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When Passion Runs Out

I’ve been a startup investor for 11 years. For most of those 11 years, it’s felt more like a privilege than a job. I have the opportunity to work with incredibly self-motivated, tenacious, and talented founders who are doing work they actually want to do. If anything, I have to nudge the people in my circle to slow down rather than to stay motivated. I’d like to think that I have these qualities too.

At some point, however, my work started feeling like a job and my passion and self-motivation just kind of flamed out. I upheld my responsibilities, but I was just going through the motions. This was a new experience for me. I’ve been so passionate about my work that it was hard to think about anything else. I’ve spent most of my life learning how to turn off my passion for just long enough to eat and sleep. I’ve never had to learn how to turn it on. After a long stretch without that passion, it seems to be back. Since I’ve recently spoken to a number of people who have gone through a similar slump, I thought it might be helpful to share my hypothesis as to why I think my passion is coming back:

Finding inspiration in maintenance rather than building mode. I think the main cause of my lack of inspiration is due to the fact that I’m a startup entrepreneur who has always felt more excitement at the early stages of a business. As our portfolio and firm matures, I’m spending more time in maintenance mode, and have more administrative responsibilities. I recently decided to simply resign myself to the fact that this shift is happening and to allow myself to reap the benefits of this transition. While I may not have as many shots of adrenaline as I used to, I have more time, more flexibility, and far less stress.

Inspirational colleagues. My partner, Sue Heilbronner, is a freight train of inspiration. For the first five years of MergeLane, we worked closely together. As our organization matured, our time working together is more limited. It’s a natural and logical progression, but it took me a while to realize that I needed to find other colleagues to fill that inspirational hole. I’ve come to realize that the people I work with are perhaps even more important than the kind of work I am doing. As just one example, I do some volunteer work with a gentleman named Alan Danson. I would not typically enjoy the kind of work we do together, but I love every minute of it because I love working with him. He just has this aura of positive energy that makes me want to do even the most mundane tasks with gusto.

Finding time for inspiring non-work-related meetings and events. When finding prospective investors and new investors was a higher priority, I prioritized networking events which often include inspiring speakers. As we’ve shifted to maintenance mode, I’ve cut way back on those and I cut back even further during the pandemic. I recently attended an event with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff simply because I thought it sounded interesting. Not only was Judy Woodruff inspiring, but the people attending the event were fascinating as well. While I didn’t receive any work-related benefits from attending, it gave me a healthy shot of adrenaline that I could carry over into my work.     

Prioritizing more inspiring work-related in-person meetings. Both because of the pandemic and because of the nature of my work as our portfolio matures, I’ve attended far fewer inspiring in-person meetings over the past two years. I’m starting to realize how much of a difference this makes for me.

Decent air quality. I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time in places with good air quality over the past year and I can’t believe what a difference it has made. I was especially struggling to feel motivated over the past few summers and I’ve concluded that was mostly due to the fact that I was living in areas with terrible forest-fire-related air quality.  

Sleep. For most of my career, I ran many sprints of sleep deprivation, but my adrenaline kept me going through those sprints. I would inevitably crash at some point down the line, but the effects were always delayed. Now that I have less adrenaline, the crash is more immediate. I lose my motivation and feel depressed, and start to wonder why I can’t just will myself to find passion in my work. Miraculously, it comes right back after a few nights of good sleep.

As your startup matures or your life shifts you in a different direction, I hope these tips will help you keep that motivation alive.

Onward and Upward.

Photo Credit: Jedsada Naeprai

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