How I burnout (and healed): avoid these 3 mistakes

Have you ever had regrets about your life decisions?

Me, yes.

Who wouldn’t change something if they could travel back in time?

Regrets are lessons learned.

My biggest one has been not seeking help earlier and preventing shattering down.

Why the burnout?

How did it all plummet?

Those questions kept me awake at night during this long hiatus.

Thoughtful reflections later, it became clear when the journey crumbled apart.

I’ve sinned pride, thinking I’d never run out of steam. Instead of focusing on a few critical projects, I kept adding more. The assumption was that enough willpower would help me handle everything.

How wrong.

Eventually, I hit a wall and slid into a minor depression. I couldn’t come up with anything; there was nothing there anymore.

So, I had to take an eleven-month break to rebalance the worn-out time, like farmers do when they rotate crops.

Do you remember what the teacher taught about crop rotation when you were a kid?

Growing the same plants leads the soil to nutrient depletion and makes the harvest vulnerable to pests. Thus, farmers allow fields to rest between plantings. Leaving the field fallow lets the soil replenish nutrients and keeps the crops healthy.

That’s what happened to me.

Leaving has been crucial to overcoming burnout and preventing future breakdowns.

It took me eleven months to feel the need to come back.

I’m restarting small.

Sharing my burnout experience and the mistakes to avoid is the first step to finally moving over.

Let’s dive in.

The high price of ignoring burnout: breaking down into a thousand pieces.

“Mattia, is this the life you want?”

The question blew up a moment before my eyes flooded with tears.

I slumped on the seat, defeated.

A blurry peek at the display, then back on the steering wheel. Monday had passed midnight, and I couldn’t quite recollect the last thirty minutes after jumping into the car.

I remember shutting down the computer and staring at the empty fridge when my stomach growled.

“When did you last eat today?” muttered the voice inside.

“One, erm … 2 p.m.? Damn.”

The life of an exhausted solopreneur: switching all day between a landing page and social media and forgetting to ingest calories.

Going out sounded better than starving.

I drove around the city looking for an open food stall in the middle of the night when something cracked within. I stopped the car and started sobbing.

“This is not what you dreamt of, my friend.”

Two short gasps, then another. An intense pressure radiated from the chest down the throat.

“Breathe, buddy.”

No. Nothing can make up for tears shed on the side of a road while cars drive by without seeing you.

“Let’s go home.”

Once back, a glance at the mirror. Deep furrows under the eyes, hunched shoulders, chin pressed to the chest. Where was the usual smile?

Two Mattia stood in the living room: the busted one who needed to rest and the other who wanted to bootstrap the business at all costs and didn’t even realize it was Christmas time already.

Stress was at its highest, so the urge to turn down the knobs.

“Fine. You win. A few days off to enjoy the holidays it is!”

Too late, mate.

The days became weeks, and the energies a mere memory. I would curl up on the couch for hours, eyes half closed, wholly absorbed in the hypnotic glow of the television.

I fought with hopelessness and thought it was a lack of motivation.

I burned out.

Upon understanding that work was going to be delayed indefinitely.

An itch to resume the journey came over me, but couldn’t do anything, let alone turn on the computer. After so much effort and hours clocked, the overcommitment backfired.

Disengaged, blunted, depressed.

How’s such a mental breakdown possible?

Burnout is an emotional problem.

January and February have been the harshest months.

I had fallen into such a deep, threatening abyss that no one else could pull me out. Nobody could save me except my therapist, Dania.

She helped me understand that burnout is not only the result of long periods of stress but also emotional misalignment.

Emotional misalignment happens when thoughts and behaviors are not in sync, causing an inner conflict.

Quantasia’s blog describes it perfectly:

“the soul is stuck. It suffers, it cannot express itself … and the individual does not access higher states of consciousness. The individual is therefore guided by anti-values, he easily makes mistakes and destroys relationships. It is the ego that leads actions … and therefore the individual is not able to take decisions that are appropriate for his evolution, not living in accordance with his heart.”

Neuro-Emotional alignment

It’s undeniable that striving was pointless.

To me, healing meant stepping away altogether, hence the decision to take a sabbatical—a cool down to recover and rebuild my emotional self.

