I’m really good at giving up. Like, too good. I’ve only recently started to realise that it’s a real problem and probably the thing that keeps me from the level of success I really want to attain in life. I’m really great at starting. I get hooked on the excitement of a project or a new business and my mind starts racing with all the possibilities. I’ve started about five businesses over the last 10 years, but disinterest always seems to unravel me.
It’s not that I haven’t been successful. Many of the businesses I’ve started have made me a decent amount of money and have been great, exciting projects to work on. The problem comes when I lose excitement. The problem comes after I’ve proved a business will work and then I need to settle in and just do the day-to-day monotonous grunt work.
The beginning of the end starts off innocently enough. I feel worn out from working so hard on getting a project off the ground, and so I convince myself that I deserve a brief break. So I do it. I give myself a break and I spend more time with my partner, family and friends, and it’s great. I tend to close myself off from the world when I’m working on a project I’m excited about, so getting in touch with those close to me is refreshing. But it’s also poison to my focus.
When I take a break, inevitably, it will drag out longer than I expect it will, but I convince myself that I must need some more time and space away from the business. Eventually, when it’s clear that the break has gone on way too long, I drag myself back to the project, with a feeling that I just am not excited about it anymore. I try to get back into it, but most of the time I just can’t rekindle that same burning desire for what I’m building.
In the case that I do regain that passion, it’s great and I can get back into it, but it’s only a matter of time before the cycle repeats and ends with me losing interest in the project and then finding another shiny object to perform the cycle on again.
Any of these businesses and projects I’ve created have the potential to be something huge. I know that. I know that the only thing standing in the way of my success is a level of sustained passion and focus. How do I keep that fire burning?
~ ~ ~
Dear Burnt Out,
Falling in love is blazing, isn’t it? Electric. Consuming. You’re awake. Your heart is beating, really beating. You can feel it in your chest, and your throat. Your mind is alive. Creative. Music means more. Food tastes better. Your skin feels the air. You dance, inside and out.
That lasts for a while. A beautiful, glorious while. Months, maybe a year.
And then the fire starts to simmer a bit, and you sort of settle into a relationship. Still wonderful, but there is a bit of routine that comes into play. With two kids, I can tell you there’s a fair bit of day-to-day monotonous grunt work gluing together the moments of joy so pure that laughing and crying are the same thing.
There might be times when you wonder what else might be out there for you. Little glimmers of spark flaring around you, offering the promise of that blazing excitement you felt in the beginning.
And maybe you pursue that promise. Maybe you leave the thing that has settled into ‘work’ and you chase the new thing.
Keep doing that, though, and you’re left in this place that feels so unfulfilling you’re driven to write to some columnist about it.
I’m so very glad you did, Burnt Out.
I know. I know how you feel. I know this feeling in business, and I know this feeling in relationships.
My wife and I were together for 18 years. You know what got me through some of the harder times?
A vision. I had a vision. That vision was a property in the hills, with a big stone house where my grown-up kids got married and came over on weekends and the grandkids ran around and I cooked pizzas in the wood-fired oven and I felt … content. That was success for me.
What does it mean to you, this ‘level of success you want to achieve’? What is that? What does it look like? Can you picture it? Is it financial? Are you wealthy? Is it recognition? Is it in the eyes of others, or is it your own sense of achievement? Is it a feeling of self-worth, or worthiness? What does it FEEL like when you reach this thing?
Do you have a vision for any of these projects? Vivid, in technicolour, with surround sound and a beautiful film score?
Or are they more of an idea for a product that people might want to buy or use?
This is the trouble with starting something that isn’t purpose-forged. You don’t have a true and compelling connection with it. And so once that burst of inspiration settles, there’s no drive. Purpose drives you. Vision gives you somewhere to drive.
Do you ask yourself WHY you’re doing this? Many of us, myself included for a time, think we’re driven by success, however, we measure this. And it can really feel like that’s it.
For me, I had failed every business venture I’d attempted before Vinomofo. That’s five businesses and three careers.
I absolutely needed to succeed. I needed to build something that worked, that people wanted, that made money. I carried that need like a 30-kilo pack on my shoulders.
But that’s not purpose. Success comes from something, it’s not the reason to do something. And if it is your reason, then you’re not really connected with the thing you want to build, are you? You need to be connected with it. I know you know this. You feel it.
Why do you want to build this thing, specifically? Figure that out, the reason why you want this in the world, paint a clear vision of what the world looks like with this in it, and what your world looks like.
That’s a start.
But also, I think, for you, Burnt Out, this is about connection.
You told me you close yourself off from the world when you start working on a project. I know it’s tempting. Exciting even. But it’s not good.
I did it when I started Good Empire. I too had that burst of love, intoxicating and expansive. And then a couple of months in I found myself sitting alone in a co-working space and I felt lost. Afraid. I didn’t recognise it as fear. I was just procrastinating. Doing little easy things instead of the big, hard things I should be doing.
You know what I did? I wrote a blog, and I put it out there in the world. I told people what I was doing, what I was feeling. I shared my vision, my purpose, and my fears.
What I was doing was connecting. I had isolated myself, and I needed to connect. But more than that, I needed to bring other people into this project. By sharing my vision, I was committing myself. I was holding myself accountable, through those I told. I was making it bigger than me.
There’s a proverb that comes to mind, or a saying, at least. ‘If you want something fast, do it yourself. If you want something to last, do it together.’
Don’t isolate yourself. Connect with those people you’re doing this for. Invite them to come with you. Share your thoughts, your ideas.
There’s energy to be had from others. Boundless, limitless energy. You might find you still need the occasional break, but going back in won’t be locking yourself away again, you will have people waiting with your project, arms wide.
I’d like to leave you with one more thought to consider. I ask that you really contemplate this one. It’s where the truth set free lies.
Is it really just burn out you experience, or disinterest? Or do you think there might be something in there more related to fear of failure? It’s safer to quit something first, before it’s really out there in the world for others to judge. That way you don’t get rejected.
It’s okay. It’s real. It means you care. So much, perhaps, that you don’t know if you could take it if people didn’t like it. If it didn’t work.
Cycles like this, patterns in anything in our lives, they’re rarely the result of boredom.
They’re more likely lack of purpose combined with fear of failure. But we’re crafty with fear, aren’t we? We get good at intervening before we’re truly vulnerable, and we take ourselves somewhere safe. We run. We quit.
But it’s always there. In the next project, and the next. Waiting for the day we find the courage to show up.
You’ve got some soul-searching to do, Burnt Out. But you’ve got this. You’ve asked the question. You’ve recognised the pattern.
Now all you have to do is find your purpose, let yourself dream, enjoy that euphoric falling in love time, but connect, bring the world along with you. You might find the world will believe in you, even if you don’t quite just yet.
I do. x
~ ~ ~
One of the most important things in business is to be human, and this is exactly what old-school advice column Dear Human aspires to encourage. If you have a question for Good Empire founder André Eikmeier, please email him at dear[email protected]
You can help us (and help yourself)
Small and medium businesses and startups have never needed credible, independent journalism and information more than now.
That’s our job at SmartCompany: to keep you informed with the news, interviews and analysis you need to manage your way through this unprecedented crisis.
Now, there’s a way you can help us keep doing this: by becoming a SmartCompany supporter.
Even a small contribution will help us to keep doing the journalism that keeps Australia’s entrepreneurs informed.