A Fine Line Between Passion And Obsession

The effects of burnout can be detrimental to an entrepreneur's ability to function and succeed.

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The term "burnout' was first coined as far back as the 1970's, but when the press started attributing it to Elon Musk, one of the most influential thought leaders of our time, it's something we don't easily forget. It costs the US economy US$300 billion a year, is linked to life threatening diseases and in some cases, even death.


Burnout can affect anyone; it doesn't discriminate across industry sectors or years of experience but it does have a preference- people most likely to suffer a burnout are those who are extremely passionate about what they do, work with an element of risk and operate in socially isolated environments, or in other words, entrepreneurs.

Passion vs Obsession: It's a fine line but someone has to walk it.
As an entrepreneur, your passion is the driving force for what you do. If you don't have passion, you wouldn't be able to call yourself an entrepreneur and is often the reason a work/life balance is difficult to obtain. So, when does passion become obsession? Or are the two synonymous?

BNI, the largest entrepreneurial networking organization, found that their members who categorized as "obsessively passionate' were most likely to experience a burnout. Ironically, when we look at some of the most successful and innovative entrepreneurs of our time, it is precisely their obsessive passion to "solve the problem' that has made them some of the best and most successful founders to date.

The cure and the cause
The important thing to remember is that burnout is not something you wake up with unexpectedly. Burnout is a slow creeping process and the difference between overly stressed and a full-fledged burnout is not much more than a degree or two. It's what makes it so hard to recognise and at the same time, so important to keep an eye on.

Chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and impaired concentration along with chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches are all common symptoms of chronic stress/burnout that stand alongside a whole myriad of others. These effects of burnout can be detrimental to an entrepreneur's ability to function and succeed.

Related: The Truth About Entrepreneurship

There's no doubt that being an entrepreneur has been one of the most challenging periods of my life, and now I focus on these three main aspects of my work life to give me balance, keep me grounded and safeguard me against burning out:

1. Find the things you love outside of your passion
Your business is not all that you are and so it shouldn't be all that you do. Throughout the 17 years I worked in investment banking and venture capital, the one thing I remember seeing often was "the dimming of the light'. Founders of startups often hit the ground running without looking back. They'd get so exhausted that they even struggled to look forward, until eventually their spark and motivation dwindled. As an entrepreneur, you always need a spark to sell, whether this is to new hires, new clients or to new investors. Finding something that's just for you and not directly linked to your business will help you through those dips. Whether it's a sport, a meditation practice, travelling, or listening to audio books like me, find something that inspires you.

2. Seek a network of support
Sometimes, it's difficult to take a step back from the day to day and check where everything is going: Does it all still make sense? Is it still solving a problem and is the problem you're solving viable as a business or just something nice to accomplish? You will pivot several times along the journey to success and that journey can be a long one. That's why I find it so valuable to be connected to like-minded people that act as a soundboard and help me gain perspective. This can come in many forms, be it Facebook groups, family members or even a WhatsApp group of startup founders.

3. Be social
The team you surround yourself with may end up being the people you speak to most frequently in your life. Therefore, it stands to reason that you should enable an open channel of communication. Once you do that, you'll find that you can start to delegate more easily, allowing yourself to focus on working ON the business and its growth, rather than working IN the business. Delegating can be difficult for entrepreneurs, but it will be necessary as your business gets off the ground.

There's no shame in admitting that you've slipped, it might take great insight to recognize it but it's what will save you from falling. As long as you have a great network of people you surround yourself with, be sure to call on them when you need to- for a run, a rant or a reset.

Related: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Handling The Burden Of Business Success