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Elon Musk Just Had a Nervous Breakdown. Here’s How to Avoid the Same Crash-and-Burn.

Working 24/7 and pushing yourself to the brink is never an entrepreneurial badge of honor. Here’s how to stay healthy while building your company.

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BY Marissa Levin - 30 Aug 2018

European businessman dragging success word

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images


In a recent New York Times interview, Elon Musk revealed that this past year has been one of the most difficult years of his life.Throughout the interview, Musk struggled to maintain composure as he discussed his "excruciating turmoil." He also shared that he worked around the clock, and knowingly compromised his physical, emotional, and mental well-being. The only thing that mattered to him was work.

When does entrepreneurial passion cross a line into obsession? When do entrepreneurs hit that tipping point of forsaking all aspects of their life and identity to build a business? Gary Vaynerchuk preaches about the importance of hustling and making the most of every waking moment. When does the hustle become toxic, how can entrepreneurs know the warning signs, and what can you do to keep your hustle healthy?

Recognizing the Warning Signs of a Toxic Hustle

Today it's easy to believe that everyone is working harder and achieving more. This causes us to believe we aren't doing enough, growing enough, earning enough, or being enough.

There are 4 primary red flags of an unhealthy hustle:

A critical inner voice. When your inner messaging is overwhelmingly negative and you're constantly telling yourself that nothing you do is good enough, it's time to pause. Taking a step back to evaluate the over-importance of a to-do list or attainment of a specific goal may put your efforts into perspective regarding how they fit in your larger life picture.

Eroding personal relationships. Are you ignoring the important people in your life who are not connected to your work? If you haven't invested quality time in your relationships, and if you're feeling that these relationships are more of a burden than a joy, then it's time to re-evaluate priorities.

Unhealthy personal care habits. Have you stopped exercising on a regular basis, or have you stopped eating healthy, because you believe the time expended on these activities takes away from work?

Use or consideration of alcohol/drugs to reduce stress or to sleep. Do you consistently rely on any types of meds or alcohol to take the edge off? Are you thinking of using sedatives to sleep because you can't turn off your business brain?

These 4 behavioral patterns point to a strong possibility of problems coping with business pressure.

Safeguarding Against an Unhealthy Hustle

The first way to protect yourself against a toxic hustle is to define what success means to you, and honor that definition. Is it a certain number in your bank account? A certain number of employees? Certain recognition in your industry?

My success has always been about balance and being able to be present with my family. During my 2 decades of entrepreneurial mentorship, I emphasized to next-gen entrepreneurs that I often chose to sacrifice the growth of my first company for the development of my kids. This wasn't always an easy choice, but I knew my priorities.

What matters to you most? What are your priorities? Once you know that, you can institute boundaries and design your life around them.

Even when we know our priorities and we institute boundaries, the entrepreneurial journey can get rocky. Here are strategies to remain healthy while building your business.

Nurture Your Relationships. Seventy-five years of Harvard research have proven relationships to be the single most important factor for happiness. Invest time in cultivating and growing healthy relationships with people who share your values and contribute to your intellectual, spiritual, and emotional health.

Prioritize Your Health. The most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. Take care of your body, mind, and spirit through regular exercise, healthy eating, and however spirituality looks to you.

Schedule Buffers and Breaks. Throughout your workweek, schedule downtime, lunches with friends, and days with no commitments. I have at least one "blank" day a month with no commitments. I wait to see how it will unfold, depending on what I need at that moment in time.

Serve Others. Being in service to others cultivates an attitude of gratitude, and reminds you that business problems are often inconsequential when compared to the challenges that so many others face.

Don't Wait for Tomorrow. One of my favorite coaching memories occurred during a session with an Australian CEO. His business was going down in flames. It was a disaster. He informed me that he was going on a 2-week "holiday" and would be "off the grid." I shared my concerns about the state of his business. He said, "I can't miss my holiday. My business will still be in flames when I return."

Elon Musk may be one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history but this doesn't make him an ideal role model. His success is the result of significant sacrifices and tradeoffs. What is your success worth to you?


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