blocking blows.
My work and home life are more integrated now than ever before, so setting and sticking to boundaries is an even greater challenge.
I have worked hard, but there is hard work left to do and I must show up for it.
I am the best version of myself when I rest and relax.
WHAT TO DO
Now that we’ve felt the feels it’s time to do something with them before burnout. I don’t have a guide book for either of us, but I will share four steps I put into practice that've been working wonders so far.
Take back your time off. We have a horrific habit of glorifying the “always on” and “always available” mantra. Let’s break the cycle, shall we? I find when I make a point to put work down on the weekend, I come in hot on Monday. I also suspect it takes some pressure off my clients, fellow hustlers, to be weekend warriors as well. Work hard, rest hard.
Get your hands on something else. I started gardening with gusto and it’s my jam. Laugh all you want, but I’m digging (pun intended) blasting tunes, soaking up sunshine, getting down and dirty and watching my garden grow.
Put down your work and do something different - use another part of your brain, dive into a fresh interest, and flex another muscle. It feels damn good.
Note, I did NOT say that YOU needed to be your project. This is not a call for self-improvement - this is a call for exploration, fun and play.
Come by the heavier lifting honestly. This is hard and we can do hard things, but only if we are still standing at the end of the day.
Start small. For example, I began buffering a few more minutes between calls so I can step outside with the pups or do a quick Calm meditation. Little regroups work wonders.
I also revisited boundaries, such as setting more realistic expectations on what can be done in a day and my timeframe for responding to texts/emails. It may feel like we’re in Level 6 of Jumanji, but the game still has rules - set them, stick to them.
Pencil it in. Planning anything these days feels a bit absurd, but do it anyway. I say this as someone who is newly engaged and hasn’t gotten past getting wine drunk and Googling elopements across all corners of the globe.
We need lights at the end of the tunnel - things to look forward to with the people we love. You may not feel comfortable getting on a plane anytime soon or putting a deposit down on a cruise, but let yourself dream and get excited for what’s to come.
Pro tip, if that penciled date draws near and your beautiful plan must change - that’s ok - still take that sacred time and do something wonderful for yourself.
You are a force and deserve to rest and relax without guilt or shame. In fact, I’d hedge a guess that, much like me, you are your best when you do.
Your turn! Tell me what you’re doing to avoid burnout and stay in your constant state of genius?
If you want to talk through avoiding burnout and setting constructive boundaries around your business, let’s talk. Learn more Behind The Scenes, our business coaching and consulting arm for small business and entrepreneurs.