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How to Avoid Burnout and Keep Going

How to Avoid Burnout and Keep Going

This is a guest post by Andrew Dumont via andrewdumont.me.

It was my first startup. I was 18 and we had just raised our first realfinancing round – $250,000 from a local angel group. A lot was riding on us, even though the scale seems minuscule in hindsight.

We had just upgraded from a basement to an actual office, and we were on top of the world. Numbers were rising and the team was growing, it felt like we were invincible. We were pushing hard, but it didn’t feel that way. We were fueled by constant adrenaline from the latest press hit and the signing of a big new customer. We didn’t need a break, we felt great. Better than great.

After the highest highs, the good times started to fade. We began burning a lot of cash and couldn’t stay on the path we were headed. The days got longer and the adrenaline bumps were few and far between. A fresh Red Bull only got us so far. The only way out was to push even harder, so we did. We were all topping 80 hour weeks. It just wasn’t sustainable.

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Eventually, I burnt out. Hard.

I remember coming home and curling up into a ball. I was so emotionally and physically exhausted, I couldn’t even move. My productivity was cut to nothing. The next day at the office, I found myself just staring into my computer, for hours. No movement, just staring.

I was shot.


It was a terrible feeling that took me months to shake out of. I guess I was a victim of my own immaturity. In the startup world, we push hard. It’s part of “the hustle” that we so commonly refer to. Thousands of people burn out each week, and I can assure you that number is very highly concentrated in the startup industry. So, how do we avoid it?

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Each person has their own limit, and I was completely oblivious to mine. I love to work, so spending countless hours in an office wasn’t crazy, it was normal. But burnout crept up on me, so I had to find a way to avoid it from happening again.

After much trial and error, I did, and here’s how I did it.

Morning Workouts

I start out each day with a workout. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t matter what kind of workout it is. Some days I run, other days I lift weights. The method is irrelevant, but doing something active each morning clears my mind and provides a fresh dose of endorphins that puts me in the right physical state for the rest of the day.

An Evening Walk

Evenings were tough for me, I wasn’t sure how to turn it off. Hence, the “Always On” blog title. I would come home and hop on my computer, right after leaving the office. It wasn’t that I needed to, it was habit. I didn’t have closure to my day, so I simply extended it. To help with this, I started going for walks each evening before heading home after work. Not long, just enough to digest the day and clear my mind.

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Fiction Reading

I was never a big fan of fiction. But there’s something about it that helps in avoiding burnout. Allowing your mind to think creatively and wander outside of your everyday routine can be extremely valuable. Each night before bed, I try to read a bit of fiction to remove myself from my traditional business mindset.

A Day A Week

The past few weeks, I felt myself getting close to burnout again, so I instituted a rule for myself. One day a week, work is off limits – answering email, writing a blog post – anything. For one day a week, it’s off limits. I tend to rotate between Saturdays and Sundays, but it’s completely up to your schedule. To ensure that I stick to it, I tend to save errands and personal obligations for the weekend, forcing myself into a schedule without work.

Intellectual Hobbies

I recently bought an espresso machine because I needed to nerd out on something other than work. Roasting coffee beans, playing with the granularity of the grind, steaming the milk, it’s all part of my new intellectual hobby. Whether it’s discovering the science of taking the perfect picture, mastering your golf-swing, or studying the art of roasting an espresso bean, we need intellectual hobbies outside of work to cleanse and stretch the mind.

Small Wins

So much of burnout is mental. In order to avoid physical burnout, you need to show your mind progression for all of the effort that you’re exerting. I’ve found that one way to do this is to set small and easily attainable goals that you can reach each day. This can be parsing down larger goals into smaller chunks or just going though the motion of checking-off completed operational tasks. Anything to show your mind progression towards a finish line can do wonders.

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A Healthy Diet

We all know that we’re supposed to eat well, but it’s especially true when you’re pushing yourself hard. Eating the right food can help extend your runway and give you the needed nutritional energy to stay strong.

Limiting Decisions

After reading this article in Vanity Fair on Obama, there was one piece that stuck out to me. As the author interviewed the president, he said “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy. Operationalizing decisions in your life that are less impactful (like the clothes you wear and the fruit you pair with your cereal) allows you to invest that energy elsewhere.

Yearly Unplugs

Finally, a yearly unplug is a must. Especially when you work in technology. Having a set time each year where you can turn off the cell phone and go off the grid is a way for you to hit the ‘reset’ button on your body. I’m still working on extending my yearly unplug to more than four days, but even with that, I feel refreshed when I return.


You’re going to have to read your body to sense when you get close to burnout. Just like driving a car, using these maintenance techniques can help, but it’s up to you to know when to ease off the gas.

My immaturity got the best of me, but I’m hoping this will help you avoid the same fate. I used to feel guilty for pacing myself. I felt that if I wasn’t sprinting all day every day, I was doing myself and my team a disservice. Hitting rock bottom burnout was the only way to make me believe otherwise. Hustle is good, but it can’t be blind.

It’s taken me years to realize that overnight success is fictional. Overnight success comes after years of hard, sustainable work.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2019

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Step right up, don’t be shy!

Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

Culturally Conditioned

We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

1. Broadens Your Network

After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

2. Improves Your Communication Skills

I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

3. Continually Learning

So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

4. Increases Self Confidence

Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

How to Talk to Strangers

Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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1. Say Hello

Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

2. Ask About Them

Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

3. Just Do It

One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

4. Don’t Take It Personal

One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

6. Detach

A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

7. Share Your Stories

Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

8. Give a Compliment

Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

9. Relax Your Body Language

If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice

Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

The Bottom Line

As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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