Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BURNOUT

Founders typically don't talk about their burnout, usually out of fear of the judgments of others (employes, investors, potential investors, etc). And maybe that's the way it should be; the wrong perception can kill a business. 

Jerry Colonna talks about it in this article from earlier this week. 

I'll take a bit of a risk here, though, in the hopes that founders reading this might learn from it: I'm suffering some minor burnout, but it's mostly physical this time. Mentally, I'm in decent shape, feeling more focused, and looking forward to coding without distraction for a few weeks. 

PHYSICAL BURNOUT
Physically, though, I haven't adopted good habits. I don't exercise consistently (or much), I ingest more than I need, and my taste for beer has broadened to high calorie varieties. I'm overweight, and I feel it every day.  

So over the next 2 months, I'm focusing on my health with a weight-loss target of 40 lbs, which sounds like a lot, but it's really not that aggressive if you consider the context: I don't move very much, and ingest too much. The very simple formula works: eat less, exercise more.

I'll eat smaller portions, drink more water, and cut down or cut out alcohol. I'll largely cut out the bad carbs, eat more fruit and veggies, and eat more slowly. 

I've noticed that I'm a habitual eater; if you put a bowl of popcorn in front of me, I'll eat the whole bowl, and if it's just a cup, I'll eat that whole cup and be just as satisfied. I think it's called "unconscious eating" or something like that, but I do the same with packs of gum, crackers, whatever. Kind of OCD. 

The key is to break the habit by identifying it, then making some minor changes that interrupt the automation. 

Next, starting this afternoon, I'll swim at least an hour daily, walk at least 3 miles, and do some basic gravity exercises like sit-ups and pushups. The more muscle you have, the more energy you consume, so exercise along with some basic weight training should support the overall effort. 

This is a commitment I have had trouble keeping once I'm out of my ideal space. So when I return home (whatever that ends up being), I'll need to continue the program. 

TRUE BURNOUT
I've learned that full burnout is a state of mind. A number of times in my career I've been seriously burned out, but it wasn't until the winter of 2009 that I realized what caused it. 

Basically when you're no longer inspired, when you're frustrated by the arbitrary obstacles others put in front of you and you can't seem to get around, that's when you really get burned out. 

How do I know? Because after my burnout at Mission Research six years into it, and I left the company, I  became reinvigorated within months when I learned of an amazing set of inventions and discoveries in the energy sector. My brain was on fire again, I was smiling again, and thrilled to be back.

No therapy, no sudden windfall--just the power of inspiring, meaningful work with lots of potential. It's when you lose hope, when you lose that belief in the potential and your ability to fully reach that potential that you get burned out. 

The same thing happens in relationships, in teaching, in political movements, and anything else that requires some suspension of disbelief. 

This is why selling the dream is so important. You have to first sell yourself on the idea and your ability to make it happen, even though you know it's incredibly difficult. To deal with disappointment, long hours, and people issues day after day, you must have deep belief in your ability to get there. 

Burnout kicks in when you lose that belief. And if you don't believe, others notice, and they won't believe. It's possible they never did, but they'd never tell you.

I get energized by my own ideas, discovery, and vision, but I get more energized by  other people's commitments, initiative, and belief in our goals and paths of getting there. When we are not aligned, then it's incredibly important to address that. 

When you don't, the result will be someone's burnout, loss of belief, loss of energy. 

COVENANTS
As I write this, I realize how simple some of these things are. Maybe we just need to make an agreement, a covenant that we stick too: we will exercise daily, we will eat only what we need, we will commit to our mutual goals and paths of getting there, we will work toward our beliefs, and when we see a change in that, we will be honest and truthful with each other. 

It really isn't that hard, yet here I am, playing catch-up, addressing a neglected body, and pulling the spirit along the way, making new covenants that I believe will redefine my quality of life. 

Press on.

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