Founder’s Fatigue

Starting a business often feels like falling in love – at first, there’s the whirlwind of emotion; curiosity, anxiety (will this work?) and bursts of high energy. After all, it’s the start of something new.  Your business becomes the primary object of attention and it begins to channel all of your energy and excitement.  We think, “Great! I could do this forever!”.

Over time, the reality of life in business sets in and the romanticism evaporates before our very eyes. With many founders finding themselves struggling with motivation or finding themselves overwhelmed at the challenges ahead.  Yes, this is commonly known as burnout; but if you’re an entrepreneur, it called founder’s fatigue.  

Founder’s fatigue can present in a range of ways, and it can also be a significant contributor to more serious mental health, or wider health, issues.

So, how do you deal with founders’ fatigue before it deals with you?

  1. Acceptance.  First, you need to accept and acknowledge that you have founder’s fatigue. As part of acceptance, it’s important to understand that how you’re feeling is normal and that many people in business feel a similar way.  Acknowledge this as a temporary state that you can overcome.
  2. Ask for help.  It’s important to make sure that you ask for help from people whose opinion you trust and value. Dealing with difficult times alone is always more challenging than having someone by your side.
  3. Give yourself a break!  It may feel as though it’s impossible to take time away from your business, however, this is the point that you really must step away, even if for a weekend, to give yourself a break and recalibrate. While you might often feel like you have super-powers, you don’t!  By taking a break, you can increase your focus and come back feeling re-energised.  
  4. Focus on strengths.  Be ruthless with your assessment of what you do well and what you don’t do well, then focus on the stuff you know you’re going to nail.  Make sure you align your areas of responsibility to things that you enjoy doing, this is a key way to avoid fatigue.
  5. Reward.  You can’t just “give, give, give” without getting something in return.  Most people have a limit with what they can cope with.  For many years, we operated without taking a salary from our businesses, sacrificing buying a home and stability for our family in favor of pursuing a dream.  Truth be told, we often felt on the verge of breaking.  Only you will know when you are at the point where you must get something in return for the hard work you’ve put in.
  6. Find your allies.  Go to networking events, speak to other entrepreneurs and find your tribe.  Arm yourself with literature, read articles and books, and listen to podcasts from others who have lived it!  Learning from, and talking with others who are on a similar journey, is often helpful in digesting and assessing issues and more than anything you’ll realise that you’re far from alone in your journey!
  7. Face your fears.  Yell “BOO! I see you!” to that monster in your closet – its name is fear and it hates to be acknowledged for what it is. Acknowledging our fears in business is critical for success.  Don’t ever stick your head in the sand!  What happens if the worst-case scenario becomes reality? What if we lose our most important contract?  What if we run out of cash?  What if a competitor comes and crushes us?  What if we can’t make this business successful?  Don’t just let your monster sit on your shoulder with its cruel incantations! Acknowledge it and create plans for dealing with your worst fears.

Remember, success has many masters and success doesn’t happen overnight. There genuinely is no such thing as an overnight success story, success stories are built over several years with tears and hardship along the way.

But, there is also a time to call it quits.  Heartbreakingly, just like some relationships, unfortunately there are some companies or ideas that simply don’t work.  This can be because the problem that you’re solving doesn’t truly exist or that you aren’t solving the problem well enough.  Or simply because there is too little investment to make the business a success.

Entrepreneurs are born – not made – and while one business might not work to its expected potential, it’ll teach you invaluable lessons for the rest of your life.  Above all else, never lose hope and look at every challenge as the next greatest lesson you’ll learn.