The Founder of Girlboss Talks About Starting From Scratch after Facing Burnout

From Nasty Gal to Girlboss, Sophia Amoruso told us what went wrong, and how she’s completely changed the way she works and lives.

Image by Teerawit Chankowet / EyeEm/ Getty Images

When Sophia Amoruso turned 22, she dropped out of college, started a business on eBay, and ended up founding women’s fashion retailer, Nasty Gal. The company was named one of the “fasted growing companies” by Inc. a few years later, and by 2016, Amoruso was named one of the world’s richest self-made women by Forbes.

Sound like the dream? Not exactly. Later that year, Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy. Amoruso was left unemployed, exhausted, and completely burned out from her “always hustling” work ethic – but she was also inspired. Amoruso picked up and started fresh – this time, doing things differently. She founded her new company, Girlboss, a media platform that works to redefine success for women, and after learning from her own mistakes, Amoruso started building what she wished that she had when she got started years ago.

“Nasty Gal didn’t start off with a bang, yet it eventually exploded” Amoruso tells Thrive Global. “But when you’re 22 and you don’t have a college education, and you really just want to cover your rent and put something into the world that people love, and people do end up loving it even more than you’d hoped, it can be an incredible ride, but it can also be dangerous to wind up without a plan, which is what happened.”

When she first started out, Amoruso says she was living in a backyard poolhouse in San Francisco. She says the stress and burnout she faced in her first business came from an always-on-the-clock mindset that drove her into the ground. “I gave up my social life and focused on the business,” she admits. “I felt very lonely doing what I was doing.” She also says her entire mindset was focused on the business, which was unhealthy for her, mentally. “I used to work in a hustle-and-grind cycle,” she explains. “It was something I advocated for. And I’ve really started to rethink that.”

Recalling the anxieties she faced as a young entrepreneur, Amoruso says she struggled to listen to her gut. “I didn’t know the difference between my anxiety and my intuition,” she says. “It’s really hard to decode those things.” She says the mere process of figuring out the right thing to do was all-consuming, and it took its toll on her well-being. Amoruso says at Girlboss, she now takes time to invest in self-care, prioritizing dinner at home, walking meetings, and even using an Invisalign treatment to improve her smile. “I’ve learned it’s about the little things,” Amoruso says. “They make me work better.”

The Nasty Gal to Girlboss success story is proof that it is possible to reinvent your career and start fresh, but Amoruso says the process isn’t as glamorous as people often suspect: “I encourage people to try things out for size, pursue the side hustle and engage in the freelance economy, but we also have to take a step back. I was very lucky to have a platform when I started my second business. Not everyone knows the exact direction they want to go in, so that could take trying things out for size, and apprenticing, starting a side hustle.” Amoruso notes that many entrepreneurs do not realize the pay cut that comes with starting anew, and that’s something she had to learn on her own journey.

Amoruso’s story is one that reminds us of our ability to start over after facing failure, but more importantly, it reminds us that self-care is step number one in any pursuit. Whether you’re starting a business from scratch, taking the leap in a new venture, or embarking on a new chapter in your personal life, it’s important to remember self-care is not a luxury, but a necessity. And at the end of the day, remember that rising up often comes after falling down a few times. “Sometimes you have to take a step down to then leapfrog back up,” Amoruso notes. “That’s something I learned the hard way.”

Here are three microsteps that can help you succeed in your career, whether you’re starting from scratch, embarking on a passion project, or would just benefit from a little more me-time in your daily schedule:

1. Schedule appointments with yourself

Whether you’re penciling in half an hour for a lunch break or 15 minutes for a walk around the block, make the appointment with yourself, and show up. By making the point to pencil in a break for yourself, you’ll be much more likely to follow through, and even a few minutes here and there can make a huge impact on the rest of your day. You’ll probably be more productive than you would’ve been if you pushed it off.

2. Make your social life a priority

Cancelling dinner plans for a late night at the office is okay every once in a while, but if you’re constantly choosing work over friends because you feel like you have to get your work done, it might be time to take a step back and reprioritize. You don’t have to lose your social life to be successful, and those few extra hours at your desk won’t make a difference in the long run!

3. Take advantage of moments of “micro-rest.”

Identify moments of micro-rest, which can be as short as one minute, and use them more effectively by stretching or practicing deep breathing. You’ll reduce your stress, find a moment of peace, and improve your productivity when you get back to work. You’d be surprised what the occasional deep breath can do for your well-being.

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