Creating Flight

You CAN change your life

Gary Vaynerchuk tells great leaders, “Macro patience and micro speed are the only things that matter.” Once I started to truly understand this idea, I decided to work for myself, which has been one of the (if not THE) best decisions of my life. In fact, it may have saved my life.

How does my job dictate my day?

Like a lot of people, I bounced around between several jobs through college, most of them in the service industry. At that time, waiting tables or working as a bartender were the most convenient side gigs. After school, I moved to Boston and started working in promotions, which gave me access to events and all the clubs and bars. This was a fantastic way to meet people, and soon I knew representatives from large liquor companies and began working alcohol promos. I was getting paid to hang out in the club and hand out samples — sounds like the best thing that could have happened to a single 20-something, right?

From the beginning, that world felt like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. I knew I couldn’t stay for too long, or I’d fall in too deep. Having an addictive personality, coupled with the dangers of knowing all the bouncers on a first name basis, having access to lots of alcohol, and hanging out with the late-night crowd… it was a formula for failure. My day-to-day felt like crap (going to bed at 3 or 4 am, sleeping until 10 am, usually waking up hungover), and that told me it was time to change things up. I realized that I was allowing my environment to dictate what my life looked like and that it wasn’t very pretty.

Small steps lead to significant change

So, what next? I knew I didn’t want to stay in the late-night scene, but Boston is wicked expensive, and I didn’t have the time or money to think it through there. So, my best option was to move home for a while. I couldn’t just snap my fingers and be living my ideal life (if anyone ever figures that out, let me know.) I left the nighttime bar scene six years ago, and know now more than ever that creating the life I want has taken time. In addition to time, change has required intentional awareness of my own wants and needs. I’m thankful for my time in the bar scene — it gave me service industry chops and taught me what I didn’t want my life to look like.

Here are some questions I asked myself and forced myself to answer honestly that lead me to where I am today:

  • What has felt best for me? What have been my favorite, most enjoyable aspects of the jobs I’ve held? 
  • What do I want my regular days/weeks to look like now? Answer in concrete terms. Use your imagination.
  • What’s getting in the way of having my ideal days right now? How can I avoid or change these roadblocks?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice in the short-term for my long-term happiness?

Embracing my new normal

I live a very different life here in Phoenix, running a coffee business, and it certainly didn’t all happen overnight. From night owl to early bird, I often laugh at the fact that I now (happily) wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning. The process that brought me to entrepreneurship included self-reflection, personality testing, unicorn brainstorming, and more. Honest self-reflection based awareness helped me see that for me, I felt purposeful, happy, and fulfilled by getting a jump on the day and helping others to do the same.

Reminder of humanity

I love finding the positivity in things, and I don’t want to mislead you: You and I can do ALL the work to set ourselves up for success, and there will still be hard days and moments of failure and burnout. Last fall, when things were starting to pick up for my business, this proved itself true. A family situation caused a storm of emotions for me, and my stress level peaked rather quickly. During that time, I was especially grateful for the flexibility I had built into my business and forced myself to practice what I preach: I asked for help, leaned on my support system, and took everything in small steps. As much as I wish there were quick fixes to the challenges we deal with, the solutions I’ve found are gentle, sometimes slow-moving, and definitely not magic — but they work. Over a year later, my business is growing, and I’m growing. Most of the time I look forward to my days, and I know that whatever challenges come up I’ll — we’ll — be able to handle.

Real talk about finding purpose

Using the word purpose unnerves me because it’s as if society has created a new kind of rat-race around “finding” yours. Yes, a purpose-driven life IS terrific, and I am so thankful to be living it. But that’s not how I found it. If I had sat down in my dark times and asked myself repeatedly, “What is my purpose?” I’d have driven myself mad and probably never have progressed to where I am now. Instead, I took into account all the things I knew about myself, my short and long term wants and needs, and mapped out what I wanted my days to look like right away, not sometime in the future. That’s how I got myself to today, not by blindly picking a purpose. My purpose is to enjoy this life I have. This is how I’m doing it, and I think you can, too.

