Puritan Work Ethic and Entrepreneurial Burnout

This week I learned more than ever about my need to be KIND to myself. If I don’t take care of myself, and practice self love, I can’t do my best work. It’s so easy to stop taking care of yourself, eating healthy and exercising. Your mind and body are interwined but in the daily work, it’s hard to remember to eat at times!

Okay, so what happened? I totally burnt out.

Mental exhaustion from startup life.

The problem with burning out as an entrepreneur is you don’t even know it’s happening. I kept trying to tell myself that I just need to work more or that I was becoming lazy. Turns out, that you can tell yourself whatever you like but when your brain shuts down, it shuts down. At that point, you have to just give in.

I realized, after much research, that burning out is a symptom of being on the wrong track. When you procrastinate and can’t focus. It generally means you need to revisit your idea and start over from your initial assumption. It may be that you put too much on your plate, you were working on a project from multiple angles or maybe you were trying to do TOO much at once.

I decided to change things.

James Altucher, one of my most favourite bloggers, talks about the daily practice or his popular blog post: how to become the luckiest person in the world. Anytime you find yourself stuck or on the wrong path, it’s most likely because you are neglecting the following: your spiritual health, your physical health, your emotional health or your mental health. His argument is that one you get those 4 in order, your life will begin to change and get better.

Yesterday, I started a 66 day challenge based on the Daily Practice. 

I’ve been trying to be kind to myself:

1. Allow myself to sleep well
2. Stretch and do exercise every day! I noticed I sleep less but my sleep is much better.
3. Create a vision board and read a list of my incantations every morning
4. Read and watch what I want than being so task-focused.
5. Give myself permission to PLAY and LEARN

It made a HUGE difference in my productivity levels. You can’t run a marathon forever and it gets difficult being an entrepreneur trying to accomplish so much that you realize – I HAVE to give myself a rest.That may seem normal to other people – you know, resting and stuff. But as an entrepreneuer, your mind running all the time and as a founder, you are constantly thinking about strategy, projects, deadlines and other people.

Robin Sharma often recommends that for every 6 weeks of work, you take 1 week off or every 7 days, take 1 day off. Tim Ferris suggests for every 3 months work, you take a 1 month mini-vacation.

But why is this so hard?

After a bit of investigation, I realized that I have  A LOT of guilt around leisure. I learned that this is primarily a industrial-age puritical christian idea.

I have absolutely no idea what my own traditional and spiritual beliefs say about work, leisure and time but somehow I adopted these very old-age ideas into my subconsciousness.

It’s called the puritan work ethic.

So there were these people, Puritians, who made up the majority of industralists in the early 1900’s. Their beliefs about work was that you must suffer and it was regarded as a way to redeem our original sins(a Christian idea). These ideas trickled down into our concept of what work is today, at least in the modern Industrial world.

They believed that if you worked really hard you would recieve spiritual rewards and it was virtue. So much so that, the idea of charity came from Puritans. It was a way to give out money for feeling so guilty for working so much.

For my Muslim readers, charity for them isn’t the same as how charity is defined in an Islamic context. Islamic concept of charity isn’t simply giving out money, but it’s a structual component of Islamic society that is obligatory for everyone who has means; it allows those that are in need to be supported, not simply as a way to obsolve guilt.

What are the root causes of guilt around work?

Beliefs.
These are some of mine, and I’m sure you can relate to it:

1. I need to work hard to make money 2. Working hard is morally good 3. Hardwork is something that is inherently valuable to society 4. Sleep is for suckers 5. Laziness means doing nothing

Let’s break these down:
1. Statistically, hardwork is not linked to wealth
2. Linking hardwork to morally is one thing. Linking being a moral person to working is a big stretch.
3. Most of us take from the society around us. Our society is a society of workers, so of course we will view it as something good when it’s constantly reinforced arond us.
4. This is so categorically wrong, it’s unbelieveable. You need sleep to be healthy and to function optimally. It’s fine if you don’t sleep for a while because of work you need to complete, but to to do this constantly? Over a period of time is misleading and unhealthy.
5. Laziness is actually doing busy work with no real productive results.

Now, when I refer to ‘hardwork’, I’m not talking about the concept of working itself. Everyone needs to work to get where they want to go. However, I am referring to the idea of work tied to the conception of redemption, so much so that it’s socially engineered to make you feel a certain way if you don’t do it.

Western society doesn’t encourage leisure and relaxation the way, say living in the East does. And leisure doesn’t neccessarily mean doing nothing, it means reflection or time away from focused work.Maybe because reflection and time to sit and meditate isn’t valued as much in the West(there is a whole load of studies now showing the benefits of meditation, however people who follow a spiritual path don’t need scientific studies to show the benefits of it) that any time of work is considered to be ‘wasteful.’

As an entrepreneur, it’s fundamentally an introspective process. You constantly have to unlearn and relearn.

Right now, I’m unlearning how I percieve work and on a bigger level, how I percieve time.

And that being a workaholic is actually a bad thing, not healthy and very much the antithesis of living a life where one grow one’s self.

I hoping that this generation really does change the definition of ‘work’ to something more holistic, more in tune with how we learn about ourselves, less driven into the abyss of this endless hole of ‘working’ and being ‘busy’, that surely, in the long term, can’t be good for people’s health