About eight months after the birth of The Collective, my Deputy Editor Mel looked me sternly in the eye and said, "Do you need to see someone? I'm not sure this pace is sustainable or what should be your normal." I would like to say Mel only noticed the "subtle" clues because we've worked together for years and she knows me inside out.
But, let's be honest, even the mailman could have spotted there was a problem when, for six days in a row, I had to conduct every meeting horizontally, lying on a couch in my office, because I was too exhausted to raise my head off a cushion.
When I finally admitted horizontal wasn't just my new "thinking position" and I might need some help, my doctor immediately diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue and ordered me to slow down and de-stress. Urgently! I remember snorting in disbelief as I sat in her office. Slow down... Chill out... Do you know what it's like to run a start-up? But fast-forward to today and I'm happy to admit I was wrong, because now I feel more energised, capable and excitable than ever. All despite our brand, community, and my responsibilities being greater than ever, and growing by the day.
That's why I wanted to write this column for you, whether you're an overstretched entrepreneur, busy parent, ambitious student or someone anywhere in between. Just because you can survive working 24/7 at warp speed doesn't mean you can thrive at that pace forever. Check in with yourself constantly, recover consistently, and learn these lessons from me to avoid total wipeout:
Don't Underestimate Stress
I remember an amazing meditation teacher once said, "Even an abundance of happiness or excitement still puts stress on your body." This is so important to remember. When I first launched The Collective, in all the excitement of starting a new phase of business, I forgot just how tumultuous, harrowing and stressful steering a new project really is, and so I stopped making time for self-care. But just think about a little kid on Christmas morning who, by 9am, has collapsed in an exhausted heap because of all the newness, the shininess, the adrenaline and euphoria.
This is why, whether your business is in a period of amazing success or worrying challenges, you must still follow certain anti-stress rituals -- even delightful adventure can be draining too.
Schedule More Activities
When you're already at the mercy of a never-ending to-do list, I know it can seem counterintuitive to fill your schedule with even more activities, but networking events, meetings and admin tasks should not replace pockets of pleasure and leisure, and it's important to also schedule me time (or "two time" if it's reconnecting with your family, best friend or partner). For me, my non-negotiables include exercising with my personal trainer and enjoying time in nature, even if it's just walking on the beach, barefoot for 15 minutes to ground myself. I also sleep for eight or nine hours a night, which always seems to surprise people who assume all entrepreneurs are insomniacs. I have learned not to rush in the mornings and if I don't have a breakfast meeting, I can sometimes be found still in bed at 9am on a workday (I'm usually checking emails, but at least I'm semi-relaxing).
Miss Deadlines, Sometimes
The beauty of being your own boss is you can choose your own schedule. Isn't flexibility one of the reasons you quit being in a big corporation? Recently, I went to Byron Bay for a fortnight with the plan to get a head start on my next writing project, but during the trip I was faced with a number of unexpected meetings, challenges and outside factors. After six days I hadn't written a word, but rather than beating myself up for not hitting the deadline I'd set, I decided just to reassess and shift my expectations. I put the book on the backburner to put out the urgent fires, and I refused to allow myself to feel guilty about what I hadn't done. These things happen, roll with the changes and don't be too attached to one idealistic outcome.
Write A Manifesto
Your company probably has a corporate manifesto but do you have a personal one? If not, how do you expect to remember your priorities, purpose and future vision? Do you need inspiration to write one? I love the Mary Schmich essay that inspired Baz Luhrmann's song "Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)" which says: "Don't waste your time on jealousy, sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and in the end, it's only with yourself. Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements." Or take hints from corporate manifestos such as lululemon's: "Dance, sing, floss and travel, observe a plant before and after watering and relate these benefits to your body and brain." During my anti-burnout journey, one thing I've learned is that quick, cheap strategies can be enough to make a difference. Next time you receive a stressful email, try smiling at your computer screen. It might sound "woo-woo" but for me, it can be enough to turn that moment around.
Don't Wait For Year Two
It's often said the first year of business is the hardest, which may be true -- or it may not and in fact, the second year might only get harder. I'm not saying this to depress you, but to motivate and protect you, because I see a lot of entrepreneurs making the mistake of going hell-for-leather in the first 12 months in the belief they can recover and rest in year two. The truth is, the challenges don't stop at day 366, they simply shift, morph and change, which is why you need to put a long-term strategy in place early to deal with stress levels. I hope your entrepreneurial journey will be long and prosperous, which is why it's important to find ways to cushion yourself from the discomfort you need to become comfortable with. And hopefully we'll all be celebrating our 20th year in business together.