This chapter’s expert interview and burnout story are from Alice Benham. She is a business & marketing strategist that’s on a mission to help people build wildly successful and value-driven businesses.
Her business (and burnout) journey started when she left school at 16. She was in pursuit of ‘more’ and whilst her day-to-day is hectic she says she wouldn’t change it for the world! She is a “big believer in taking messy action and passionate about doing [business] in a way that’s sustainable and feels good.”
Not only does she run a brilliantly successful coaching business but she has also recently launched a new business – On Paper – which provides theory-based stationery for business owners, freelancers and creatives.
She is a real source of inspiration for young and mature women in business, always sharing the reality of entrepreneur life. And how she has over come burnout, learned from it and used it to shape the way she runs her business is remarkable.
I hope you enjoy reading about her burnout story, recovery and business as much as I did.
What’s your experience of burnout?
I experienced burnout in my first year of business, age 17. From day 1 I said yes to everything and threw myself in the deep end – this resulted in quick ‘success’ but, with little awareness of my limits and a one-track mindset, led me to severe burnout after 9 months.
I remember the day it hit me – I was on a flight (my first time ‘off’ work since starting) and noticed, when disconnected from my laptop and work, just how empty I felt.
Across the week I realised I wasn’t ok and never returned to work after that trip – I cancelled my contracts and after being diagnosed with depression, spent 6 months resting, on medication and getting help. In the early days I couldn’t do more than stay in bed, so whilst stepping back from work was frustrating, it didn’t feel like much of a choice.
In hindsight, were there any warning signs that things were getting out of control?
Looking back, there were definitely signs I was getting close to burnout – but with little experience of ‘work’ and all the results telling me I was doing it right, I just figured it was part of the process.
Sleeping 4-5 hours a night, regularly being sick and not having the time for a social life or self care are the main ones for me.
And on the business side, I can now see that having no boundaries with clients and working every hour of the day weren’t a healthy way of doing things.
I spent the first few months coming to terms with what had happened – therapy, medication and a lot of time in bed helped with this. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by an incredible support system who helped me to push myself a little each day (most days my biggest win was having a shower!).
After feeling more centred, I began exploring and learning what I liked doing outside of work – travelling, seeing friends and rediscovering hobbies I’d lost.
At first I thought I’d stepped away from business for good but after beginning to feel more like myself, my curiosity to step back into the business (but in a different way!) increased.
What impact did it have on you?
It brought me back to centre and helped me see what I really wanted from my life and business – it wasn’t (and still isn’t!) an overnight change but the lessons, clarity and awareness I took from it are invaluable in helping me find the daily blend between work, rest and play.
As someone who struggles with vulnerability and asking for help, it’s also taught me the importance of leaning on those around me and the power of telling my story.
What impact did it have on your business?
I wouldn’t be where I am without it! Burning out allowed me to rebuild my business from the ground up and create something far more impactful, fulfilling and sustainable.
It’s also made me so much more conscious of my client’s workload and the importance of a sustainable strategy. I’m grateful for it!
Why do you think that entrepreneurs are so prone to stress & burnout?
I think firstly because at the start of business you’re so desperate to make it work (or at least I was!), you assume you’ve got a better chance if you put in all the hours and sacrifice everything. This is often the narrative we’re told by ‘traditional business owners’ too!
And secondly, because we care so much! When you want the best for your clients/customers and don’t have a manager to tell you when you’ve done enough and/or should stop, it can be hard to know when it’s enough. It’s the latter that trips me up these days!
What advice would you give other business owners prevent burnout?
Talk to people!
I was incredibly isolated in that first year of business and knowing I wasn’t alone in my struggles whilst seeing how it could be done differently would’ve made such a difference. Find people who ‘get it’ and don’t be afraid to make the first move.
If you had to go back to that situation what is the one things would you do differently?
I wish I’d listened to friends/family when they warned me that I was working unsustainably… but I also know I didn’t listen and had to learn the lesson for myself, so I don’t know that I’d change anything!
Any final pearls of wisdom or nuggets of joy you’d like to share?
Whilst every challenge will hold lessons and clarity in hindsight, you don’t have to find those ‘positives’ right away. Give yourself time to sit with your feelings, rest and get back to centre.
Free Burnout Prevention Toolkit
If you have been feeling tired, unmotivated and stuck it’s time to nip these feelings in the bud before they become burnout.
Take this short 5 minute test to check in with your stress levels and guide that will help you step away from stress and give you back control of your time and energy again.