Society tells us as we grow up that if we work hard and work smart persistently we will achieve financial success, get ahead in business and be truly happy. In actuality smart, ambitious, creative, people are at a high risk for career burnout despite their hard work and persistent efforts. Hopefully the very real cautionary tale presented in this article will illustrate why this happens and how you can avoid burn out in your career or business life.
This story is about and old friend I had that drastically influenced the career path I have pursued. I will call my friend Yuri (not his real name) and he was a Russian immigrant. I've always thought very highly of Russians and people from Eastern European cultures. They are very direct and aggressive but at the same time they are very loyal and they are also very hard working people.
I met my friend Yuri at the end of my last year in high school, he was about a year older than me, and I was very impressed by him. At 20, he was a top performing sales person at a car dealership. He was always happy to buy his friends dinner or buy everyone a round of drinks, he was tall, handsome, wore nice clothes, a nice watch and drove a nice luxury sedan at a time when most of friends drove old Honda Civics. I remember him being a street, social and business savvy young man. Yuri even had big plans to one day open his own car dealership and go into business for himself. Yuri was a winner.
Upon graduation I really didn't know what I wanted to do, I was sick of being a waiter at restaurants and I had no idea what would be a worthwhile college degree to pursue. I decided I should try doing the same thing Yuri did for work, he gave me some tips for nailing an interview as a car salesman. Which I applied and soon after graduating high school I had a very serious job as a car salesman at the busiest Toyota dealership in my state. This put me on the entrepreneurial career path.
Yuri soon left the car business for the (at the time) booming real estate finance business, where he did even better. He got me a job at a finance firm where I advanced quickly and continued to grow my sales and deal making skill sets. We had a very active social lives, Yuri smoked plenty cigarettes, drank daily (like a good Russian!) and partied hard (like a successful young man does). We where having a great time; working harder and playing harder than anyone we knew.
As the boom times in the real estate finance business subsided, I began my career in corporate America. Yuri was promoted at his brokerage and got a greater workload of increasingly difficult to finance deals to manage. Yuri spent arduous long hours in the office trying to save finance deals as the 2008 financial crisis was growing. We still partied quite a bit as Yuri had a lot of stress to blow off from work.
After several years in corporate America I cashed out my 401K investment portfolio, fired my boss and went to into business for myself. Around the same time Yuri suffered a long due burn out from the stress and quit his job.
Unfortunately this story doesn't have a happy ending.
Years have past and Yuri now lives in a crappy apartment in bad part of town, he never opened his own dealership or started his own business, he can't hold down a job for more than a few months and he got 2 DUI's (serious drinking and driving penalties). From time to time I still spend time with him but my old friend is gone. He's antisocial and kind of a buzzkill to hang out with even though he's blackout drunk. I've also noticed that he's very forgetful of things.
- Drunken heavily.
- Works out very inconsistently.
- Smoked lots cigarettes.
- Worked very hard in a high stress deal making environments.
- Ate plenty of fast food, junk food and cheap food.
- While Yuri had very challenging jobs, he never really pursued intellectual development outside of his workplace.
- Working in a 100% commission, deal based environment, Yuri has had for years chronically high cortisol levels that have been wrecking his mind with stress. This stress has effected his ability to think critically and form memories. Now lots of successful people work in high stress commission and deal based environments, but they do so with very effective natural stress relief mechanisms in place like a daily exercise regimen, a diet high in antioxidants, active sex life, or a loving family to come home to. Unfortunately Yuri had none of these things consistently.
- Ambition or career motivation is part of a natural award and arousal system faculty in our brains. When we accomplish our goals or desires our brain awards us with a burst of feel good neurotransmitters. Yuri has spent years exposing his award and arousal system to unnatural chemical stimulants (cigarettes, constant alcohol and crappy food) which have re-programed his award and arousal system. At the same time constant high stress levels inhibit the uptake of feel good neurotransmitters by the neurons in the mind. Proportionally the more accomplishing a goal stresses you out the less good you will feel when you actually accomplish it.
I tell this story because the kind of smart, ambitious people who read this biog are a high risk of succumbing to a sort of career motivated marty-complex wherein we subject our selves to massive amounts of stress to get ahead in the workplace or embody this trite maxim: Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won't, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can't.
This feel good platitude, is true for exceptional few people, for the vast majority of people that own or operate their own business entrepreneurship is life long commitment. Of the small percentage of entrepreneurs that have an exit (where someone buys their company) or build an semi-autonomous cashflow generating system, most start another company or in some way continue working, very few spend the rest of their lives relaxing.
As we can see in the case of Yuri, this strategy of working unhealthily hard in hopes of major pay off at some point in future is not a sustainable career strategy.
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