BURNING OUT FAST: HOW TO NOT SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST WHEN YOUR BUSINESS FEELS LIKE A DUMPSTER FIRE

I was a graphic designer for 16 years until one day I heard through the grapevine that the company that held 80% of my contracts was shutting down.

That was so fun. Not.

What should I do? Should I go get a job? Sell a kidney? Lay down and cry? Yeah, no. I didn’t do any of that. I’ve always had my own business, I kind of need both my kidneys, just in case, and I’m not really a crier.

I decided to build a better business – one that didn’t have all its eggs in one sad little basket – and I realized I was going to needed a way to market my services. I joined a digital marketing group on Facebook, and it changed everything for me.

I decided to launch a digital marketing business. Because that’s how I do things – I see the potential, I take the leap, and then I learn on the way down. #YOLO or some such. Naturally, when I started out, I went hard. I offered every service under the sun. You need social media platform management? Sure! Facebook ads? Okay! A sales funnel? Whatever you want! Video editing, email marketing, web design – I did everything.

Everything, that is, except sleep, take care of myself, or have any semblance of a balanced life. You see what’s coming, right? I did that for six months, day and night, night and day, and I completely burned out. I couldn’t keep going like that, and everyone around me could see it but me.

The boiling point came one morning when my husband made an innocent comment about something business-related. It was so no big deal that I can’t even remember what it was, probably something like, “Why are we out of printer paper again?” but it just hit me the wrong way. I got up from my desk in tears and went downstairs to hide. I am an expert hider.

Of course, my husband lives here too, so he found me right away. Then he literally scooped his sleep-deprived, incoherently-sobbing mess of a wife off the floor, set me on his lap, and looked straight into my face to be sure I would hear him. This is what he said:
“You have to stop. This is not why you’re doing this. Why would you build something that’s killing you?” He was right, and I knew it. In that moment I decided that I was only going to offer services I loved. The problem was, I was so burned out, I had no idea what that was. Because I’m crazy like that, I did the only thing that presented itself to me at that time.

I completely stopped working with private clients and took positions with two agencies as a white labeler – one for copy writing and one for Facebook ads management. I know. I know what you’re thinking. Why would you do that? Why would someone who’s always run her own business go work for someone else? It doesn’t make sense!

You are completely correct. It did not make sense. But it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Taking everything else off my plate allowed me to really lean in and invest in what I was doing while absorbing massive amounts of training in skills from people who had been there and done that and were a few steps ahead of me. The things I was really good at had a chance to come out and make themselves known. Suddenly, everything about my business was FUN again.

I discovered that even though I hadn’t written much of anything since my stint as a writer for my university’s daily newspaper, I still enjoyed writing and had a natural knack for writing effective sales copy. I also got very good at Facebook ad lead generation and came to understand the inner workings and strategies behind the Ads Manager platform like never before.

Could a person learn all this without having to go through all the hard stuff? Gosh, I sure hope so. But this is me we’re talking about, and I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’m a #hotmess, okay? I’m going to do everything I can to avoid a challenge or a breakdown, but it’s going to find me anyway. It seems like I have to go through all the hard stuff, the stuff that WON’T work for my business, before I can get to the good stuff.

I had to go through the emergency crash landing experience – you know, the kind where three engines are on fire, the pilot’s yelling, “MAYDAY! MAYDAY!” into the radio, flight attendants are passing out in the aisles, oxygen masks dropping like pinatas, and the landing gear won’t engage. Without living through that experience, I wouldn’t have experienced the strengthening, learning and growth needed to be doing what I’m doing today.

And what I’m doing today is more fulfilling, fun, and “me” than anything I could have dreamed up. Today I write high-level Facebook ads, sales funnel and email marketing copy for six-, seven-, and eight-figure coaches, consultants, and membership and course creators. I also ghostwrite non-fiction business books for entrepreneurs and influencers who have an important message they want to share with the world.

