Entrepreneurs have a tendency to overwork themselves to the breaking point. While few would argue that this is a bad habit, even fewer actually take time for self-care in their daily lives.
Three years ago, I found myself sitting in a therapist’s office. I had just successfully passed my Ph.D. qualifying exams and, in theory, should have been on top of the world.
But I wasn’t.
I spent many hours every day sleeping and crying on my couch. To prevent the crying, I turned to eating. Not in the “I’m eating a piece of cake because I’m sad” way. I was eating entire Halloween-sized bags of chocolate candies in less than half an hour, then driving to the store to buy more.
My brain would never shut off. I couldn't sleep. I spent hours laying in bed, thinking.
The therapist listened to my story, my confusion, and my frustration. By the end of my second session, I had three diagnoses: obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic depression, and binge eating disorder.
While I had expected the depression diagnosis, the others caught me off-guard. I knew I was dealing with anxiety issues, but who wasn’t in graduate school?
These diagnoses kicked off an arduous process of facing my mental illnesses head-on. By the end of that year, I was a completely different person. My work had fallen to the wayside as I worked on myself. And, at some point, I realized that academia was no longer for me.
So I quit my Ph.D. program.
I still enjoyed my research and the community I was contributing to, but I didn’t see the future I wanted and needed there.
I’d love to say I quit, started my business, and am now running a multi-million dollar company, but things are never that simple.
I quit, took some down time living with my parents to do nothing, then played around with various traditional (corporate) and odd (dog walking) jobs.
Nothing fit. I was frustrated. Had I not done everything I was told to do? Didn't I have a consolatory M.S. in a STEM field? Why did nothing normal suit me anymore?
Thanks to my many months of therapy, I was able to step outside myself a bit and look at the threads that had united my jobs up to this point. What had drawn me to academia in the first place?
Well, it was intellectually challenging, every day was different, I set my own schedule, I decided on the projects and collaborations I would take on, there was plenty of writing and teaching involved, I was responsible for obtaining my own funding, and down the road I would maybe have the opportunity to run my own lab.
Isn't that entrepreneurship at its finest?
Had I never gone to that therapist three years ago, not only would I not have the business I do today, not only would I be miserable and unhealthy, and not only would I be limping along on a path that others said was right for me, I would never have found the true intersection of my passions and skills.
Taking time for self-care is important for obvious reasons: you’re preventing burnout, maintaining a solid work-life balance, and making time for stress release and relaxation.
The less apparent benefits to self-care include a clear mind for making decisions and clarity behind your purpose. When you make time daily to be true to yourself, your mind, and your body, you always know when you are moving off-track.