Now, you might wonder why there was a mismatch between the unconscious needs and the to-do list. As the one in charge, how could those activities not match the values?

The answer lies in doing things for the wrong reasons.

Here are the top three mistakes that led to burnout.

First mistake: Focusing on tasks that are not important (for too long).

The common belief among family and friends is that effort equals progress.

Well, it depends.

In Managing chaos as a solo entrepreneur, Alex Adamov wrote that “People force themselves to do activities from which they do not derive intrinsic value.”

Nailed. Accurate. True.

I wasted countless hours on things that had little impact.

Think about staying on top of a network of relationships and processing hundreds of comments instead of putting that energy into creating valuable products.

Do engagement and growth metrics on X/Twitter really matter when it comes to building a business?

One thing is leveraging social media. Another is getting stuck in the “hamster wheel” of content creation. Day after day on the treadmill, enslaved to a consistent tweeting schedule, without much time left to achieve anything else.

Increasing efforts in the wrong direction may not be the answer.

Ha! Learned the hard way.

Second mistake: Shifting back to a scarcity mindset.

My troubles began after leaping into entrepreneurship.

Although I had enough funds in the bank to carry it over for at least 18 months, the money runway guillotine stressed me out way more than it should have.

As you can tell, the problem wasn’t about running out of cash that soon.

Somehow, I wanted to avoid touching the savings set aside (my parents struggled to buy food and pay the bills in my childhood, for what it’s worth).

So the clock started ticking …

Launching the first paid product by the end of the year and earning at least $1,000 would’ve validated the journey. Making money would’ve proved that I was worthy to pursue the indie life.

But going after this self-imposed deadline triggered the fight-or-flight response and made me collapse like a flan in a cupboard.

Wanting money isn’t necessarily a bad thing; becoming overly attached is.

You can bet this kind of hyper-fixation bleeds over into other aspects of life, such as hobbies and activities.

Chasing wealth at the cost of well-being?

Third mistake: Prioritizing work over gratification (a double-edge sword).

“I’ll work a bit more today so I can go for a run tomorrow.”

Should you be warned how the run, eventually, never happens?

Overworking is sneaky.

The overload of commitments, deadlines, and delayed rewards takes time away from all the joyful things like hanging out with friends or playing games, to name a few.

Did you already spot the issue?

For months, work has been the only thought.

I avoided friends because they couldn’t understand me. I slipped out of the workout routine due to no time left and started feeling guilty soon after. Bad weather? Walking outside was no longer a thing (and gosh, how good it is for the soul). Let’s not even mention eating and sleeping schedules.

Healthy habits were gone and replaced with stress.

All for the sake of reaching a goal.

What you can learn from my burnout story.

Have you ever heard the apologue of the boiling frog?

The story is about putting a frog in a pan of cold water and slowly heating it up. The frog will regulate its body temperature over and over again until it can’t regulate it anymore, but then it’s too late, and it boils alive.

Eww. The image of being slowly boiled alive is awful.

However, that frog was unable to perceive the danger until already compromised.

Everybody warned me against it, but it was already late.

I burned out long before people noticed. I pushed myself under a rock of solid stress for several months before burning out.

And it could happen to you, too, friend.

I put so much passion into this journey that my whole self-identity fell apart.

No longer hobbies and interests. The outcomes of tweets and creations tied the personal and professional identities together.

From passion to obsession, there’s a fine line to cross

“One of the biggest causes of burnout for creators is a lack of restraint.”

Jay Clouse

I failed to set the proper boundaries and got wrecked.

Content overconsumption made me vulnerable to the hustle culture, the bros, the comparisons. As a high-achiever, doing everything right became an intense pressure.

Plus, my ease of developing addiction didn’t help.

Tuning out is difficult when constantly overstimulated, trying to handle the mental overload until exhaustion.

It’s all up to me, no strings attached.

But you can still steer the ship before being unable to cope with the demands of work and life and throw up your career.

Through my burnout story, you learned the mistakes you should avoid.

Now, change the course of the events.

Write a manifesto, for example. It’ll be your written statement to publicly declare the intentions of what you would or would not do. A life stance.

Check my post-burnout Manifesto and take inspiration to write yours.

Start as early as today.

Let it unfold.

Each step will give you the light you need to illuminate the next.

Onwards!

— Mattia

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