Knowing when to start transitioning or when to make a huge change in your business is always a challenge. What makes a change like this even trickier? Initiating a shift when things (on the outside) are going incredibly well and your business is highly successful and receiving industry accolades. Megan of Handmade Brooklyn shares the exact moment when she realized that her successful business was making her life miserable and what she did in response to this epiphany. Thank you for sharing your insights, Megan!
For nearly a decade, I ran an indie skincare company that garnered 5 industry awards and was in over 100 media outlets. I was proud of all it as I had done most of it by myself. It was a lot of hard work that kept me very busy, and I astounded my friends by going for these ginormous goals and working my butt off to knock them out. I bring this up not to gloat, far from it. I used their amazement like a drug to push me to work harder and prove myself a successful entrepreneur.
Last year, I was doing the biggest order of my life: 42,000 vials of body oil for a subscription box. Not only was it the biggest order ever, it was also the dumbest decision I had made to date, because I filled the order by myself. I can’t explain the reasoning behind it, I think that I knew it would happen over the summer, which was my slowest time of year, so at least it would give me something to focus on. In any case, it should’ve been outsourced.
But I digress. It goes without saying, that since I was filling this order by myself I had a lot of time to be a captive audience, so I would listen to a lot of podcasts (ironically about productivity). One of my favorites was Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn. One episode in particular stands out, because I remember every detail about the hour I was listening to it. It was late June 2015, I was alone in my studio, sitting on my uncomfortable Ikea chair, wearing my old-stained apron, listening to Pat interview Chalene Johnson.
I knew Chalene thanks to my best friend, Jackie. Jackie and I were college roommates, and we lived above these gutter punk kids that jammed on their guitars throughout most of the night. Jackie had graduated a year earlier than I did, so she had an actual job as an accountant at a large bank. Needless to say, she was constantly tired and over it. Her revenge on these dudes was to use Chalene’s workout DVDs, which involved routines heavy in jumping and kicking, in the mornings before she went to work. So I liked Chalene, mostly because of the indirect way she helped us take passive aggressive revenge on our neighbors, but I never really kept up with what else Chalene was involved in or what her life was like.
During her interview, she talked with Pat about how she had driven herself to burnout and nearly destroyed her family life because she refused to let go of anything in her fitness empire. Chalene choreographed the workouts, licensed the music, designed the clothing, ran the infomercials, social media...all of it herself. She hit bottom because she refused to let go and delegate, and had burned out.
And I listened to this. In my oil-stained apron. Filling 42,000 vials of body oils. By myself.
It was like a slap in the face. What was I doing? I was supposed to be running a business and working on building the company, not spending an entire season filling vials of oil by hand. That was like the one crack that brought down the whole foundation. Suddenly it made sense why I had pains in my shoulder that couldn’t be diagnosed by x ray, or doctor, or acupuncturist. It was caused by the stress I was putting on myself.
I realized very quickly that I had worked myself into a job I hated instead of a business I loved, and I too had burned out. What’s worse is that, had I allowed myself a chance to let things go, I probably would’ve prevented the stress, pain, and debt. Oddly enough, I’m glad the burnout happened, because I was able to realize this wasn’t what I wanted in my life, so I closed that business and pivoted to do something more fulfilling: teaching other entrepreneurs what I’ve learned from my failures and wins (mostly failures).
I think that many of us that are creative entrepreneurs hold tightly onto the notion that we need to prove to others that we’re working hard. Or maybe we’re trying to prove it to ourselves. Instead of giving ourselves permission to let go, we keep working against the grind, pushing ourselves further into debt, hoping that next corner we turn is going to be one that is the one that pays off. And sometimes it does, I won’t deny that. But sometimes it doesn’t, and instead of digging ourselves further into the trenches, we should allow ourselves to make a change.
If you’ve suffered from burnout, you know the lost feeling that can come with it. It starts with thoughts like “I love this...don’t I?” You can feel worthless, exhausted, and like you don’t know your place in the world anymore. Or at least, that’s how I felt when I hit bottom. I’m writing this to say that it’s okay to decide that “this isn’t enough for me” and make changes to your business that lift you up from the trenches so that you can work on your business, instead of in.
But it involves giving up control of something. It can be outsourcing some aspect of your business that isn’t higher level, forcing yourself to take time off, or even as drastic as walking away completely like I did. You may feel like you can’t afford to do any of those things, and I know it can be tough to stomach adding another person to the team (even if they’re a virtual assistant) but remember this: Money is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. There are millions of ways to make money, and you always can make money. Time is fixed. Your time should be treated as your most precious resource, because it is! You can always make more money, but you can’t create extra time.
It makes me think of this quote I heard when I was beginning to realize I had run my course with my business: “No one ever lies on their deathbed wishing they had worked more.”
If you’re feeling like this essay is hitting a little too close to home or you just want a reference to have handy just in case, I made a collection of tips to avoiding burnout to help you stop the burnout cycle which you can grab here. I wish you a million years of success and a billion dollars in your bank account!