Startup shutdown mode: Why the future of work needs to address the social treadmill

I’m done. That was the only thought I could think again and again and again as I made myself #girldinner (popcorn and Gatorade count as dinner right?). After yet another 14-hour day of work and that sinking feeling that I still wasn’t quite caught up enough to turn off, I started wondering….is this really worth it? Really? Didn’t I get into entrepreneurship to have more freedom? Since when did freedom look like staring at a screen for 12 hours of the day and snarfing calories on short breaks for sustenance?

This is the startup life. The problem is, I’ve been in startup mode for most of my life – and startup mode isn’t sustainable for 40+ years. Not without consequences at least.

I was an entrepreneur from the start.  When I was a little kid my sister would be checking out respectable books from the library like “Little Women” while I was checking out the book “Better than a Lemonade Stand” a kid’s guide to doing better business. Entrepreneurship wasn’t a part of my family bloodline – my mom was a kindergarten teacher and my father was a pastor of a local church. I just had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to be when I grew up and I wanted to live them all…. I still do.

So far….a fitness instructor, model, researcher, teacher, bird-nerd, evolution and human behavior specialist, PhD in stress physiology, academic, author, tech founder, ice cream shop owner, app developer, chef, hormone testing company founder, educator, professional speaker….and now my husband has come out of retirement to head up a veterinary startup company and wonders why I don’t want to be more involved. Each iteration, each version of myself I’ve had to become to get a business launched has taken a piece of me, and I’m starting to feel hollowed out.

I’m tired. I’m tired of hustling. I’m tired of striving. I feel how I imagine the traders on Wall Street feel every evening after frantically bidding, selling, trading, desperately trying to seek attention and grab shares. For what? To do it all again the next day?

You want me?” I want to say, “come find me. I’ll be here playing with dogs and living my best life. I’ll be happy to work with you, but I’m done chasing…jumping up and down trying to snag attention in an insanely distracted world.”

I imagine that I’m not alone in this. We’ve seen quiet quitting, and the great resignation, but I think this wave is far from over. The tsunami of tapouts has just begun.

While I can whine and bemoan my own startup life struggle, I created it. I chose this life. And I have to admit, most days I still wouldn’t choose anything different. I do LOVE what I do.  But I see an entire generation upcoming that has been in startup mode from their inception… who never got to make the choice and is likely feeling the need for a startup shutdown.

The choice to hustle was made for them the second they were handed a phone and given access to all of the social profiles of everyone else in the world who is racing faster, reaching higher, and striving harder every day to beat them. No idea is good enough, unique enough, or smart enough to snag that viral hit that gives them validity or worth.  This generation might choose to participate in a startup company, and perhaps they will be more resilient to the struggle of constantly being on, never getting ahead, and working overtime chasing that one….big….break…..

But my suspicion is, no matter what role they choose –  in an established or brand new company – unless they (and we all!) address the sneaky underlying effect of living in a deeply digitally connected world where most everyone has been running as fast as they can to snag a bit more attention,  this is just the startup of the shutdown.


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