Find Your ‘Flow’: How I Recovered From Extreme Startup Burnout

You can be productive without being happy — or happy without being productive — but without achieving flow, you cannot be both.

Photo: Sumi Krishnan, Serial Entrepreneur; Courtesy Photo
Photo: Sumi Krishnan, Serial Entrepreneur; Courtesy Photo

For years, I thought the key to building my company, K4 Solutions, was to be a robot: head down, nose glued to my work, pushing forward — no matter what. I saw that example around me and it seemed to work.

But what I didn’t realize was that this mindset would lead me — a personal, passionate woman — to extreme startup burnout. It threatened to curb my company’s success, and it nearly robbed me of joys that made life worth living.

In retrospect, I pushed away something vital to my long-term success and contentment: my flow.


An entrepreneur’s brain on flow

Flow can be described as a mental state that melds productivity and happiness, bringing focus and creativity while edging out concerns about time, self-doubt, and external frustrations.

Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi first described the concept in 1990. In his experience sampling study, Csikszentmihalyi asked teenagers to record their thoughts when beepers randomly went off.



Upon analyzing the results, Csikszentmihalyi found a surprising pattern: People weren’t happiest when they were lounging about doing nothing; they were happiest when they were focused on difficult tasks.


Photo: © loftflow, YFS Magazine
Photo: © loftflow, YFS Magazine

Happiness, as Csikszentmihalyi knew, isn’t a fixed state; it’s developed as we achieve flow through fulfilling, challenging work.


Flow like a pro in business

Entrepreneurs are unbelievably hard workers, but a business can’t thrive on hard work alone — it must be built with genuine joy.

That’s why entrepreneurs should master flow. Toil without joy leads to misery and then to apathy, which shows through to every job candidate, investor, and client you meet.

To meet challenges with joy and creativity, you must first learn to find your flow:


1. Design your sacred space.

You don’t want to walk into your office and say, “Gosh, I don’t want to be here.” Instead, make your office a home away from home.

Research indicates that personalizing your workspace mitigates stress and prevents emotional exhaustion, encouraging you to ignore worries and focus on the present. So bring in your favorite coffeemaker, invest in a water wall, or hang some bright artwork. Add features to your office space that make you feel engaged and comfortable in your workspace.


2. Do what excites you.

Chances are, you started your own company because you were passionate about your mission — whatever that may be — and wanted freedom to create and innovate.

As your own boss, it’s up to you to seize that opportunity for yourself. Be selective about the projects you take on; do the work in your own “zone of genius,” and delegate the rest.


Photo: © sebra, YFS Magazine
Photo: © sebra, YFS Magazine

Build a team where everyone feels comfortable operating in his or her own areas of expertise. When people feel like they can’t hand off work better suited to someone else on the team, the whole team suffers. It’s easier said than done, but so worth it.


3. Envision your success.

When I was growing my company, I won a contract that required me to find, hire, and train 75 employees within two weeks — impossible, right? Well, I did it, and it’s because I approached it with gusto, knowing that I would conquer the challenge.



Envision yourself succeeding, even if the challenge seems impossible. Don’t worry about the risks of a tough project. Embrace the stress — the right kind of stress brings energy and confidence, not fear and unease. Don’t destroy your success by envisioning failure.


Unlock the power of flow

When I began my entrepreneurship journey I didn’t know how to find my flow. But I’d mastered it by the time I opened a social media marketing company for musicians shortly afterward with a grad school colleague.

We transformed a local Prince cover band and booked them on a national tour. At the time, that seemed incredible, but I now know we succeeded because our dedication and shared love of music allowed us to flow.


No matter whether your startup works with rock stars or corporate giants, finding your flow is important. You can be productive without being happy — or happy without being productive — but without achieving flow, you cannot be both.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Sumi Krishnan is a serial entrepreneur, singer/songwriter, barbell enthusiast and founder of sumikrishnan.com. She is passionate about helping other badass leaders on a mission live lives of holistic success while embracing their most meaningful impact. Connect with @SumiKrishnan on Twitter.


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