Don’t do what I did – my business breakdown + burnout
Managing Anxiety and Shifting Focus: From Eating Disorder to Entrepreneurship
In last week’s weight loss I shared my experience with having an eating disorder for a significant period of my life. As mentioned in that blog, I used dieting, obsessive exercise and weight control as a form of managing my anxiety. However, as my relationship with my body and food improved, my anxiety found a new target: my business.
When my oldest son was four months old I decided to take the Maternal Support Practitioner course and pursue a career as a doula. Birth work is my calling and I was so excited to start learning all things birth and supporting families. What I hadn’t fully realized initially was that I would have to start my own business. There were no doula agencies or collectives to join, so becoming an entrepreneur was my only option at the time.
Entrepreneurial Dreams and Anxiety Coping
It seemed strange but the idea of building a wildly successful business gave me the same euphoric feeling I used to have when I’d “recommit” to dieting. It was like a thrill, or excitement and sudden burst of adrenaline thinking about all the ways my life will be different.
Except instead of thinking of living in a smaller body, I had big dreams that my business would single handedly change the landscape of birth in my area and I would be wealthy, fulfilled, beautiful and successful as a result.
What started as a genuine desire to help families and my community quickly morphed into an obsession with my business and an unconscious form of dealing with my anxiety. My business was all I wanted to talk about. It was on my mind 24/7. I was constantly thinking of new ways to market my business, new collaborations, new social media ideas, how to make my business bigger and better seemed to occupy my thoughts all the time.
Overcoming Business Obsession and Reflecting on Patterns
When my client load began to fill up consistently, I didn’t take a single month off for two years. I was always on call, always texting clients, always posting on social media. I had absolutely no balance between my life and my business and at the time I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. I had submerged myself in a “hustle” mentality, and thought I had to work at my business 24/7 if I wanted to be a big success.
Looking back now, I notice the similarities between my eating disorder and my business “obsession” and how both of them helped me feel like I had some sort of control. I specifically remember diving deeper into my business after my youngest son was born.
Parenting Challenges and Business
He was a high needs baby with a very spicy temperament. He was very different from my oldest son who was really chill and content all the time. In the weeks after he was born I found myself constantly feeling like I was failing. Nothing I did seemed to make him happy. He didn’t like being held, but also didn’t like being put down. He refused to latch for the first 10 days of his life. He had a difficult time with sleep and I felt so discouraged and incompetent.
Then one day I had a couple of tasks for my business that needed my attention. They only took about 15-20 minutes, but I remember having this very visceral feeling of accomplishment. I had started a task and completed it in one sitting and it felt so good to feel productive so I started doing more. It gave me a sense of control, I started trying to get more work done even though both of my kids were home with me.
Everything revolved around my business
At the time everything felt urgent. There was never enough time to get everything I wanted done. It felt as though if I didn’t do this RIGHT NOW someone else was going to beat me to it. I wanted to be the first for everything. I wanted to be the best at everything. I just didn’t realize how unrealistic keeping up that pace would be and how significantly it was impacting my life.
My business became an extension of me. It felt intrinsically linked to my worth and value, just like my weight had been previously. When anyone asked me how I was doing my default was to tell them how my business was doing, everything revolved around the success of my business.
Success was a moving target
By 2017 my business had gotten so busy that I decided to expand my team. Outwardly I was getting all kinds of validation, my clients were raving about me, my team was doing well, our community events were well attended and our social media was great. But it was never enough. I always needed more: more likes, more comments, more clients, more distraction, just more.
But just like with my eating disorder, I was never successful enough, I never hustled enough, and there was never enough validation. “Success” seemed like this moving target that I was never able to actually reach.
Everything came to a head
Everything came to a head in November of 2018 when my oldest son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He was 3 years old at the time and had to be hospitalized to stabilize his blood sugar. Over the course of a weekend it felt like so much of our lives changed.
Taking care of a child with chronic illness was something that my husband and I had never done before. Managing his diabetes felt like a fulltime job. I quickly realized that I was so burned out from my business and stressed from navigating my son’s diagnosis that in early 2019 I decided to walk away from my business, at least for a period of time, in order to focus on my wellness and kids.
Stepping back from my business
Stepping back from my business was a really difficult decision. It wasn’t until months later that I was able to reflect on how consumed I had been with it and how that was making me unwell. Recovering from that burnout took over a year, and lots of processing and therapy.
Something I realized in that time was that my business wasn’t the problem; it was the way I attributed its success to the value of who I am as a human. It was a new avenue to try and prove to the world and myself that I was worthy.
I slowly reconnected with my business in 2020 when my oldest son started JK and I continue to take on clients part time, in addition to my work with bebo mia.
It doesn’t have to be like this
I feel passionately about sharing my experience because I do not want others to go through the same thing. Many industries promote a hustle culture that very much encourages 24/7 job availability. But what we don’t hear about enough is how that culture leads to burnout. There are ways to start and grow businesses without it consuming our lives. (We talk about this at length in Birth Worker Business School). Birth work is so important and helping to change the world but it’s important for birth workers not to burn out when the world really needs them.
Do you feel pressure to hustle? How do you keep a work/life balance? What are your best tips for falling into the hustle culture trap! Feel free to share your experiences/thoughts in the comments.
Don’t do what I did – my business breakdown + burnout
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