Please note: This piece describes experiences with stress and burnout.
When I made the switch from full-time growth marketer to entrepreneur in September 2020, I thought it would be a thing of Twitter fairytales.
I’d poured over all the founder-produced content out there: drool-worthy graphs of monthly recurring revenue (MRR) heading up and to the right, and long threads about powering through hard times before finding mind-blowing success on the other side 🤯 –– all served up in 280-character snippets.
I assumed my journey officially launching Swipe Files, a membership platform for marketers and founders, would be 🔥 too.
I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person. And making the leap to focus on my own company full time was the first step in fulfilling a dream I’d had since I was 18. I was ready to take the business world by storm.
But I quickly discovered that unadulterated optimism wasn’t enough to weather the wild ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
Just before the pandemic set in, my wife had also left her full-time gig to start her own company. Neither of us ever took a break. I’d start working at 7 a.m. and stay heads down for at least 12 hours straight every day. We rarely saw the San Diego sun right outside our door; we may as well have been living in Antarctica.
Despite this daily grind, we still watched as our savings gradually declined –– it didn’t look at all like those MRR screenshots I’d seen on Twitter. When I thought about all the bills due at the end of each month, something akin to panic would flood my brain.
I struggled to sleep through the night and would give myself pep talks: It will only be like this for a season, I’d tell myself. I can do this for a little while longer. I just need to cross these things off the list.
But at the end of every day, the list only got longer.
Striking out on your own can mean total freedom, but when you’re in the early stages of building a company, your emotional and mental states are completely tied to all the fluctuations of your new business. If I closed a new deal or received praise, I was on cloud nine. Then, if I got some critical feedback from a client or a few people unsubscribed from my newsletter, my day would be ruined.
These high highs and low lows continued, like a rollercoaster that stretched off into oblivion. There was no end in sight.
As the new year approached, it felt nearly impossible to keep pushing forward professionally –– to continue getting emotionally yanked around by all the little day-to-day wins and upsets. I was burnt out. I feared the repercussions, but I had to step away from work. My health was on the line.
I took a month off for the first time since before starting college. I quit projects, let go of consulting relationships, and watched my bank account take more hits.
My wife and I started to go for long walks. We’d sit on the beach and watch the waves roll in, one after another in a ceaseless line. It felt good to just be –– to just pay witness to the waves rather than have them crashing over me day in and day out.
Instead of being completely focused on the future — where I wanted to be, what I wanted my company to look like, or whose career I wanted to emulate — I began working on being more present.
Eventually, I started to ease back into work, but I promised myself I’d do things differently. While I’m proud of what I’m building, my business isn’t me. I realized that if I deprioritize my humanity in favor of business results, neither I nor the company will flourish.
If I’m going to be a strong leader –– someone other aspiring entrepreneurs look up to –– I could no longer pretend, to myself or to my community, that grinding myself into the ground at the expense of my well-being is healthy. I had to be more mindful and intentional.
So, I made some fundamental changes.
I started thinking hard about my time and how I was spending it. It can take me 20 minutes to write a good email. Multiply that by the dozens of emails that request a response in a given day, and that’s my entire work day, done. Now, instead of writing a long email or jumping on a call, I’ll send a two-minute video recording.
I also abandoned the goal of getting my email inbox down to zero. I used to be obsessed with the idea of getting back to people almost immediately. But, with that mindset, my inbox wasn’t serving me — I was serving my inbox.
I’m horrible at email now, and that works for me. I have tons of filters set up so that only the most important emails are highlighted in my inbox. Everything else sits for at least a few days. And you know what? It’s fine.
My phone used to get a notification for every new sign-up or sale. Now, I’ve turned them all off. I stopped constantly checking my analytics and look just once a month. I review the data, send it to my advisors, and, for the most part, ignore the numbers for another 30 days.
I also realized I do my best work between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So, I give myself big working blocks during those hours. And I schedule 90% of my meetings for Wednesdays.
Before taking time off, I was forever pelting my brain with multiple stimuli. If I was taking the dog for a walk, I was also listening to a podcast and scrolling through Twitter. If I was watching TV, I was also looking through my phone and responding to Slack messages. Now, I do one thing — maybe two — at any given time so I don’t deplete my attention battery.
I used to wake up in the middle of the night, reach for my phone, and start reading Twitter or scrolling through the news. Today, I keep my phone out of my bedroom at all times.
And as for social media? Well, I’m trying to show up as my full, authentic self there too.
As a professional, it’s hard to be genuine online. It’s tempting just to share the highlight reel. But being open about both the ups and the downs encourages everyone to be more authentic. It helps us feel less alone and reminds us that we’re much more than just the sum of our business results.
Today, 93% of independent creators report their line of work has negatively impacted their lives. And 89% want to do things very differently. I’m relieved to say I’m one of those creators who has started down a new path that works for me.
A few months ago, I had a call with someone in the Swipe Files community –– one of our most active members. They shared with me that Swipe Files gave them the opportunity to build friendships with other marketers and founders in a way they’d never done before. And it had come at just the right time: They’d been struggling with some serious mental health issues before finding our community.
Hearing their story made me realize just how important community is, and how excited I am to keep building one.
We need one another. And in order to keep creating those crucial connections, we first need to make sure we’re doing right by ourselves.
Read more about this series, We're All Human: Mental Health Stories From Real Professionals.