Maybe the section of the journey you’re in right now feels more like a dumpster fire than a dream. Somewhere along the line you lit a match with good intentions, but it got out of control, and now you’re sitting in the rubble with smoke stinging your eyes and flames inching ever closer. What do you do?

You look up.

You will not make it out by sitting there staring at the flames. Period. This sounds harsh, but in a real fire, that is how people die. They get scared, and instead of looking for a way out or asking for help, they hide, and the smoke inhalation kills them.

It’s hard to focus on anything else when it feels like the world is on fire. Believe me, I know. I worked so hard every waking moment of every day on my business during that six-month period. Literally the only time I ever gave myself a chance to relax and think about anything other than work was in church on Sunday mornings, and that’s because it’s generally frowned upon to bring your laptop to the sanctuary and work during the sermon.

And every Sunday morning for two months straight, I cried during the sermon. I’m sure people thought, “Oh, she’s so moved. That’s just precious. What a tender heart.” I wish I could say that’s what it was. I love a good dose of the Word, but in this case, it was a total cry for help. This was the only time I allowed myself to step out of my business and evaluate how things were going, and it wasn’t good. When I was forced to face the truth, it broke me. Yet after lunch on Sunday, I’d push it away, hop back on the laptop, and go again. Next Sunday, same thing. This happened every Sunday for two months.

I finally admitted to myself that I’d done it. I’d build the digital marketing agency … and I completely, utterly miserable. I realized that for the first time in my professional life, I was doing something that I had absolutely no desire to keep doing for the next 20-30 years of my life. AND I HAD DONE IT TO MYSELF!

I knew a one-stop shop agency wasn’t for me, and that put me in another conundrum. I’d joined a mastermind group focused on helping people grow digital marketing agencies. If I no longer ran a digital marketing agency, then I wouldn’t belong in the mastermind group anymore, right? I convinced myself I was taking a valuable spot away from someone else by staying, and that the best, most selfless thing I could do was quietly leave. This group was my business family, and I was devastated.

Yes, that’s right. I was sitting right smack in the middle of my very own business dumpster fire, unable to take my eyes off the flames, dangerously close to spontaneously combusting. And I did the one thing that changed everything. I looked up.

I sent an incoherent, middle-of-the-night message to my mentor, an amazing woman named Rachel Pedersen, founder of The Social Clique, SMU Elite, and Social Media United. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I admitted to her that I knew a digital marketing agency wasn’t the path I was going to take. I told her I felt selfish for taking a spot that could go to someone who did want that, and that I was going to step down from The Clique.

She was awake and immediately received the message. And let me tell you, she was not having it. “Christa, the Clique isn’t just about growing a digital agency. It’s about growing a business of any kind and encouraging and nurturing each other to success. You cannot leave the Clique, because the spot you’re in can only be filled by you. You belong here.”

It was as if a little bit of the smoke cleared, and I could see a way forward. In that moment, my thinking changed. I didn’t have to build what everyone else was building. In fact, I SHOULDN’T build any kind of business except the one that fit me. I just needed to figure out what kind of business that would be. It was as if I’d just been given permission in a way that I hadn’t even realized I needed.

I began to be more open about my struggles with the safe people in my life I knew I could trust, especially those who were ahead of me in their entrepreneurial journeys. I learned that what I was going through was completely normal, and in fact part of the process of growth.

I got up and walked out of those flames, and you know what happened when I did? I left part of the woman I was behind. Yeah, that fearful girl unwilling to risk or change didn’t make it out, and that NEEDED to happen. Did it hurt? Heck yes! But I couldn’t bring her with me. She could not have walked where I’m walking now, and I’d have died trying to save us both.

Look up! There are people just ahead of you who want to support you, encourage you, and cheer you on. You’re not alone. Find another entrepreneur who’s a bit further along in the process to connect with. Join a mentorship or mastermind. Hit up a Facebook group in the industry you work in. Look for the ones who still smell a little bit like smoke. They’re the ones who know EXACTLY what you’ve been through and can point you in the right direction as you KEEP GOING.

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