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The 5 poisons and 3 antidotes of work-life balance

By Quiet Light
| Reading Time: 10 minutes

We hear about burnout all the time, but what does it look like for entrepreneurs? Whether you’re building, buying, or looking to sell your business, how can you overcome burnout?

What is burnout?

Jason’s burnout story

Why entrepreneurs burn out

Battling burnout with balance

Small steps, better balance

Entrepreneurs burn out for many reasons, but the solution comes down to work-life balance.

After all, the brightest stars in the galaxy burn out more quickly.

Entrepreneurs and business owners are no different. Working hard and fast leads to amazing products, but it also means devastating burnout.

Burnout can be the end of your entrepreneurial dreams, whether you plan to sell your business online or scale over time.

The Quiet Light Podcast

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This blog post is based on a podcast episode that we recently recorded. Listen to the full episode here:

Work-life balance sounds like a complete joke to entrepreneurs who see-saw between overworking and crashing out.

But going into business for yourself is volatile and it means accepting the risk of burnout.

We’ve seen our fair share of burnout because most of the people that QuietLight Brokerage partners with have bootstrapped their own companies.

It’s all too common for people to put their soul into a business, work themselves to death, and realize they’re burnt out once it’s too late.

This phenomenon sounds crazy to people in the corporate world but it’s a real threat to sustainable entrepreneurship.

Although entrepreneurship is fraught with soul-crushing moments, it’s fulfilling. It’s exciting. There’s always a new challenge.

But you have to do it right.

You need to strike a balance between passionately working towards your goal and a healthy life outside of work.

That’s why Mark Daoust sat down to chat with Jason Zook, co-founder of Wandering Aimfully.

Alongside his wife and fellow Wandering Aimfully founder, Caroline, Jason uses his experience as a formerly burned-out entrepreneur to encourage fellow entrepreneurs to work to live, not live to work

Rocks balancing

What is burnout?

Entrepreneurs are the most at risk for burnout due to their isolation and passion for their work.

They also have less of a safety net. Each day comes with incredible highs and devastating lows.

As an entrepreneur, you might sell your business online to get a reprieve, but this can’t cure burnout, either.

Burnout isn’t about being tired. It’s related closely to depression and often overlaps with it.

Burnout can even cause physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia, and heart palpitations.

Man dealing with burnout

And that’s not accounting for the mental anguish from anxiety, anger, lack of interest, and indecisiveness.

We talk about entrepreneurs like they’re the rockstars of the 21st century, but it’s not all beaches and pajama pants.

As entrepreneurs grow their business, the stakes only get higher. And with more stakes comes a higher risk of burnout.

That’s exactly what happened to Jason Zook.

Jason’s burnout story

Jason was a late bloomer in the world of entrepreneurs.

He didn’t sell lemonade as a kid or create a startup in college. Jason started his first business when he was 27 years old.

After years in the 9-to-5 world, Jason went out on a limb and quit his full-time job.

He recognized that there was no opportunity to grow in his job—and it was boring, to boot.

I Will Wear Your Shirt

Jason founded his first company, I Will Wear Your Shirt, in 2008. It was the start of the Great Recession, but it was also the renaissance of social media.

Jason capitalized on his YouTube following. He sold sponsorships and wore branded t-shirts while filming his YouTube videos.

The “just crazy enough to work” business model didn’t take off at first. Jason had to build a community, reaching out to brands on Twitter to score more business.

Jason filmed himself every day, shooting a total of 889 videos for I Will Wear Your Shirt.

Screenshot of I Will Wear Your Shirt

T-shirts and self-made prisons

He admits the videos were terrible quality, but viewers didn’t seem to care. Business boomed and he earned thousands in the business’s first year.

But after five years, Jason had to call it quits with his t-shirt empire.

He unwittingly created a prison for himself: a prison where his life was put on blast to the internet every day. Managing employees, finances, and marketing was too much.

Why entrepreneurs burn out

Jason’s story isn’t unique. So many successful entrepreneurs fall prey to burnout.

This usually happens because of the prisons we build for ourselves within our own businesses.

While everyone’s situation is different, entrepreneurs burn out for five big reasons.

1. More money, more problems

Whether you sell your business online or you’re scaling it for more revenue, that money comes with a host of problems.

