The following is adapted from Life Profitability.
Anxiety, irritability, and depression are all side-effects of a common malady to entrepreneurs everywhere known as burnout. When this happens, pay attention.
You may need to seek help from external resources—not just ordinary people, places, or things, but those closest to you. I’m talking about significant others, respected family members, and close friends who know you better than a mere acquaintance or stranger.
I like to refer to these special individuals as lighthouses. In my life, my wife, Jeanne, is a lighthouse. She and I have been married for over a decade; we’re also co-parents, and I am open to her as my partner. We have familiarity and rapport with each other, along with respect and trust. As my lighthouse, Jeanne does one thing that I really appreciate.
Whenever I get frustrated or I’m spinning out, Jeanne doesn’t react in judgment. She has an incredibly helpful tact when she floats something in a gentle, kind way and says, “Hey, today you snapped at the kids twice for seemingly small things. What’s up?”
Those observations are often hard to hear, but it’s worth it to be open to them. When you’re in a boat in the middle of the ocean with a storm raging around you, it’s almost impossible to see beyond the waves. You need a lighthouse to get you to safety and back on track. Look for, listen to, and learn from whoever the lighthouses are in your life.
My best friend in the world, De Wet, is another person who shines a light for me. Though conventional business wisdom says don’t work with friends, it has worked out for us. He became my second-in-command at Conversio. So we, too, have familiarity and rapport, as well as mutual respect and trust. But he also had the vantage point of seeing me at work in a day-to-day context and understood the challenging or relevant issues in the business.
Both he and Jeanne know me well and have empathy, which are key factors. When they bring things up, it is with genuine concern on a personal level. It’s not just “Hey, you seem irritated today,” but more of “Hey, I can see you’re irritated. That conversation we had with that supplier earlier on really seemed to bother you. Do you want to talk about it?”
That’s a supportive prompt. Sometimes it’s validation, like “Hey that was a really shitty meeting,” which can be great for entrepreneurs. As leaders, it’s easy to feel alone much of the time. Looking back at my journey with Conversio, I consider hiring my best friend and having him grow into that second-in-command role as one of the top three decisions I made with that business.
To make sure our relationships stay strong, we make a habit of dedicating time to them. Jeanne and I go out every week, with no talk of work or children. The point is to foster intimacy, to really connect with another significant human being in your life. When we were working together, De Wet and I would take weekly lunches, spending the first half doing some work and the second half talking about anything else. Typically, we would have a beer and then circle back to work before the end of our lunch meeting.
Non-transactional interactions can be sparse for entrepreneurs. It’s important to make a habit of them. For me, putting preplanned things into every week meant that even if things went a little haywire, self-correction and learning opportunities were waiting for me from my lighthouses. That provided a support system built into my schedule, regardless of my ability to remember to use them.
Relationships with those meaningful others satisfy our need for connection and belonging. These often-neglected connections nourish us. Take the time to honor your lighthouses by looking for them, not just when the seas get rough, but as a generally helpful guide to keep you on the right path of your entrepreneurial journey.