Building a Startup Is Like Running a Marathon at a Sprint Pace — Here Are 4 Ways to Cope
A founder shares her strategies to handle burnout so it doesn’t consume you, or your dream.
Running a startup is like running a marathon at a sprint pace. There is no room for slowing down; you have to keep racing toward the next mile marker, and then the next one, and then the next.
Though a footrace may end after 26.2 miles, the startup marathon never really ends. You have to keep going when you feel like your body, mind and your entire being want to give up. And you have to keep telling yourself you can do it when you feel like the universe is conspiring to tell you that you can’t. Sprinting through the startup marathon ensures that you can learn fast, iterate, make up for mistakes and continue to grow at pace, beat your competitors to the punch or block anyone entering your space. To win the startup race you need to be agile and grow quickly in the shortest amount of time. Doing that at anything less than a sprint will get you — at best — second place.
It does get easier, though. It has to, because maintaining the sprint pace during a marathon indefinitely is impossible. Even trying to maintain that sprint pace indefinitely is a set up for the entrepreneur’s worst enemy: burnout.
Burning bright, burning out
While running a startup, you’ll hear a lot about burnout. People talk about it as a weakness, as something to be avoided. But, what they don’t often mention is that burnout — in one of its many forms or another — is inevitable.
I’ll be the first to tell you I experienced it in the first year after relocating RangeMe and my young family from Sydney, Australia to San Francisco. I was traveling once a week across the United States trying to win over new retail clients that could potentially change the shape of the business overnight (and when we won over Whole Foods, it did just that). That was coupled with trying to hire a team and raise capital for a startup, which alone is relentless and takes boundless energy and a strong backbone. All the while I was still a wife and a mother, raising two children along with my third child, RangeMe.
And this company is my third child, bringing with it all the same emotions as being a mother to a human child. And it goes a step beyond, too — my entire livelihood is invested in this startup, as my husband is the co-founder, and we moved literally to the other side of the world to pursue the full potential of this startup. Everything, and I mean everything, is riding on this.
No pressure or anything.
Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I mentally and physically got through that first year. More than once I wanted to just say stop and walk away. I wanted to give up the race, quit on my dream. But, I made it through, and I’m here to tell the tale. I’m here to tell you it’s possible. I’m here to tell you that you can sprint through a marathon. I’m here to tell you that you’ll get 99 no’s and one yes, and that yes is all that counts; it is what keeps you running. I’m here to tell you that passion and positivity will prevail, and having a positive attitude is everything.
And I’m also here to tell you that burnout is real. And it will happen. But, don’t let it consume you, or consume your dream.
Now that we’re solidly established here in the U.S., and RangeMe continues to grow and expand and take on new opportunities, the sprint pace I’ve been running the past few years is getting just a little easier. But, you have to acknowledge that even as things get easier, executing at such a high level of emotion for a sustained period of time puts entrepreneurson the fast track to burnout. Recognize it’s going to happen, and keep these four things in mind when it does:
1. Get out while you can.
Not from the startup race, of course. I mean step out of your office, go for a run, grab a drink with a friend — someone who is decidedly not involved with your business. Having someone to vent to is the best therapy. I was lucky to have a close friend who loved hearing about the ups and downs of startup life, so once a week we would meet and pound the hills in San Francisco while I would vent and chat for a full hour. She was a coach, friend and psychologist all mixed into one. Best of all, I was getting exercise in at the same time, which is also a key stress burner.
2. You’re not CNN.
Unlike the 24-hour news cycle, you can turn off your accessibility, and you should. Multiple communication channels are helpful, but can also be a great contributor to burnout when you spend so much of your time having to manage them. They can actually make you less productive. Take control and make specific time to check calls and messages, and then move on.
3. You’re also not Slack, GChat or IM.
Stop instantly responding to people and requests. There’s no harm taking longer to respond; in fact, it’s probably better that you do, as it makes for more thoughtful responses and forces you to think: Can I handle this request? Will it help me run the race? Or will it trip me up?
4. Let it go.
Remember above where I said I spent the first 12 months in the U.S. flying cross country, raising my kids and hiring a team all at the same time? I hired that team for a reason — because they’re the best. I wouldn’t have hired them if they weren’t. I hired them to do the things that I can’t do, and I hired them so I can do the things I can do.
Running a startup is the most draining yet most rewarding experience of my life. It brings out raw, heady emotions across every twist and turn. For those who are thinking about it or are in the trenches at the moment, be real with yourself. Recognize that you’ve chosen a challenging path — with every one step backwards you may take three or four steps forward. Failure is okay, as long as you learn, iterate and move forward.
You will burn out, and that’s okay too.
It’s what you do after the burnout that matters.
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