October 27th, 2021 | By: Wil Schroter
Sometimes a vacation isn't enough — we need a hard reset.
The game we play as Founders has massive costs to our emotional, mental and physical well-being, so thinking we can replenish all of what's lost in a "sweet trip to Mexico" is almost certainly not going to do the trick. What we need is a full life reset — we need a sabbatical.
We almost never hear the term "sabbatical" mentioned in any part of the startup universe and there's a good reason — we're way too needed at our startup! et it's that very notion that prevents us from ever replenishing our reserves, which are the very thing we need to effectively build our startup.
Our sabbaticals don't have to be a ridiculous amount of time off — they just have to be enough time to feel like we're not on vacation anymore. They have to feel like enough time that when we wake up in the morning we don't immediately think about work. Ideally, we have something else entirely to focus on.
The problem with vacations is that they often only hold our attention for a short period of time. In the back of our minds, we always know the days are ticking away and we'll be back at work before we know it. Our sabbatical has to be designed specifically to re-route our focus entirely. It's impossible to rest our legs if we're still jogging.
Everyone's recovery time is different, but a safe bet would be twice as long as we think we'd possibly need. The first few weeks are just going to be an adjustment while we sneak peeks at emails and company chats. The real recovery won't come until weeks afterward when we've fully "forgotten" we were supposed to do that at all.
While we may think a sabbatical sounds great, how the hell would we ever take one? Everyone relies on us, right? If we step aside the center simply doesn't hold! That's why we need to run this like any other major initiative at our company. We need to have goals, assignments, and outcomes.
A great place to start is to temporarily promote the people around us to step in and take the reins. While no one person may be able to do our job (not true, but let's pretend) the key is to spread the work across a handful of people so that everyone's additional contribution is digestible. If possible, we may even create some additional compensation as an incentive.
But the most important part of initiating a sabbatical is making sure everyone understands the importance of why we're doing it. That means being very open about the challenges we're facing, the costs we're now paying daily (anxiety, burnout, depression) and the goal we're trying to achieve on the other side of this.
They might, just not to the extent we build our nightmares around. Unless we're planning on isolating ourselves on an island with no connectivity, which isn't a bad idea, we can always give our staff the opportunity to reach out if things go really, really bad. In fact, we shouldn't discourage them from doing so, because shit happens, and while we want our sabbatical to help us recharge, we also want a startup to come back to when we're done.
What we need to prepare our team for is what our expectations are for those moments. If we're giving people extra responsibility we also need to recognize that they may not have the experience or authority to solve problems the way we would. We need to let them know what our tolerance for mistakes is because we already have one, we just only blame ourselves when we push them!
No matter how much we think our startup's futures rests on our shoulders, it doesn't. If our plane goes down today, it's not like everyone is just going to fold the tents and go home. We're important, but we're not irreplaceable. We owe it to ourselves to believe that, to take an important step to refill our reserves, and to show ourselves that we do, in fact, have a way out of this stress.
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Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes Bizplan, Clarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.