As an entrepreneur or startup founder, you probably know that starting a business is hard. The relentless ups and downs of being a founder can take a toll mentally, physically, and emotionally—and if you don’t find a way to recharge, burnout can wreak havoc on your wellbeing and your business.
The data backs this up. Some research suggests as many as eight percent of startups began to fail at least partly because their founders started to burn out. When you consider that less than 50 percent of startups make it past year five, it’s clear that burnout can be a strong delineator between closing up shop and building the business of your dreams.
Burnout can take several forms. Research suggests entrepreneurs are more likely than regular workers to suffer from stress, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues. Persistent stress is also linked with a number of physical health issues including headaches, heart problems, high blood pressure, a poorly functioning immune system, insomnia, and more—all of which can mess with your ability to run a business in a way that moves your brand forward.
I should know. Prior to founding Good Zing, I was suffering from a host of different health issues. These ranged from fibromyalgia to chronic fatigue syndrome and bouts of depression and anxiety. While I thought that starting a company that’s focused on helping people develop greater wellbeing might help me relieve these symptoms, I was surprised to find that, initially, the stress of starting said company caused an onslaught of new health issues. These included acid reflux symptoms, IBS, and more.
But gradually, the more I connected to the reasons why I had created Good Zing in the first place, the better I started to feel. Prior to founding Good Zing, I had looked at countless sites and spoken to countless people about how to address my issues. But the more I threw myself into building something that felt personally meaningful, the more I realized I was creating a business that has actually helped me feel better mentally and physically.
In the process, I’ve come to believe that building a sense of purpose into your business is essential for beating burnout and sustaining success. And I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Here’s what research has to say about how purpose can help you beat burnout and become a better businessperson.
Why Purpose Is So Important
Research suggests a sense of purpose helps both entrepreneurs and people in general to develop greater mental health and resilience. (Conversely, failing to connect with a positive vision for our future can actually contribute to depression and anxiety and zap productivity.)
For instance, research from UC Irvine found that people who feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves are more likely to feel and behave in positive ways. In particular, people who cultivate a sense of purpose are significantly less likely to experience depression and anxiety.
Not only do people with a strong sense of purpose tend to have greater mental wellbeing, but there’s even some evidence they may experience improvements in their cognitive functioning, including memory and executive functioning within the brain.
Additionally, several studies have uncovered links between a sense of purpose and greater resiliency, especially in the face of stress. This may be partly because cultivating purpose can improve self-esteem.
Research even suggests that developing a sense of purpose may improve productivity. This makes sense when you consider all the ways in which purpose can improve mental wellbeing. After all, people who feel good are more likely to do good at their jobs. For instance, one survey found 90 percent of people who worked at a purpose-driven companies reported feeling engaged in their work, compared to a measly 32 percent of employees at organizations that don’t emphasize purpose.
Perhaps partly because purpose improves productivity, studies have found that purpose-driven companies tend to boast greater profitability. One survey found 58 percent of companies with a strong sense of purpose experienced growth at a rate of 10 percent or more over the past three years. This might also be explained by the fact that a strong purpose can help a brand stand out from the competition and inspire loyalty among its customer base.
All of the research into the benefits of cultivating a sense of purpose bears out in real life examples. Within the health and wellbeing space, I’ve noticed several companies that have thrived at least partly because of their strong commitment to purpose.
For example, take Four Sigmatic. On the surface, the company manufactures and sells superfood mushroom products. But look a little closer, and you’ll see they’re driven by a persistent sense of purpose that revolves around educating as many people as possible about the healing powers of certain mushrooms and then making those products available. The company’s founder, Tero Isokauppila, has been a mushroom fanatic since he was young, and that passion shines through in everything the company does. No doubt partly as a result of this purpose, the company has been skyrocketing in popularity. (You can even find its products on shelves in Whole Foods.)
Or consider the popular environmental products titan Seventh Generation. While no longer a small startup, the company has earned loyal fans for years, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s truly committed to the purpose of creating a greener planet—even when remaining true to that purpose compromises its own products. For example, the company encourages its customers to line-dry clothes in lieu of machine washing, even though this practice might render their dryer sheets null and void. This kind of authenticity breeds true customer loyalty.
Finally, consider the popular food and recipe website Food52. The site’s founders created the site with a singular purpose: They wanted to create a completely reader-sourced cookbook in just 52 weeks. Zeroing in on this purpose not only helped them achieve their goal; it also helped them build a loyal following of home cooks that’s invested in keeping the spirit of Food52 alive long after the publishing of that cookbook.
So the next time you’re feeling burnt out, it may be time to step away from the to-do list and cultivate a sense of purpose. In the process, you’ll strengthen your resilience in the face of stress, develop greater mental wellbeing, and maybe even increase your chances of startup success.