My husband’s enterprise, which provides solar solutions for families without access to reliable electricity, inspires our family – and it regularly makes us feel guilty, too.

In order to give as much as we could to this cause, we’ve made financial sacrifices, quality-of-life sacrifices, and deeply personal sacrifices, including delaying starting a family. Whenever my husband asked me to do one more thing for the company – move to another country, operate as a solo parent so he could travel, rearrange our calendars so he could work more – I felt like I had to say yes.

After a while, I realized that we never said no. The work was so impactful, so meaningful, and so good that any excuse we could come up with seemed pitiful in comparison with the millions of people we were serving. Our own health, well-being, and family always seemed less important. Any decision we made that put ourselves above the company’s mission felt selfish.

Many entrepreneurs and their colleagues throw work-life balance out the window when given the opportunity to do something high-impact. Tweet This Quote

We certainly aren’t the only ones who have fallen into this way of thinking. We know many entrepreneurs and their colleagues who throw work-life balance out the window when given the opportunity to do something high-impact.

Unsurprisingly, two groups that are particularly susceptible to burnout are nonprofit professionals and entrepreneurs. One national survey found that three-fourths of nonprofit executives were planning to leave within five years; 69 percent felt underpaid. Another study found that 34 percent of entrepreneurs reported feeling worried and 45 percent were stressed – numbers that are higher than the general population.

Mash together nonprofit professionals and entrepreneurs, and you get socially-motivated entrepreneurs, who are especially vulnerable to working themselves into the ground.
But no one benefits – not you, your loved ones, or the cause you care so deeply about – if you work yourself so hard that you end up burning out. Your overall social impact will be significantly limited if you shorten your career longevity by years or even decades.

If you find yourself flirting with burnout, here are some first steps you can take to step away from the edge:

1.Remember that you and your family are important, too.
As worthy as the business and its mission are, your well-being is valuable too. If you have a family, your roles as a partner and parent are just as important, if not more so, than your role as an entrepreneur. What you do as a friend, family member, and colleague matter greatly as well.

2. Learn how to say no.
While entrepreneurs are expected to go after any opportunity they can, the reality is that not all opportunities are worth the cost. More likely than not, your business will be fine if you decline a partnership or a speaking engagement or a meeting every once in a while. Sometimes, taking a day off or spending time with your family is the better decision for the business. If you have trouble knowing what you can or cannot say no to, enlist the help of a mentor, coach, or trusted friend to help you make these decisions.

If you have a family, your roles as a partner and parent are just as important, if not more so, than your role as an entrepreneur. Tweet This Quote

3. Schedule regular personal time.
If something’s not on your calendar, it probably won’t happen. So, even if it feels odd, it’s important to formally schedule time for yourself and with your loved ones. Whether you are making time to meditate or go hiking, or to have dinner with your spouse and do a game night with the kids, block out that time and protect it by writing it down in your calendar.

4. Focus on what you need to make it a marathon, not a sprint.
Social change takes time. If you want to be there to see the change happen, you’ll need to pace yourself. Organizationally, this could mean making great hires and setting up systems so operations can run without your constant attention. You may want to practice delegating more and focusing your energy on responsibilities that you enjoy. Personally, find what nurtures your body and spirit, and make those activities and choices a priority on a daily basis.
My husband and I both endured serious bouts of burnout before we learned these lessons. Now that we have learned to be kinder to ourselves, we are healthier, more balanced people who are actually better equipped to make an impact in the world. Our passion for the mission to bring solar power to families around the world hasn’t waned at all; we’ve simply made more room to also care about our personal health and our family.

About the author

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer and editor whose work has appeared in Inc.com, The Wall Street Journal, BlogHer, Christianity Today, and dozens of other publications. Previously she served as the director of communications and human resources at social enterprise d.light. Her book on how to survive marriage to an entrepreneur is forthcoming from Hachette Center Street later this year.