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More Isn't Better    

More Isn't Better

BY ALYSSA PETERSEL

Two things happened in a span of one month that led me to believe I was burned out. 

The first: a beautiful vacation with my two best friends. Counter-intuitive, right? Why would a vacation cause me burnout?

Well, the vacation alone did not, but it did open my eyes to the reality that I probably was already burned out. The notion of being away from my company for four days (only two of which were workdays) gave me a tremendous amount of anxiety. Not just the fiddling-your-thumbs and tapping-your-foot-under-the-table kind of anxiety, but the pain-in-my-chest, difficulty-eating-full-meals, trouble-sleeping-through-the-night kind of anxiety. So much so that I contemplated canceling. “Perhaps this is too busy a time at work,” I thought. “Perhaps it would be *more* stressful to go on vacation, and actually the least stressful option is to continue working.”

For the record: that is almost never true. Your brain, your conditioning, and your work conditions are trying to trick you. However, these thoughts are normal. If you can relate to them, you are not alone. Far from it.

I am self-conscious to admit that I felt pretty paralyzed by the decision for a good number of days. A decision that I am now quite confident, in hindsight, was an obvious one.

So, what did I do? I simultaneously zoomed out and zoomed in. I asked myself, in ten years from now, what will future Alyssa be most proud of? In essence: what are my values? What do I really think this “life” thing is all about, and how can I most live up to that in this present moment? Are the things I “need” to do right now at work really imperative to do right now? Is this opportunity to be present with two close loved ones, who otherwise live on opposite sides of the country, going to present itself again, in the same way, with the same tenderness?

I chose people, I chose friendship. I went on vacation.

I let my team know (a small team of two full-time other than myself, one of whom had just started the week prior, which yes, contributed to my anxiety) that I would be away for four days and asked them if they could handle the load in my absence. They said of course.

Guess what? They were absolutely fine, as was our business. 

Then, the second thing. About one month later, I traveled for a weekend wedding. On the morning of the wedding, I sat across a brunch table from my boyfriend, awaiting a beautiful breakfast bowl, and I started crying. For no apparent reason. 

He immediately extended his hand, gazed at me with wide, empathetic eyes, and asked what was wrong. “I don’t know,” I said, which quickened my heart rate and made me want to hide. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, taking a moment to pause and ask myself the same question. 

What was wrong is that we are conditioned to believe that “more” is always “better.” We are conditioned to believe that to run a successful company means you are working 100+ hour work weeks. We are conditioned to believe that to take time off, to invest in joy and love, and to prioritize hobbies and values that are not traditionally “productive” are a “waste of time.”

To repeat myself briefly: that is almost never true. Society, and therefore your brain, your conditioning, and your work conditions are trying to trick you.

That moment was a moment of insight for me, and today, I hope to share it with you. 

I realized that in order to contribute most effectively to my personal success and the success of my company, I needed to make a change. A series of changes, really.

As often happens for many of us, I thought, “Well, yeah, but I can’t right now. In a few months, I’ll reorganize.” I happened to be in a program at the time that was ramping up in the amount of pressure, both external and internal, that would ensue the following weeks and months.

I proceeded to fundraise, hire, and scale our business. And my anxiety worsened. Until finally, about three months after this moment of insight, I made some changes.

Artwork by FISK Projects.

I identified a meditation teacher (who also happens to be a therapist) who teaches online meditation group courses and I joined one. I started waking up 30 minutes earlier every single day to ensure that I have, at minimum, thirty minutes to myself and my internal world. I continued to go to therapy weekly and brought more of my internal world into the room with me. I reprioritized our business goals and trajectory to work smarter, not harder. I committed to a hiring and strategic plan that would ensure that my team and I would not work weekends and that each teammate would be working in honor of their strengths, and we’d delegate and re-assign relative weaknesses to someone who could do that task 10x better and faster than we could on our own. That last one we are still in the process of rolling out because truly, change takes time.

None of these changes are automatic. There is no magic light switch that you can turn on or off to “snap out of burnout” once you realize you’re in it. However, we can make choices. Small and large everyday choices to set ourselves up for success, whatever success means to us.

The first step is exactly that: examine what success really means to you. Often, we are asked to answer that question in the future: what do we want, where do we want to be, who do we want to be with… then. Sometime down the line when we’ve “worked hard enough” for it, or endured enough for it. I encourage you today to examine what success looks like today? What life do you want to live and is it possible to live that life today with exactly what you have? Are there things you can let go or cut out? Are there things that you can weave back in, even for just 5 minutes?

These questions are not easy. They can sometimes bring up or resurface challenging realizations. This process is often made significantly easier with the support of a therapist or coach who can be your objective third party partner along the way. In my personal opinion, these are among some of the most important questions we can ask, and we don’t ask them enough. Who are you today? What does the you of today want and need to make this day, this week, and this year your most grounded and fulfilled, and how can you share that with those around you?

If nothing else, I hope my sharing today has brought you some peace in knowing that whatever it is you are going through, you are not alone. Entrepreneurs in particular are 50% more likely to experience mental health obstacles than the general population. There is a way through and there are people out there who relate to you and who want to support you. Find them and find what speaks to you. You got this.

This story was written by Alyssa Petersel, LMSW, therapist and Founder + CEO of MyWellbeing, where she and her team connect people with the *right* therapist, while helping therapists build and manage their business.

If you’re interested in finding the right therapist for you and you’re located in NYC, MyWellbeing is here to help. Not in NYC? Follow @FindMyWellBeing for regular wellness tips and check out their Content Corner to learn more about what therapy is really like and how it can help you.