About six months ago, I made the incredibly difficult decision to close Manic Trout, my handmade jewelry brand that I had poured my heart into for 15 years. I wrote about the closing here and have been in awe of how many people have reached out since I wrote that post to let me know how much it resonated with them. I have also been contacted to find out how I feel now that the dust has settled after the official closing on July 31st. My reply contains no hesitation or regrets, I feel fantastic.
What I realized once I made the decision to close, was that I was in the throes of burnout. It was real, it was intense and it was inescapable until I made big changes. But once those the changes went into effect, the fog began lifting and I came out of it stronger than ever. So let’s chat about the questions that I am asked the most about this experience. I want to try and describe what it was like to go through and what it was like to get out of it. Of course, everyone who experiences burnout will have their own perspective, and this is just one example of it. But please feel free to reach out if you want to talk about what you’re going through. Oh and as an extra bonus, soon you’ll be able to hear me chat all about it on the podcast from the Academy of Handmade, Your Handmade Business with Isaac Watson!
What does burnout feel like? People seem to have their go-to emotions when in times of stress and mine tends to be anger. So it was no surprise that I was very angry. All of the time. I was angry when I received an email, or an order, or had to leave the house, or had to talk to people. I withdrew from most things that were work-related and would sit at my desk in a black mood glaring out the window. I did not want to work or talk to anyone. For the most part, I was not angry when I was not working. My marriage, friends, family, and volunteering kept humming along, but I was quieter than normal and I’m sure not really myself. I was also incredibly tired. Life took a lot of energy even though nothing had changed and I was still exercising, eating well and taking care of myself. If I could have slept all day, I would have, but most nights I would be unable to sleep and stay up late reading or lie there, waiting for sleep.
When did I know I was experiencing burnout? After I was no longer experiencing it. Adam knew what was happening, but I was too much in the thick of it to understand the big picture. It was a slow path to burnout filled with things that masked what I was feeling. Things like giving up sugar three years ago (I was stress eating it like a lunatic), starting a new gym and loving it, buying a house, becoming the host of a live TV show, creating 2 video projects, having major surgery, doing tons of volunteering, getting an ulcer and all the things that fill life when you own a business. I was distracted enough that although I knew I was not loving the work I was doing anymore, I couldn’t tell if it was the work or all of the rest of life. So I didn’t change much until finally, I reached a point where I had to (the ulcer was the last straw) and in a last attempt to “fix” what was off, I started meditating. The timeline is all a bit fuzzy now but I think I decided to close right about that time. I knew that there was something off and meditation was the last attempt to shake off the stress that I thought was causing my feelings.
How did I feel after I announced the closing the business? Incredible. Light. Happy. Before I announced, I created a detailed timeline and exit plan. I had meant to wait longer to put it into action but as soon as I started thinking about ending, I wanted it done. I realized this was the source of all the issues and I just wanted it to stop. But I could not let down the wonderful trouties, some of whom had been with me for over a decade, so I had to follow the plan. I started talking about it to friends, who were shocked. My family was not, they knew it was time. Adam thought it was a year later than it should have been. Then I told the dearest to me, the hardest to tell, the VIP trouties. I announced it in their Facebook group and they reacted in such an incredibly supportive way that I felt ok making the public announcement. It was easy after that. I wrote the blog post, announced on all social media and then was super busy for the next few months shutting down. I felt calm. I thought that perhaps it was because I was so busy so I told myself to wait until I was officially closed to process it and react, that first I had to exit.
How did I feel on the first day after I officially closed the business? Well, it was strange as I had a mountain of orders to process from the last few days. And then I had a ton of paperwork to do. So I continued on. Adam and I had taken a little mini-break trip the week before the close and while away, I enjoyed the thoughts of life after Manic Trout. I felt great about it. I told myself that it was like a death. I would mourn and go through the stages of grieving. After I caught up with orders and got everything sorted out, I gave myself a weekend off. I was waiting for the crying, for the breakdown. I was waiting for the grief and the mourning. Maybe more anger? Nothing came. So I decided that it was more like a break-up and I was ending things with Manic Trout because it was me, not them. It was a way to excuse the fact that I was not devastated. I felt like I was a bad person or something because I was not upset. Why was I not upset? I still am not upset. Am I emotionally dead inside? I don’t think so, it really just seemed to be time. I’m ok with the fact that I don’t miss it. That right now, I never want to make jewelry again. That I have not worn one piece of Manic Trout jewelry since August 1st. The only thing that makes me have a smidgen of sadness is seeing a troutie on social media in her Manic Trout, but only because I’m sad that I will no longer bring joy to so many through my designs. That so many trouties reached out to tell me how much joy and happiness my work had brought them over the years. That is what makes me sad…no longer doing that.
What did I do after Manic Trout ended? Well before the closing, in my exit plan, I was looking for jobs. I thought wanted, like so many of us coming off of being self-employed, to enter the corporate world. So I was spending a great deal of time with job applications and researching careers. While growing MT, I had been the GM of restaurants as a 60 hour a week side job, but I didn’t want to go back to that world. I also had never actually worked a corporate job. Was this actually what I wanted to do? While going through this and the closing, I was also, of course, volunteering a great deal and through that was asked if I would do some consulting. I figured why not…and took on a couple of clients. I ended up becoming what I soon understood was a business coach and fell head over heels in love with it. So by the time I closed on July 31st, I was pretty much set up in a new career path and had started a new company. I think part of what pulled me out of the fog so fast was the excitement about something new. I had a focus and quickly dove in. Was it a smart move? Who knows, it’s working out well so far, and I have no regrets. That’s all I know.
How will I avoid burnout in the future? I recommend constantly to clients to take time off. To not push yourself past your limits and to respect your own boundaries. I also think that as entrepreneurs, we think walking away is a failure or weakness, but holding on to something to the point of burnout or personal demise is not the answer either. I should have stopped earlier. 15+ years is a long time to run a business. Because it was profitable, I told myself it would be stupid to end it. Because I had built something that people loved I felt I could not close as I did not “need” to. But it was not what I wanted to do anymore and that’s ok. It’s ok to want to do something new. It’s ok to walk away.
If you are experiencing burnout please don’t ignore it. This great article from helpguide.org can help you identify, deal with and figure out treatment. Most importantly, talk about it with someone! You are not alone.