As I walked into what would become my first private practice, I never knew that I would eventually go through burnout, a common but undiscussed problem for female entrepreneurs. Instead, the first thing I noticed was the set of french doors right ahead that led to a waiting room that was made complete by the working fireplace. I knew as soon as the door clicked unlocked – this was the place. This was the place that my patients would feel spoiled and cared for.
I went ahead full gusto. Two treatment rooms, a big ol’ IKEA desk, wall art and subdued paint on the walls created just the right atmosphere. I told the head doctor at the fertility clinic I worked at that it was time for me to head out on my own. The patient base was already there and I’d still be close by to assist when it was necessary.
I’ll never forget that he asked me, “Are you sure you have enough patients to do this? Are you going to make it?” and it sunk into my body and helped me to create an even bigger resolve to reach success.
It worked. I recouped my investment in the first month and went on to create the busiest acupuncture office in Warsaw. A three-month waiting list, mentions in newspapers and magazines, and invitations to be on morning shows all become reality.
And then I crashed. Not all at once, but slowly, over time. This success I created was crushing me. My boundaries (which I assumed were solid, I’m from Massachusetts after all) weren’t in place. Phone calls for new appointments sent me into mini panics. I started gaining weight. I stopped exercising. Wasn’t I doing enough? How could people want more from me?
For nearly a decade, I rode the burnout roller coaster before I realized what was happening. I’m a stress management expert, all Chinese medicine practitioners are. I couldn’t possibly be burdened by the stress of success!
The moment of realization came with an article like this one. Burnout, it told me. Burnout is what you’re experiencing. My entire body bristled with goosebumps in recognition of this truth. So, I did what anyone would do. I started looking for help. Here’s what I noticed: unless you’re a doctor or a corporate employee, no one talks to you about burnout.
I spent the next four years healing, creating a coaching system, writing a book, and starting a podcast – all with the intent to save female entrepreneurs from burnout. Here are three of the most valuable pieces of information that I discovered that might just help you start your own healing journey.
- My definition of success only included finances. Of course, I said that I wanted a happy life, but the only thing I was really measuring was cash money. With a massive student loan to pay and a history of poverty, I convinced myself that if I had enough money, everything would be ok. Updating my definition of success was life-changing.
- My surface motivation was helping people – and it’s true, I wanted to do that. Underneath that beautiful wrapping paper was a box full of not-enough-ness. My deeper motivation was to prove that I was good enough, that I was valuable, that I deserved love. If I was always helping people, then I must be lovable, right? Learning that I am worthy of love for existing was crucial to my recovery.
- I was afraid to expand. My business got bigger, and I should have moved to a bigger space, hired a receptionist and a second acupuncturist. I was so afraid of the expansion because it already felt too big for me that I didn’t realize that after the initial expense (physically, mentally, and financially) of that growth, it would have actually lessened my load.
The TLDR summary is this: you are worthy of love, your success should include your happiness, and you’ll have to jump further than you’ve been asked to jump before – throw on your parachute, it’ll be worth it.
Caitlin Donovan is one of New York City’s leading burnout experts and acupuncturists, host of “Fried – The Burnout Podcast,” and author of “The Bouncebackability Factor: End Burnout, Gain Resilience, and Change the World.” Her master’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine enables Caitlin to combine Eastern wisdom with her natural practicality. After performing more than 25,000 acupuncture treatments, Caitlin added 1:1 coaching, corporate workshops, and keynotes for companies such as PTC and Lululemon – all with a focus on ending burnout culture. She has been featured on podcasts and online magazines such as “Forbes,” “Elephant Journal,” “Thrive Global, and “Addicted 2 Success,” as well as quoted in Oprah Magazine.