Dealing with the reality of burnout

How to better recognize when burnout is approaching

Has anyone else ever had burnout creep up out of nowhere and totally wipe them out? Sometimes I can see the warning signs and make adjustments in time to avoid a major crash, but most burnouts feel like being completely blindsided by a velociraptor.

Burnout has been called the “car crash you don’t see coming.”
A few years ago, I was driving on the 101 when I was involved in an actual car accident. Approaching the exit ramp, the vehicle in front of me began indecisively straddling the line and braking intensely. On the phone with a friend, I told her, “I’ll call you back, this guy in front of me can’t decide which way he is going.” As the driver ahead of me slowed, I slowed as well, keeping my eyes locked on his brake lights. That’s when it hit me. Literally. The car behind me slammed into my Jeep.
I never saw it coming. I was so focused on what was ahead, I didn’t see what was sneaking up behind me. This is exactly how burnout has felt for me. Sudden. Intense. Unexpected. “Burnout” was recently declared a health diagnosis by the World Health Organization, and stems from improperly managed and prolonged workplace stress. They specify that “burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context…” but as we all know, burnout reaches farther than just our work. The WHO characterizes burnout in three ways: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

If the syndrome is caused by prolonged stress, then how come it feels like it sneaks up so quickly?

For me, hindsight is always 20/20. Does anyone else find this kind of clarity only when reflecting?
In entrepreneurship, you write your own rules. This means that it’s your responsibility to pay very close attention to the needs of the business, as well as the needs of the business OWNER (you!). If you’re not doing well, how will you adapt and grow your business?
This must be where that old “building the plane while flying it” idiom comes from. You won’t have this all figured out from day one, and that’s OK. You can build “burnout prevention” into your business plan as you go.
When we’re in survival mode, plowing through tasks and challenges (i.e., “the shit”), we rarely stop to notice of what else is happening. Take a break? Ha! Most business owners have never heard of taking a break because we “can’t.” Then, “surprisingly,” we’re burnt out, exhausted and unmotivated because we forgot to take care of ourselves first. There is hope. As we mature, we work to become more aware of ourselves overall. Recognizing the early signs of fatigue can become easier, and preventing burnout is possible.

Here are some of the red flags I look out for that can signal I’m nearing burnout:

  • Work-related anxiety/stress: My head feels like it’s going to burst with all my to-do’s. I’m trying to remember too much and feeling anxious.
  • Cynicism: I’m totally disenchanted by things I usually enjoy and have a bad attitude.
  • Disconnect: I’m buried in work and not giving energy to my family, friends, or self.
  • Physically tired: It’s hard to drag my weary feet out of bed and onto the floor for another day.

This is what I do when I see the red flags to try to prevent burnout and stop the bleeding:

  • Pinpoint the stressor, take a step back, evaluate, and adjust.
  • Notice when I’m not enjoying the things I love doing. Do something fun that is not work-related.
  • Self-care and mental care: This can mean many different things, depending on my needs at the moment (meditate, yoga, go outdoors, go on a date with my husband, go to a therapy session, see a play, etc.)

Although it’d be nice to wrap this up with a bow (like the “Full House” moral of the episode), the storyline of burnout doesn’t follow any rules.

I’ll probably experience burnout again. Just like I’ll probably get into another accident. Unfortunately, the chances are likely. But it’s also an opportunity to handle it better in the future.

As we learned, burnout usually comes from external sources beyond our control. So while we may not be able to prevent burnout entirely, we can get better at recognizing the signs and minimizing the impact.
Each time I experience burnout, it feels shorter and less stressful because I’m paying attention to the signs and responding (without overreacting) to get the help I need. What I do (and hope you’ll do too) when burnout does happen, is give myself some grace rather than a lecture or guilt trip. I understand that this is my body and mind telling me to slow down and pace myself.

We’ve got this.