On Burning Out
Burn out is a real thing…in startups…it comes from carrying the angst and fear and frustration and hopes and wants of ~20 people for 3+ years. It comes from wanting so bad to fulfill your promise to your team and your investors and your cofounders and your family and your loved ones…it comes from breaking up with early employees who are also burnt out and ready to move on…it comes from a morning metrics reports that slowly turn from exciting to troublesome as 80% of your new users leave you over 30 days…it comes from a concerned phone call from your mom that your product isn’t evolving fast enough…or from a father in law who just can’t seem to get the search result he wants in your app…these little papercuts to your entrepreneurial soul that one by one harden you into the type of person who can execute while being cut…you build up this armor that allows you to walk through your days…but it doesn’t mean the cuts don’t draw blood…they are just internal…and as you bleed inside…to an ultimate outcome (whether that be success or failure)…at some point…you don’t have to execute anymore…and all of the sudden you are left with a body that is full of cuts that need to heal…each cut remains open until you go back to the point in time where it was first drawn…see that you were hurt…and somehow rationally and logically agree with your soul that you are no longer in that place…and that stops the bleeding.
Burnout is when you kept pushing your body and your mind to move forward…into a series of successive cuts…for so long…that you are too damaged to appreciate the pleasure and joy of moving forward at all…it’s like you’ve trained yourself to expect pain from forward movement…and therefore it’s not so much that you fear moving forward…as it is that you revert back to not feeling as you step…and that’s a pretty inertial place to be. Burn out is numbness.
I’ve been burnt out a number of times in my career. I was burnt out after Untitled Partners, I was burnt out after Hyperpublic, and I am slowly unburning out after Wildcard…the shitty part of being burnt out is that it’s hard to get excited…that numbnesss is real…but the good news is that it’s not permanent. Everyday it’s easier to attain glimmers of interest, moments where your heart races as you lock in on new thinking…
It’s not the most sustainable approach to life…to go through these cycles of 2-3 years burning out, 3-6 months unburning out, 2-3 years burning out, etc…you’d like to maintain yourself in a way where you don’t hit burn out…but i’m not sure that’s possible as CEO of a tech startup…at least not for me…having done that 3 times, over 5 products, and 8 years…and having invested in literally hundreds of my peers doing the same…i think if your signing up to start something…your signing up to burn out…and that’s just part of the deal.
Sometimes when burnt out, it can feel like the excitement to move forward may never return…but time and time again it does…so if your feeling burnt out…just know that it’s normal…and that good things are around the corner 🙂