venture capital: the truth of working in the industry and my burnout story
Venture capital was an industry that I worked in many moons ago in the start of, really, my corporate journey. More importantly, for most people who know my journey, this was the catalyst of my burnout and venture capital was the environment where I experienced burnout. Now, what factors lead to it and how I really overcame it and take personal responsibility for my experience of burnout, is what I want to talk about. This is for those of you if you have experienced burnout or if you’re experiencing it. You might also be here because you are you wanting to pitch to venture capitalists. I will give you all the VC info from my experience, keeping in mind: it is still only my experience.
Venture capital is a corporate, very intense pressure cooker of an environment. With that, it's very important to cultivate boundaries and self-love is a huge priority. Burnout is a result of having porous boundaries and if all you know is the word 'poor' in the term porous boundaries, that's all you need to know. For example, if someone asks you to do something and you always drop everything to help, this is an example of porous boundaries. Maybe you do this with everybody in your life, maybe you do that with people who technically shouldn’t deserve your time or maybe it's just a very one-sided relationship. In venture capital, there’s a lot of people who are people looking for answers for high profile decisions being made and working in that environment was really like a pressure cooker.
I worked in it for two years. I was actually in my last year of university when I was recruited and I started out as an assistant and grew to be a certified Project Manager (PMP) because I could just handle so much. That was because I had a really hard time saying 'no' to people and I would just take on anything. Not only is that unhealthy, but I wasn't able to set boundaries like saying "no, it’s after 5 PM and I have a dinner and that is what I’m committing to" or "yes, I can take that because I am available then and I will have the energy, space and time to deal with this."
Now I get it if you’re gunning for that next promotion or you want to impress your boss. The thing to know is though, that when you’re bringing yourself to any opportunity, you’re bringing your whole self. If you haven’t slept, you’re not bringing a very good version of yourself to the table, meeting, lunch - whatever it is and it’s really really important. If you don’t take care of your whole self, burnout is inevitable. Burnout looks like you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not eating well enough, you may be sick on a little level with a cold or even with an autoimmune issue.
Burnout can also look like stress. You might be lashing out at people and typically other people know first when you’ve burned out. Your loved ones will be able to point it out for you when you’re burnt out sooner than you can. These are the people who you trust in your life - maybe not your boss and your colleagues because they might just be giving you pep talks in case you might stop being productive. People that genuinely want the best for you without an agenda are usually people outside of the workforce.
In addition, I worked with my ex-boyfriend at the time. We were together for the same time that I worked in VC. I was in a relationship for three years and worked in VC for two of those years. For those who have experience with off-and-on relationships in a workplace setting - if you think it’s bad when you’re not even working together, it’s even worse when you are working together because when you’ve been at odds or fighting with your partner and you work with them (maybe they pay your bills or maybe they are your boss!) the workplace is even more pressure. If you’re working with your partner, then the healthiest thing you can do long-term is to set very, very firm boundaries around work so that they’re in charge of specific things or elements of the organization or a certain department and you’re in charge of very specific other thing. Or, if they’re in charge of your department, that you have very specific roles that are different from anybody else in the organization. Make sure to be careful when you’re working with your partner because not every couple that works together can make it work, like Bill and Melinda Gates (and I don’t even know if they really make it work well..).
Venture capital (any organization, really) really relies on a strong corporate culture. Strong corporate culture is represented by how long people are there, their happiness levels and they’re not incentivized by corporate handouts and pay raises; they're incentivized by the energy of the place. There’s no abuse, gaslighting or bullying in the environment and unfortunately for me, I encountered that and I observed people that encountered that as well. It was evident online!
Having a strong culture does not end at the motivational poster on the wall. I really had to find a routine to decompress. I was working 10 hour days and if I worked less than 10 hour days, I was on the clock for this. I would literally be bullied into working 10 hour days. If I wasn’t working 10 hour days, I wasn’t enough and that is not only damaging to self-esteem but it’s really abusive because what that means is that even if you’re doing something that’s completely not important in the work setting, you’re basically a number. You are not the quality of your work; you are the quantity of your work, which is completely useless and un-productive. Any successful company will actually ask: what are you creating and what is your output?
For me, as long as I was clocking in the time, I was left alone and I didn’t really have a routine in place to be able to say "OK, before work, I’m gonna make sure that I get a run in." Make sure that you have these things in place and that they’re gonna be nonnegotiable so that when you’re going into any opportunity, you know what you’re not willing to put up with and what you can rely on when the inevitable challenges arise. I was just totally enmeshed in the challenges at work and I did not find a way to decompress and go out with girlfriends or cultivate strong friendships outside of the workplace. When I was criticized for my output, I was completely crushed. I totally took it personally and I let it define a really corrosive sense of self.
Tell me in the comments: what experiences have shaped you and a story you have of burnout, if any? I want to know!