Let’s talk about a tough subject for business owners and people in charge—burnout.

Warning: This isn’t a zip-a-dee-doo-dah kind of post—burnout is a serious problem (that’s often ignored or swept under the rug).

But we’re here to offer you some hope and some actionable alternatives if you find yourself caught in a tailspin, wondering how the heck you’re going to get unstuck.

A man in a white T-shirt sits in front of a laptop computer covered in stickers. He has his head resting on his left hand, looking exhausted. There is an icon representing a low battery level to the right. Burnout is a serious problem for business owners.

The WHO Recognizes Burnout

Some people say the whole idea of burnout is a made-up excuse to whine, complain, or procrastinate, but those of us who’ve been there know how hard it gets.

We hear you, and so do the experts, including the World Health Organization.

“Burn-out results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by all of the following:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context.”

If you’re a business owner or freelancer (the primary person responsible for the success of your organization), being down for the count is not an option.

You need a solution.


Burnout: The Common Remedies

Here are some popular suggestions for combating burnout:

  1. Take a vacation
  2. Get some “me” time each day
  3. Spend some time outdoors
  4. Do yoga and/or meditation
  5. Write a gratitude list
  6. Take a nap
  7. Exercise regularly
  8. Eat better

All of those are dandy ideas…

But, they aren’t actual solutions.

You can’t just rub some dirt on true burnout and power through.

The American Psychological Association says even vacations amount to little more than temporary relief.

Discovering a better work-life balance might not be the answer, either.

Consider this:

“I value finding passion and harmony in my work by being connected to and caring about my team and my customers and making a big difference in their lives. I would burn out way faster working 5 hours a day at a job that was hurting my soul than I would working 15 hours a day at a job that’s feeding my soul.” —Dan Price, Gravity Payments

Is the work you’re doing hurting your soul?

Burnout: Getting Down to Causes and Conditions

Brutal honesty is needed… immediately.

True burnout is a wailing siren urging you to ask introspective questions about who you are and what you do as a business.

Start with these:

  1. Have you found yourself on a completely different course from what fired you up to start your business in the first place?
  2. Are you taking on clients and projects that don’t really align with your passion for the sake of immediate revenue or due to an inability to say “no”?
  3. Are you playing Whack-a-Mole, trying to knock out every little client need or request as soon as they pop up, failing to educate your clients about how to get the most out of your services?

What Am I Doing?

After pondering those questions for a bit, try boiling down your business into a soundbite.

Based on the facts, what percentage of the work you’re doing falls outside the scope of your passion, and why are you taking those projects on?

How much unnecessary busy work and extra are you doing?

Now, compare those.

If it’s all a giant, jumbled mess, or you don’t like what that comparison shows, you may be glimpsing a critical reality:

Your work has stopped feeding your soul, starving you of the renewable motivation to keep going.

The gap between your passion for being the business you’re meant to be and the work you’re actually doing could be the source of your burnout.

(If by this point you really feel less like burnout and just more or less stuck in your current situation, or if you’re just feeling weighed down with worry, we’ve got something you can do for that, too!)

How Do I Get Out of the Rut?

If you think this is a problem for you, you have 2 unpleasant choices:

  1. Fire or phase out clients that don’t fit, and start drumming up business and projects that better align with your passion
  2. Redefine your purpose so that it aligns with the work you’re actually doing

The “extra” can become the main event, and then you’re no longer the business you thought you were.

It happens.

Or, the extra that has taken over might be showing you exactly the business you need to be.

Maybe you should ride the wave you’re on.

One More Option: Love It Differently

In some cases, business owners find themselves locked into what seems like a no-win situation—a real rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma where neither of the options on the table seem like workable solutions.

If that’s you, you’ve got a tough situation, and we think there’s an Option 2b for you:

Learn to love what you do.

I don’t know anyone who always likes what they do, but I know plenty of people who find true and sustainable joy in experiencing the positive impact their work has on their clients and their employees.

Flip the script on reality.

Focus on the good you do in the lives of others by allowing some flexibility in your definition of fulfillment and satisfaction that shifts the focus to what IS ACTUALLY AWESOME about your work.

That change in perspective may be your equivalent to diving out of the tailspin known as burnout.

“No one is ever going to love every part of their job, every day, all the time. But we can continually work to love the work we do, the outcomes we facilitate, the impact we make on others.”—Heather Steele

(Heather talks specifically about this change of focus in her recent article here.)

Escaping Burnout

Believe it or not, any of these options are OK.

Restoring some sense of consistency across purpose and action, however you choose to get that done, increases your ability to:

  • Establish work that serves as replenishable fuel to feed your motivation
  • Deliver fantastic service to your clients
  • Support your employees more effectively as they work hard to achieve the overall organizational goals