As earnings increase, stress increases exponentially.

“I had no stress in my first year of I Will Wear Your Shirt,” says Jason Zook. But by his third year in business, it was a different story.

“I made $600,000 that year. But I had five employees. I only earned $30,000 and I was way more stressed. I was paid the least as the person who was doing the most,” he says.

Freedom versus cash

The first client for Quiet Light Brokerage fell into this trap.

When you sell your business online, you want to make a good deal. That’s exactly what happened with this client.

We thought he was set for life, but in just a few years, he was in financial straits.

Why? Because he gave up the lifestyle and personal freedom of entrepreneurship for the cash. He thought, “This deal will set me free,” but it got him back into the grind he was in before.

Quote from the podcast

2. Passion alone

A study by Entrepreneur found that 25% of entrepreneurs feel moderately burnt out, with 3% feeling strongly burnt out.

Here’s where it gets interesting: the study noted a strong correlation between strongly burnt out entrepreneurs and how passionate they felt about their business.

In other words, people who were more passionate about their business tended to have higher rates of burnout.

This is likely due to the fact that passion overrides common sense, draining you emotionally and robbing you of balance.

It’s great to have passion, but too much is unhealthy.

3. Lack of value-driven direction

So many entrepreneurs lose their way because they forget their “why.”

Money is great, but it isn’t your purpose as an entrepreneur or human being.

Entrepreneurs are passionate people; as a passionate person, you have values and goals.

Do those values align with how you run your business?

For many entrepreneurs, that isn’t the case.

They take on unfulfilling or boring work to pay the bills, overlooking the fact that they created a business based on their values, not money.

Infographic of the seven signs of burnout

4. Cash flow

The people who say “Money doesn’t matter” are the people who don’t have to worry about money.

Passion and values matter, but the cold hard numbers matter, too.

When Jason started I Will Wear Your Shirt, he admitted he was in the dark about finances.

“When you start your first business, you don’t know what you don’t know,” he says.

Discovering what you don’t know

Jason didn’t know how to manage people, and he certainly struggled to cover the finances.

Abandoned staircase

It wasn’t until the end of his business that Jason realized the pricing model for I Will Wear Your Shirt was too inconsistent to give his five employees a salary.

When the business earned $800 one month he had to find a way to cover the $30,000 in salary costs.

In just a year and a half, Jason had over $100,000 in debt.

He went from earning $100,000 without any worries to being 30 days late on his bills.

This is really common for entrepreneurs as they scale their business.

You could sell your business online as an answer to the scaling question, but the real solution is growing smart, not growing up.

5. Sustainability

Is your business model sustainable? Will it stand the test of time?

When Jason asked himself these questions, the answer was a resounding, “No.”

“I knew I Will Wear Your Shirt wasn’t sustainable. It captured a moment in time for social media. I knew it was time to move on to other things,” Jason says.

It’s also important to see if your business is sustainable for you personally.

Quote from the podcast

Many entrepreneurs burn out because they overwork themselves delivering projects, managing employees, and marketing the business.

It’s too much for one person, especially as you grow. That’s a recipe for burnout if you don’t have the right processes in place.

Battling burnout with balance

Jason shuttered I Will Wear Your Shirt in 2013 after five years in business.

But he doesn’t regret it.

“I have no regrets. I learned important lessons that I use to this day. It didn’t end on a good note, but I have a really relatable story,” Jason says.

Quote from the podcast

Wandering Aimfully

Jason’s latest venture, Wandering Aimfully, is dedicated to helping service-oriented business owners create a sustainable business.

He and his business partner and wife, Caroline, have a saying: “We work so that we can live. We don’t live so that we can work.”

That’s something we take to heart at Quiet Light Brokerage.

Sure, as business owners, we get obsessed and we love the grind.

But at a certain point, we need to have meaning beyond the work itself.

Here’s how entrepreneurs and small businesses can overcome burnout with balance.

1. Avoid “motivation porn”

When Jason started I Will Wear Your Shirt, he had big goals.

“I latched onto things like wanting a million dollar business and a big house. But why? I didn’t even need these things!” he says.

Quote from the podcast

Motivation porn is to blame.

