Business overwhelm and burnout don't discriminate. You can be a very successful person, as well as someone who barely makes any money with your business. You may be just starting out, or you may have been in business for years.
The pressure of succeeding and being perfect, whether it's something you have brought on yourself or it comes from outside, is heavy.
The overwhelm and burnout may hit you suddenly, or it can be a slow burn. Either way, it's not fun.
There are things you can do to make business and making living by doing something that feels meaningful for you feel less overwhelming and more enjoyable. Here are some of them.
1. Resist comparison
It can be easy to fall into the comparison pit. All the time, you see these thriving business people out there, telling how they became successful and what you should do to accomplish it yourself. You compare yourself to that other business person and their successes and failures.
First of all, even when some prosperous people tell about their failures, you still don't know the whole story. You don't know about all the mistakes, all the lucky coincidences and missteps, all the time and effort and tears and sweat that went into building that success.
They may not be outwardly lying, or even leaving out important things out of evilness. Human brain is a fascinating thing. We constantly tell exaggerated or understated stories to ourselves about our successes and failures. And everyone tends to rewrite things in their minds afterwards to support those stories. In retrospect, it may seem like this person strategically built their business, while in reality they just muddled through until they hit the jackpot.
On the other hand, you may compare yourself to those who you don't think are doing as well as you. As you don't know what's behind someone else's success, you don't also know what's behind their failures. Plus, you may think someone is a failure, when in their own eyes they are flourishing like there's no tomorrow.
Additionally you may be comparing yourself and your business to what was before. You used to do better, you used to do worse, or it was always the same. You may think you should be doing better by now. Comparing yourself to your previous self is as useless and harmful as comparing yourself to others.
2. Define what success means for you
You may have noticed that I'm using the words success, thriving, prosperous and flourishing all over the place. Success is something that easily overwhelms you. Both pursuing it, and getting it.
How often have you seen a seemingly successful person suffer, burn out and crumble down? It happens a lot. Having gained fame and money can take a person down. Similarly failing, or at least not reaching the success you expected, can send you to the deepest depression.
Usually this is all because the person has defined success in a wrong way. Let me rephrase that. Usually this is all because the person has defined success in a way that doesn't work for them.
Everyone has a different definition of success. Commonly money and fame are seen as success, even though they may not feel like it when you actually gain them. But success could be something else too.
What if success means that you are healthy and have a home and food every day? Or maybe success means you got out of the bed today. Even just being alive today could be your personal success.
Success could mean something small or something big. And for different people it means different things.
Your business success is the same. Having started to work towards of making a living with your business is a success itself. Creating and publishing a new e-book is a success itself, even if it doesn't make any sales. Being able to make a living with your business is a huge success.
Define what (business) success means for you. Start with small successes, such as setting up your business website or publishing a new blog post. Whatever makes you feel accomplished, go with it. Never mind what other people say, they define success their own way.
3. You do you
Comparison usually leads to trying to be someone else. You see that successful business person and you want to be the next them. You try and copy their personality, their style, their brand, their products, their business. And you will fail for sure.
You'll just end up being a cheap copy. Being a cheap copy is overwhelming and stressful.
However, there's a difference between being a cheap copy and trying to do it better. It's okay to improve something someone else is doing. Let's say you know someone offering career coaching, and you strongly believe you could do it better. Don't avoid trying to do it better just because you know someone else (or multiple other people) have done it before.
The key here is not copying, but doing the things your way. You aren't that other person. Your business isn't that other business. Your target group is different than the target group of that other business.
You do you. You can be inspired by and get ideas from what other businesses are doing. When you are done looking for inspiration and ideas, create that coaching, that course, that e-book, that piece of art, that blog post, that handmade business, that consultation package, that brand, or whatever it is in your own way.
Thrive as yourself, not by being someone else.
4. Prioritise yourself
When you have a business, you are pressured to grow, expand and make at least six figures. Anything but a wild success is unacceptable, and you must always do better than the last quarter.
Well, that's just some stinking bullshit. While the common idea of business these days is that it's main goal must be growth, it's not how your business has to be. My idea of business is that it's something you do to make a living by doing something that feels meaningful for you.
This idea, that a business must grow and thrive and profit, can make you prioritise your business over yourself.
If your business isn't growing and thriving, burning yourself out trying isn't going to help. If your business has expanded to a point where it makes you uncomfortable, you may want to sell it or otherwise step out to pursue other things.
Prioritise yourself. Business comes second. Or third, or where ever behind all the really important things. Yes, in this capitalistic world you need money for those important things. That said, if the business is going ahead of everything else, it is time to rethink your priorities.
