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Work Well: In It for the Long Run

Running a startup can be like running a marathon — if you go full throttle at the beginning, you won’t make it to the finish line.

Instead, founders have to pace themselves to ensure they meet their goal.

Robin Borg

Robin Borg, chief people officer at fast-growing health insurance startup Bind, is a runner herself and made this comparison.

“You have to make the long run,” she said. “There’s times you’re full throttle, and there’s time you back off.”

Borg has worked at multiple startups. After she found herself forgetting and missing things that were important to her, she was able to get into a groove in order to maintain some sort of sanity.

“I missed birthdays and events that I didn’t even know were happening,” she said. “You gotta hit rock bottom before you realize.”

While it took a lot of practice, she was able to make changes both physically and mentally to ensure she wouldn’t burn out by mile 10, such as giving herself at least one work-free day of the weekend.

“You have to make the long run. There’s times you’re full throttle, and there’s time you back off.” — Robin Borg

“Nobody can operate 24/7 all the time,” she said.

This kind of persistent stress can cause more than just forgetfulness. Stephanie Wagner, owner of Inner Fire Health and Well-Being Coaching, said there can also be physical ailments such as heightened cortisol levels that disrupt sleep and lead to weight gain.

Stephanie Wagner

“The unfortunate thing about chronic stress and overwork is that it’s a reinforcing loop of negative symptoms leading to negative behaviors,” Wagner, who has worked with small business owners and entrepreneurs, said.

Those “negative behaviors,” like drinking alcohol or eating comfort (and often processed) foods, are what people often turn to instead of dealing with underlying stress. This leads to not having energy for work or healthy behaviors needed to tip the scale. But there are a few simple, positive changes to get started.

Wagner suggests implementing a short, daily meditation practice; even just five minutes of deep breathing can help engage the parasympathetic nervous system and help stressed individuals reset.

At Bind, Borg finds it easier to manage stress than at former workplaces due to a culture that’s based on the quality of the work and not the number of hours employees — currently at more than 250 — put in.

“I wouldn’t expect someone to say, ‘I don’t have a life outside of Bind,’” Borg said.

To help enforce this, the startup has implemented a remote boot camp, yoga, and mindfulness sessions — making sure that even when everyone is working from home, they’re still taking care of themselves.

“As the business owner, you have to take care of yourself because you are what makes the company sustainable.” — Stephanie Wagner

Matt Chock

Matt Chock, inventory lead at Bind, said he priorities carving out time for activities outside of work, like golf, even though work is never really done at a startup.

“[It’s] about being thoughtful and intentional about setting aside that time so that you do get away from the work and spend time focused on those healthy things as well,” he said.

Additionally, while he admits the startup life doesn’t always lend itself to being able to make dinner every night — or the healthiest choices in general — there’s more flexibility in terms of a work schedule than in a larger or more traditional company.

That flexibility can be the key to keeping the fuel tanks full.

“Energy isn’t a renewable resource unless you do something to replenish it,” Wagner said. “As the business owner, you have to take care of yourself because you are what makes the company sustainable.”

It’s important that startup founders and business owners pace themselves as they grow their companies. Find out how Susan Langer of Live.Give.Save and Jenna Redfield of Twin Cities Collective stay healthy to keep their businesses afloat in next week’s edition of Work Well.

Laura Beier
Laura is a writer, coffee addict, and travel enthusiast who’s passionate about sustainability, vegetarian cuisine, and innovation. You can find her at a local coffee shop, going for a hike, or planning her next adventure.