I created my dream business – but almost burnt myself out

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Before starting my first business, I’d had a job in mergers and acquisitions.

I’d worked very long hours and travelled quite regularly, and the pressure and stress levels were pretty high. I was 29 when I floated my company on AIM, the London Stock Exchange’s ‘junior’ market. It took months of arduous work and preparation to get us to that point, and after it came months of – you guessed it – arduous work and preparation.

I was relatively inexperienced, but had huge drive and ambition, and an unwavering love of the business I was building, which means I rarely switched off . It’s often no different for people who don’t have their own business. We all like to put our best foot forward, which usually involves committing a lot of sweat and blood to the cause.

Being 29, I was also out having fun whenever possible, spending time with my other half (who was a real rock when I was floating my company) and giving time to side gigs, charities and other issues that I felt were important. That had always been normal to me, but I was really pushing myself, with very little downtime for my mind and body to relax and recuperate. I loved being so busy. I didn’t think that there was any limit to my pool of energy, nor did I give any thought to my health or the repercussions of my professional habits.

But it’s hard to recover if you truly exhaust yourself. It got to the point that, when I stopped to take a holiday, I would often crash and burn, needing days to recover. As time went by, my exhaustion became worse and my recovery time was longer when I took a moment to pause. Every time I took a plane, I picked up a bug. I started reading about physiology, biology, nutrition and how the brain works. I wanted to understand what no doctor seemed to be able to explain to me: why I was so tired.

What I learned was the importance of preventative healthcare: taking the best possible care of yourself consistently, instead of reacting when something goes wrong, which is too late. Time and time again, I meet people who feel that way and are told to take a week off . That’s just not good enough. We need to fuel ourselves in the right way so we can perform in the way we want without damaging ourselves. That means eating healthily, as well as taking time to switch off . As I strived to become healthier, I became a vegan.

We cannot expect our bodies and brains to have endless energy and good health unless we support those functions in as many ways as possible. We want our quality of life, at work and with family and friends, to be optimal. As a society, we like high-functioning gadgets, such as cars, phones and home appliances. We must give the same attention to our bodies and minds too. The same goes for the environment around us – if we live more healthily, we can live more sustainably.

Personally, I would like to leave this planet in a better state than I found it. I love the way my career has unfolded and the opportunities it has presented. I am still in my 30s and my life has already been so rich with experiences and encounters with people and places I could never have dreamed of. I don’t think I would say I have changed the way I work entirely, but I have become much more conscious of the need to properly fuel myself and try to take some time to breathe, even if it’s just a few minutes alone in the back of a cab.

How to stay healthy at work

1. Eat better. This is a massive step towards improving your health.

2. Exercise daily before your day begins – that way you’ll be less likely to put it off .

3. Take time to breathe properly. Most of us hold our breath when under pressure.

4. Learn to say ‘no’. No one has an infinite capacity for work.

Emma Sinclair is a serial entrepreneur and the youngest person in the UK to take a company public. She is co-founder of EnterpriseJungle and columnist for Accounting Technician magazine.

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