Whenever we read Forbes, Business Insider, or Entrepreneur, we see the big success stories.

People earn millions overnight with a pinch of luck and hard work.

We’re told that, if we work hard, we can achieve that level of success, too.

While a little inspiration is healthy, it’s another thing to let motivation porn drive your business goals.

Quote from the podcast

Ask yourself if the people with a $1 million business are happy.

Are they happier than someone with a $10 million business?

Probably not.

Be happy where you are

You can still be happy where you are.

When we let motivation porn overrule our personal success and milestones, we’re never happy with what we have.

There’s a tendency in the business community where we feel like we have to hustle, drive, grow, and expand.

But to what end?

Don’t compare your story to someone else’s journey.

This negativity feeds into the idea that nothing will ever be enough.

If you want to sell your business online, comparison makes it even more challenging.


2. Enjoy what you’ve built

What’s the purpose of your business, aside from earning money?

Did you start a business to work from the beach? To spend time with your kids? To wear pajamas every day? To change the world?

Whatever your goal, there’s no sense in giving so much to your business if you’re too stressed or tired to enjoy it.

At the height of his I Will Wear Your Shirt stress, Jason remembers thinking, “I should get a 9-to-5 job at Target. I can clock in, clock out, and leave. And I don’t have to think about it.”

It’s a myth that entrepreneurs have to always be hustling. There’s no point in growth if you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor.

According to Jason, you need to design your business around your life, not the other way around.

This will look different for everyone. What’s important is that it works for you.

3. Watch for creeps

Entrepreneurs commonly fight lifestyle and business creep.

Business creep

Entrepreneurs thrive on challenges and innovation. They constantly look for ways to sell more and earn more.

It starts innocently enough.

You bootstrap a new business, making it work with little money.

Once you start to earn, you pay for advertising.

Then the big bucks come in! You hire employees to manage the workload.

With the employees comes huge overhead, bills, and added stress.

In just a few steps you’ve quadrupled your workload and decreased the value of your dollar.

Wandering Aimfully

Some people think it’s better to sell your business online as a way to start fresh.

But what would you do with your time without the business?

So many people sell their business and realize they’re bored out of their minds, seeking something new to fulfill themselves.

The key to happiness here is balance, which will also help you avoid lifestyle creep.

Lifestyle creep

When you build the $10 million business of your dreams, it’s easy to feel like the world owes you something.

You deserve the big house, the boat, and the luxurious vacations for building such an empire.

Before you know it, you’ve upgraded your standard of living.

Unfortunately, lifestyle creep raises the minimum amount of money you need to earn every month to cover your bills.

The “I can afford this” mentality puts successful entrepreneurs in the poor house.

Let’s resist the creeps in the first place. It starts with knowing your number.

Relaxing dinner on the beach

What do you actually want?

Define what you love and want from life.

What amount of money do you need to earn to actually put those things in motion? Put a price tag on it and extrapolate it to a monthly figure.

Jason knew he wanted to earn just enough money so he didn’t have to think about money at all.

“I’m not there yet, though,” he admits, “But instead, my wife and I set a number to work towards. Once we hit that number, we’re going to stop trying to make money.”

Jason’s simplified his aspirations since founding Wandering Aimfully.

He wants to build a nice, 1,200 square foot home to enjoy. But it has to be done with balance.

“I want more money in the bank, but if I can make a little less money and have more time, and I’m happier. It means I can choose my schedule every day,” Jason says.

Ask yourself whether you really need to take on a big contract, work long hours, or upgrade your wardrobe to be happy.

If happiness is your goal, a mindset shift is what you need, not more responsibilities or possessions.

Running for peace of mind

Small steps, better balance

Jason wanted to exercise every day but struggled to make it happen.

A big fan of 30-day challenges, he challenged himself to ride a stationary bike while he worked.

In the span of 30 days, Jason burned 18,339 calories. He found a way to make exercise fit with his life.

His pants fit better, he had more energy, and he still cycles to this day.

This all happened because of an incremental change.

Your business is no different.

Instead of burning yourself out with 20-hour workdays, embrace a little balance.

Focus on your mindset, values, and daily goals to get where you need to be.

When you sell your business online or bootstrap a startup, it isn’t just about the money—it’s about you, the human behind the business.

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