For all of the books written, articles published and conferences produced to educate us about entrepreneurship and fast-growth businesses, here’s the one thing that rarely gets said: At some point, whether you’re the founder of a startup or an executive at a company where you are trying to affect change at scale, you will burnout.
As my dear friend and Life Shucker Jessica Zemple puts it: “We are part of a society that rewards doing. The problem with doing all the time is that you become part of a perpetual cycle of getting things done and never really slow down to determine if you are getting theright things done... the things that really matter, like connecting with your loved ones or pursuing your passion.”
Related: Burnouts, Crashes and Endless Business Plateaus
In June 2017, after nearly five years on the leadership team at an industry leading tech company, I was nearly at the point where burnout was imminent. So before it became a full-fledged, raging forest fire, I decided to take myself on a sojourn to New Mexico. Sante Fe, Abiquiú and Galisteo to be exact.
In Sante Fe, I set up “glamp” at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa and spent nearly four days sleeping, spa hopping between the lovely hotel spa and Ten Thousand Waves, perusing artwork downtown, reading about Native American culture and drinking margaritas at the famed Cowgirl BBQ.
One evening, I took a drive with my brother Seth (a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who joined my trip for two days) out to Ghost Ranch for a sunset horseback ride through the inspiring landscapes of Abiquiú, popularized by American artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Like a scene from How The West Was Won, we (along with our wrangler, Lexie Quirie, and her cousin, Crow Rising) trail blazed and cactus-whacked our way through the desert. We crossed a wide, snarling river, and enjoyed a stunning, watercolor sunset among the breathtaking plateaus; and it was in that place where it all finally melted away.
I was disconnected completely. No cell service. No nagging to-do lists. Just me and my horse, accompanied by my equally contemplative sibling and two real-life cowgirls. Heaven.
I spent the following and final three days in the small town of Galisteo. There, I stayed in the home of a shaman whose guidance and wisdom enabled me to reframe many of the old narratives to which I had been desperately clinging. It was a relief.
Somewhat reluctantly, I headed home, knowing my zen-like state would soon be hijacked by the daily nuances. However, with this renewed energy, I felt even more committed to living from a place of creativity and being -- instead of working and doing.
With that in mind, I canvassed a few folks in my network to hear their personal ideas and strategies for staying balanced and present during the chaos. While sojourning to New Mexico was a wonderful experience, the reality is that most of us (myself included) have to figure out more practical ways of mindfully disconnecting.
Idea 1: Soaking up the sights.
"Covering the current political landscape can not only be mentally exhausting but physically taxing as well, with up to 18-hour days. But living in DC affords me the opportunity to walk for miles in one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the country. Every day at sunset I walk a different path ranging from the reflecting pool to the White House or from DuPont Circle to Georgetown or from Logan Circle to Howard University. I am intentional about leaving my phone behind so I can resist the urge to check it. I completely disconnect, and I come back with a fresh mind, a blank page and usually an insightful perspective on the state of politics and policy in the world today."
Idea 2: Making the minutes count.
“I have a family with five kids, and I am constantly trying to optimize my time to best integrate work and life. Completely disconnecting for long periods of time isn't an option for me as a husband, father and CEO. But structuring my day to be present for the nine most important minutes of my family's day is possible: Three minutes when the kids wake up, three minutes when they get home from school and three minutes before they go to bed.”
-- Ryan Smith, Co-founder & CEO of Qualtrics
Idea 3: Setting up boundaries and support.
"When you see everyone 'rising and grinding' at 5 am and are constantly bombarded 'entrepreneur porn' about successful people never missing a beat, it can feel like you're never doing enough. I constantly work at setting boundaries and disconnecting. A few things I do: I use a manual alarm clock -- my iPhone is off and in the other room when I go to bed; I try to not check my email until after I've gotten dressed and brushed my teeth in the morning; I also do my best not check emails after 8 pm or on weekends. Therapy helps, some medications help, but also some friends that can bop me over the head and give me perspective on my unrealistic expectations of myself.”
Idea 4: Gently starting your day.
"I have a little spot on the ground next to a window where I can meditate for 20 minutes in the morning. Opening the window brings fresh air, and a light therapy lamp helps my body acclimatize to the start of the day, getting my circadian rhythms on track. This meditation usually comes after a light stretch, light workout and a shower. Afterwards I'll have breakfast and read a book. From the time I wake up to the time I head to work is about 80 to 90 minutes. If I do this routine consistently, it brings about a stronger fortitude and clarity of vision over the long term, and ultimately, a sense of serenity despite all the chaos."
-- James Iliff, Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer at VR company, Survios
Idea 5: Walking away the weekend.
“I do a seven kilometer walk every Sunday in Newport, where I head to the highest point called Ridgeway. From one side, I can see Newport’s city centre and industrial areas, which is an inspiring visual representation of how my hometown has evolved and how nothing stands still. From another vantage point, I can gaze at the countryside, known as Little Switzerland. Standing there at the top, it’s like I’m in two very different worlds and is a reminder of how the world is such a unique and diverse mix. It also helps that there is a little cafe about half-way through the walk, where I can stop for a nice cup of coffee.”