When I envision world-saving entrepreneurs, I think of gifted, creative people so devoted to their passions that they can lose themselves. I think of Bob Geldof of Live Aid, the musician who created “We Are the World” and raised millions for famine relief in Africa but who also suffered exhaustion, hospitalizations, and financial difficulties in the process.

Burnout can destroy the best of ideas and intentions. While an idea can, in theory, be limitless, the creative brain is a physical organ with very real limitations. If these limitations aren’t acknowledged the consequences can be grave–ideas dissipate, energy is sapped and dreams of saving the world evaporate. Limitations exist for all of us, but you can push them further out by building strategies for coping.

Don’t scale back your goals, but be realistic about your own physical well being.  Tweet This Quote

I studied burnout in athletes for years. While burnout tends to be universal, the physical symptoms tend to be different for everyone—aches and pains, performance plateaus, insomnia, exhaustion. But what’s true for aspiring Olympic sprinters is also true for startup CEOs: While the physical symptoms vary, the psychological results are the same for everyone—tension, depression, anger, fatigue, confusion, and reduced vigor.

In fact, a 1993 study in the Handbook of Research on Sport Psychology found that athletes who have experienced burnout at some point become 90 percent more likely to feel it again.

That, my start-up friends, is not a good thing. I’m not saying you should scale back your goals; I’m saying that if you’re realistic about your own physical well being, you’ll be much more likely to go the distance. Better to take a bit longer to save the world than to get so burnt out in the process that you have to quit before accomplishing anything.

That’s a very un-American attitude, I know, but I’m not un-American. I’m pro-body, which means I might have to take a nap during my daily save-the-world agenda. I might have to go for a walk to a farmer’s market, snack on some pea pods, shut my computer off and plant some flowers. When should you do these things? Before you start to feel like an athlete who can’t clear the next hurdle. Because if you don’t have the energy to clear your hurdles, you’ll never finish the race.

About the author

Ann Garvin

Ann Garvin

Ann is an author, speaker and educator. As professor of health, stress management, research methods and media literacy at University of Wisconsin Whitewater, she has worked extensively in psychometrics, statistics and psychology. Ann is the author of On Maggie’s Watch & The Dog Year (Berkley Penguin, 2014).