Carolynn is a popular speaker & thought leader in business who has coached hundreds of entrepreneurs from $0 to $5MM in annual revenue and been featured in Forbes, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, TEDx, and White House Business Council, among many others.
As entrepreneurs, more often than not we run on adrenaline; sometimes we run on ego; and always we pursue the vision of what we’re trying to create. That is a powerful fuel, but unfortunately doesn’t provide the kind of nourishment and care that our time, energy, & physics-constrained bodies, minds, and relationships need.
Sometimes in pursuit of building our castle in the sky, we can neglect our human capital – our team, our families, and ourselves – the way we really should. This can look like working late into the night for too many nights in a row, paying ourselves less than fair market value longer than the business can afford, cutting corners with personal hygiene, blowing off social or family commitments, letting staff issues pile up in favor of focusing on sales, finance or product manufacturing, etc.
I’m not saying startup life is a worry-free, financially secure environment with zero pressure. That would be laughable, and of course we know that’s not the reality. There’s no reward without risk, and in startup and small business contexts, that risk is constant, the pressure is unrelenting, and stress levels can be high and constant.
But that’s no excuse for not investing in and taking great care of your team – including yourself. Why? Because out of all the assets you could possibly have in your company the people are the single most valuable entity. People, especially you, can make or break any decision, deal, idea, product, customer base, brand, and any other revenue-generating aspect of your business. We would never be comfortable getting into a bus, plane, train, car or boat with an exhausted driver who is low on sleep, high on stress, and making preventable errors. Yet at times, we operate our companies under these conditions without thinking through the effects, and even justify that we “have” to operate this way, and get defensive when more experienced peers, advisers, or entrepreneurs warn us about the dangers of unmanaged stress, burnout and fatigue.
So why do we put ourselves and our families last and at times put other, lesser-impact priorities above the humans who are working in our companies on our behalf? Whatever the case, this is a recipe for burnout. Unmanaged stress over time turns into burnout and, like gangrene, once burnout sets in recovery is a lot more difficult and can include cutting toxicity from the team: team members who are no longer functional or productive in the team culture, cutting our role down to size, and dealing with preventable but emergent problems like family conflict, relationship problems, health issues, and other neglected areas of our business and life. Let’s do better than this!
How can we put ourselves first? The answer is less philosophy, and more action. If we noodle on, “how can we justify putting ourselves first”, we can go deep into a rabbit hole that becomes unproductive and yet another misallocation of time. Let’s focus on a higher impact question – what can I do today to take care of myself, my family, and my team? The answers to that are simpler and generally speaking, can be implemented as quickly as you think about them.
Get a nap. Go to the gym. Take the weekends off and focus on non-work areas of your life: health, spirituality, recreation, family connection, relationships, household organization, personal finance, etc. Check in with your family and see how everyone is doing. Listen, make memories, pitch in, and ask about what everyone else is working on and what you can do to contribute.
During the week, do things to make your role more secure, and your team more clear about their roles, and how the team works together to accomplish shared goals. Get the “monkey off your back” so to speak, by including more of your advisory team and staff in resolving the ups and downs of business operations. Take note of your team, especially your superstars & overachievers – how are they doing? Do they appear to have fatigue, stress, or irritation/frustration in their day to day work activities? Worth a conversation to see how things are going and what you can do as a manager to support them effectively. Talk about burnout and self care openly with your team, and make it part of the organizational culture. Let them know that it’s OK to take a break, rest, reflect, invest in work/life balance, and to work hard and play hard.
Get yourself advisory support/board support/peer support, so you can navigate challenges with less isolation and more wisdom. Most business problems have been experienced by someone else previously, even if you haven’t “been there, done that” yet yourself. Lean on other people’s experiences to inform the paths you know you don’t want to go down, and by doing so, reduce the unknowns & the blind spots, a major cause of strain/stress for many entrepreneurs.
Taking the time to care for yourself, your family, and your team can pay off with significant ROI in the long run. Many businesses fall short and fail, but our health, our self, our family relationships, and our professional reputation will all last longer. By investing in these areas along the way, we increase the likelihood that we can weather the storms, and that at the end of the journey, we will be in good enough health to bear the outcomes, whether positive or negative, and that people will be there for us when all else fades away.
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