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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

How to Fix and Avoid Burnout

Burnout sucks. I'm not talking about that "I can't wait for the weekend" feeling or even the glazed-eye look you gave your parents when returning home from finals week during college. When I refer to burnout, I mean the structural depletion of energy which makes it nearly impossible to raise your head and get real work done. It's a poison that seeps into and sucks the life out of every working minute.

In startup culture, we glorify working ourselves to death in a way which is completely absurd and totally self-imposed. Along my own 5 year rollercoaster building Viking Education, I became intimately familiar with the feeling of burnout. I distinctly remember the numb progression through checklists of tasks that had become divorced of any meaning and putting on a smiling facade which overlaid an inner me who had long since stopped bothering to panic at his lack of excitement for work.

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Grit is a Muscle. Train it.

"Inch towards daylight" is one of my favorite mantras from a book I read recently. It also accurately describes how to develop the oft-discussed but seldom mastered skill of Grit.

Grit is generally defined as perseverance in the face of obstacles and/or lack of positive reinforcement. It's the ability to do hard things regardless of whether the environment is supportive, and it's the ability to maintain determination and motivation for long term goals through all the shit work between now and then.

Grit is often and inaccurately presented as an innate characteristic. That gives those who lack it far too convenient an excuse to stop trying or to justify their deficits. In reality, Grit is a muscle that needs to be trained.

In 2017, I ran an Ironman triathlon and sold a challenging service business that I'd bootstrapped through 4 arduous years. I live with a group of highly motivated high achievers who span the world of entrepreneurial and life success -- the collection of their acquisitions, press articles, TED talks and general awesomeness gives me constant awe -- yet they constantly express amazement at the kind of will I'm able to deploy to the fulfillment of a particular goal. Why?

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Sometimes You Need a Slap in the Face

When I was in college I played poker online and did well enough that it steered me towards an interest in trading on Wall Street. I liked what I learned about trading and decided that I wanted to someday start a hedge fund. My friend's father headed a public company at the time and he put me in touch with two fund managers so I could get some advice.

The first guy I called worked within an old-style bank. I don't remember much of anything from our conversation except that he seemed a bit... "traditional"? My questions weren't very good and his answers were pure vanilla. I learned nothing.

The second guy was a different story. He ran a nimble long/short fund with a few hundred million under management and had needed to scrap for every victory. From the second he picked up the phone I could tell he was short on time and low on patience. I kind of stammered through my list of questions and he gave me answers that appropriately reflected the poorly researched nature of my queries, which included things like "what is a long/short fund exactly?".

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