5. Have a break
Your business isn't going to collapse if you take a break and have some good ol' me time. If it does collapse, then there's something wrong with it and it was good riddance anyway. I know that sounds harsh, but really it is.
If you have other people working with you in your business, let them do their thing without your micromanaging for a while. But hey, let them have breaks too.
You deserve a break. Even if your business isn't thriving, you still deserve a break. This is part of you prioritising yourself over your business.
You may think you can't take a break right now. But here's the deal: Breaks are important. Without a break you will break yourself. When you break yourself, you break your business too.
Taking a break might be the best thing you do to your business. Not having a break could be what's between you and your business success.
Take a break, and come back refreshed, with new ideas and a new attitude.
6. Simplify your business
Sometimes your business overwhelm and burnout can be due to you having set too many goals, and created too many services and products. As a matter of a fact, too many services and products can overwhelm your customers too.
When your business starts to overwhelm you, step back and look at all that mess. Life is messy and business is messy, but if there's no sense at all, you need to simplify.
Ask yourself if all those services are important, or if you could limit them. Ask yourself if you need to have all those products that are rarely or never bought anyway.
Some of the most profitable businesses and prosperous people offer only one service, or have only one (main) product. You don't have to cut your services and products down to one, but see if you can cut them down to a bare minimum. You don't have to offer all the possible services and you don't have to create all the possible products.
You may actually find yourself getting more successful as you limit your services to one or few, or remove all the extra products that don't make any sense. People will find your business easier to understand and you will find your business less stressful. When you have less moving parts in your business, it is easier and less demanding to run.
Simplifying your business doesn't end in limiting your services and products. It can mean making your marketing simpler, not being active on every social media website, being more choosy about your clientele and the projects you take, and deciding to prioritise yourself over your business.
Where you can, simplify.
7. Reframe the should
You are constantly telling yourself you should do this or you should be that. And so do other people.
You should use a certain tool for building your website and sales pages. You should make six figures. You should create videos. You should smile more.
Something like 15 years ago when I was studying, I went through a bad burnout. I was a wreck, a complete confused mess. As I was talking about my mental and physical state with a doctor at the student health services, I remember giving a list of things I should. I should work more to have a better income, I should study harder and gain more credits, I should this, I should that. I didn't really even pay attention to what I was saying, until the doctor gently pointed out that there are always things you should. I stopped and thought about it.
When you start to think about something you should, try and reframe it as something you want or need. If a should isn't neither a need or a want, then discard it.
Sometimes you need things, like pay the rent in order to keep the apartment or eat food in order to keep on living. And often you want things, even if they aren't necessary for your wellbeing or quality of life. But you never should, without wanting or needing.
You might now want to correct me and say that you shouldn't do illegal or bad things, even if you want or need to do them. Sure, that's a given. But the reason why you shouldn't do those things doesn't just happen. It's a need or a want. You want to stay out of jail, you don't need to hurt others and you want to be a good person. If not, then I cannot help you.
When you reframe your should as a want or a need, it doesn't feel so overwhelming. This way it has a reason and doesn't just happen to you.
8. Take all the advice with a grain of salt
Wait a minute, isn't this advice too? Yes it is! And as any other advice, I recommend using your own judgement in believing or not believing it.
Most advice you read or hear can be ignored. Things that have worked for other people don't necessarily work for you. Times have changed, people have changed, the societies, economics and cultures have changed.
Some of the advice is just things people have repeated themselves, sometimes through generations, and started to believe without any real reason. Especially be aware of sayings and common wisdoms.
Often people give advice to make their lives and businesses easier or better. Their advice isn't for you to improve your life or business, but for you to improve theirs.
Obviously, I don't want you to start selfishly ignore everyone else and their wishes, and just think about your own gratification. It's not great for you, and it can hurt your business. Too much scepticism works against you as well as naïvely believing everything. I'm not telling you to completely ignore all the advice. Advice can be great, you may learn something new and find new, better ways to do things.
Rather give the advice some fair and non-judgemental thought. Is this advice good for you and your business? What's the real motivation behind this advice and who does it benefit?
9. Remember to breathe
Next time your business is overwhelming you and you feel the burnout kicking in, take a deep breath. Slow down and find your focus. Is it really that serious, is it really that important?
Remember to breathe and concentrate on your real priorities. Take a break, simplify and define what success really means for you.
Business can be overwhelming and stressful, and it often is. But if it is overwhelming and stressful all the time or you are actually burning out with it, then it's time to step away and do something else.
Create a business and life that feels meaningful for you.
I'm Mervi Eskelinen
I'm an artist, nerd and creative business wizard, dedicated to help you build the business of your dreams, market your creativity, and find a meaningful way to support your lifestyle.