Living With Purpose: Here's How Entrepreneurs Can Win The Battle Against Burnout

A couple of years ago, burnout was on the rise, to the point where the World Health Organization included it in its International Classification of Diseases, claiming that it's a syndrome conceptualized as result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

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“If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” This powerful quote was once said by American singer, songwriter, and actor Marc Anthony, and it is often repeated by entrepreneurs. But is it even true? And if it is, why are so many entrepreneurs burning out? It turns out that life is not always black or white, and many purpose-driven entrepreneurs with great intentions to change the world do not necessarily identify with this quote; in fact, they often end up burnt out from the work that they do.

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A couple of years ago, burnout was on the rise, to the point where the World Health Organization included it in its International Classification of Diseases, claiming that it’s a syndrome conceptualized as result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. As a matter of fact, the cost of burnout on the healthcare spending in the US runs in the range of a whopping US$125-190 billion dollars. In fact, the cost is even greater when you factor in low productivity and turnover. And while this cost has not been measured in the Middle East, burnout is real, especially among entrepreneurs in the region.

So, what is the link between purpose and burnout? Do entrepreneurs burn out from a lack of purpose, too much purpose, or something in between? Let’s look at a few different scenarios I see daily when coaching clients. I will use the metaphor of a pilot and a plane to illustrate each scenario.

Scenario #1: You don’t know your purpose (your why), and you feel burnt out

In this scenario, you are living from the outside in. You have built a business to solve a pain or to fill a gap in society. But the truth is that your business does not link with your true purpose, and you often find yourself feeling empty and unfulfilled. It just so happens that your business is doing well; you are one of the few startups that took off; you’ve got investors, staff, and all the media attention you need. On the outside, it looks like you’ve got it all; yet, on the inside, you feel miserable, stressed, and burnt out. You ask yourself constantly the same questions: What is the point? Where am I heading? And you struggle to find the answers.

Let us use the plane and pilot metaphor to illustrate this scenario. If you were a pilot of a credible plane, you’d feel like you were flying for a long time, without a good reason, or even a destination in sight. If this scenario resonates with you, then the best course of action is for you to stop and identify a destination. Once that’s done, start creating an action plan to train someone to take over from you, and lead your business towards its destination, while you remain in the picture over time. Take the time to find your purpose, and work with a credible coach to articulate it well. This is hard for many entrepreneurs to do, yet so many successful global entrepreneurs have done that, and then used it as a great reason to start new companies that give them a better sense of fulfillment.

Scenario #2: What you are doing Is not 100% aligned with why you are doing it

In this scenario, what you are doing no longer aligns with why you started doing it in the first place, as well as with your value system. Most entrepreneurs face this scenario, because they get their purpose (their why), mixed up with their what, and how.

For the sake of clarity, your why is your purpose, or reason for being; your how is what sets you apart from others and reflects your core values, and your what is the stuff you do daily. When these three things are not in perfect alignment, chances are that you’ll burn out. You’ll end up feeling very overwhelmed and unfulfilled, because you are running around doing so many things that don’t align with your purpose. If you were a pilot in this case, you would simply not be able to fly, because a plane must be in perfect alignment and integrity to fly.

Related: Warning Signs: How To Tell If Your Staff Is On The Verge Of A Burnout (And What To Do About It)

If this scenario resonates with you, the best course of action is for you to stop and align the plane. Change your whats and daily tasks to better align with your why. Don’t pivot and change your why, like some entrepreneurs do; pivot your whats.

Scenario #3: You burn out from living with too much purpose

Equilibrium is clearly not every entrepreneur’s strength, and living with too much purpose can lead to burnout as well. If this scenario resonates with you, chances are that you are living from the inside out, which is great. However, you may be taking your need to make your mark in this world, or your need to feel “important” overboard. Some entrepreneurs over-identify with their startup. If you are one of these, you feel that your startup is your baby, your everything, and you literally take everything personally. You get to a point where you are unable to delegate, trust, prioritize, and you burn out.

Let us use the plane and pilot metaphor to illustrate this scenario. If you were a pilot in this case, you would either not be able to fly, because you’ve run out of fuel, or you’d be flying with a tank near empty, thus having to make an emergency landing, ultimately risking everything in the process. If this scenario resonates with you, the best course of action is for you to immediately refuel, and let a co-pilot or team member step up temporarily. Rome was not built in a day, and it is important for you to step back, re-prioritize, and detach for a bit. While living with purpose is very important, it is equally important to enjoy the process.

Purpose does not need to co-exist with burnout

Glorified success stories on social media make it seem like you must be set on fire, in pursuit of your purpose, and ultimately burning out. The truth is that you can live a life with purpose, without burning out. All you need is clarity and alignment between what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how you are doing it.

It is worth mentioning here that there is a difference between passion and purpose. They are not the same at all. Passion is internal, while purpose is external. What happens when you burn out is that your internal passion ends up setting you ablaze, because it is not being properly manifested through your purpose, and gets turned in, thereby burning you and everything in the process.

To conclude, while we have only looked at a few scenarios, what they all have in common, is the fact that burnout may make an entrepreneur miss the whole point of starting a business in the first place. You deserve a smooth and enjoyable flight, with a safe landing, where you, the passengers, cabin crew, and the luggage, all arrive intact and with a plane that’s got enough fuel for the next trip. If you want to learn how to make that safe landing, let’s connect.

Related: Understanding The Reasons For Entrepreneurial Burnout Can Help You Tackle It Better