The Burnout Epidemic

It was the fall of 2015 and 6 years since my co-founder and I launched Looksharp. Since that day we had been on a near constant sprint to build our business. We had been through an accelerator program, hired 20+ employees, been through multiple rounds of funding, and scaled our student audience to millions of students. On my end, I had learned search engine optimization, PR, email marketing, SQL, HTML, management, design and numerous other skills, almost entirely from scratch.

It was an amazing ride, until it wasn’t.

November 16, 2015, was the day I realized I wasn’t just burnout, I was toast. We had been working nights, weekends and holidays for almost six years. In fact, I remember one Memorial Weekend where we sent an email to our leadership team telling them to make sure to take Sunday off--the assumption being we'd all be working on Saturday and Monday, the holiday.

As stress took over, I decided to book a trip to Vancouver to run a half marathon and find clarity.

When I arrived at the airport, I realized I didn’t have my passport with me and I broke down. After briefly regaining myself, I moved my flight back a few hours, drove home, got my passport, returned to the airport, made it to Vancouver, and completed the run; but I was done. The next week, we decided to hire a new marketing executive, reduce my responsibilities and I took some time to recover.

I had been burnt out for about a year and during that time I had to work twice as hard to eek out half as much work, like trying to pull milkshake through a narrow straw.

Not Alone

Burnout in America has reached epidemic proportions. A recent study by Kronos found that 50% of all employee attrition is due to burnout.

A separate research report found that 27% of Americans work in the hours between 10 pm and 5 am, more than any other country in the world.

There are many issues causing burnout, but technology is certainly one of them. In San Francisco, it's hard to go anywhere on the weekend where your phone doesn't beep with new Slack notifications. 

The bigger question though, is what to do when you get burnt out? The problem is that once you are truly burnt out, it’s too late. Productivity declines and without a serious reboot (usually 2-3 weeks+) it won’t come back.

The issue is fulfillment:

The reason we burnout isn’t because we are working too hard (although that can certainly contribute). It’s because we are working towards the wrong goal.

For me in 2015, I burnt out because I was no longer in love with the work I was doing. Two major changes had happened to my job, which I didn’t realize until after the fact:

First, we had switched focus from marketing to students, a mission I felt passionate about, to selling to employers, a challenge that's important, but which I felt less connected to.

Second, my job changed from being entrepreneurial and growing new marketing channels, to being operational and trying to squeeze additional ROI out of existing channels.

Since then, I found out that what I truly care about is growing people, something I got to do from time-to-time at Looksharp, but it was not my primary focus.

Finding Your Personal Mission:

Finding your personal mission is not easy, but it’s worth the effort. There are many people who spend their whole life without figuring out what truly motivates them and it leads to a lot of unhappiness.

There is no magic flip to switch to find your purpose, but if you were an archaeologist, the first place to start digging is by defining your values. Values are unique to every person and act as guideposts during any big life decision.

If you’ve never completed a values exercise I highly recommend it. Feel free to email me and I can share a number of resources that you can use to begin this process and begin fighting the slow pull towards burning out.