In September of 2014, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to make a feature-length documentary about female entrepreneurs that raised $100,000 in 30 days. Since then, I have spent the last two years working on producing, directing and editing Dream, Girl.
One of the most important things I’ve learned through this journey is that as founders we need to surrender to self care.
I use the word surrender intentionally because building your own business is exhausting and taking time for yourself can often feel like an anxiety-inducing luxury. As my business partner Komal Minhas says in Dream, Girl, “There is so much guilt for every hour you are not working on building your business.”
This reality of working nights and weekends isn’t a new one for many of us, but the stress and pressure of being an entrepreneur is a unique blend that pushes the envelope on what one can take and without the balance of self-care, you are destined to burn out. Or at least, I was.
When Dream, Girl was just wrapping up post-production, I was managing various projects to get us to the finish line. Since it was our first film, there were a lot of unknowns and projects that would pop up that we hadn’t anticipated. My whole team felt a high level of energy to make sure we stayed on deadline for our first private screening — at the White House, no less. I went into hyper-drive worker-bee mode. I tend to decompress and solve problems by doing, so every waking minute, night and weekend went into keeping our company afloat and finalizing the film.
But after a couple of weeks of working my 24/7 schedule, I started running out of steam. I didn’t have the space or the energy to be excited about all the exciting things that were happening to us. I felt too tired to be happy. Too tired to make plans. And on my days off, my husband would watch me curl up into a ball and sleep or binge watch The Good Wife. A week before our White House screening, my body finally gave out and I got both the flu and a sinus infection that forced me off my computer and into bed.
I took the minimum time I needed to get better and moved on. Our schedule stayed pretty intense as we finalized the details for our World Premiere at the Paris Theater for 600 of our friends and family. It wasn’t until three weeks after our premiere that I was able to take my first work-free weekend in five months. I had a full blown panic attack before we left the city for the Berkshires for three days and packed my laptop — just in case an emergency were to pop up. It didn’t, of course, and I was able to unplug for a little while. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but it felt like the start of something better.
Every weekend since, I have tried to be really intentional with the time I need away from work to regenerate. I am spending more time with my husband, more time with friends and I’m saying yes to plans and events (non-work related ones, I should note) that I would never have gone to six months ago (dinner parties, hang-outs in the park, weekends out of the city). I don’t feel like I have totally mastered unplugging. This is definitely a work in progress, but stepping away has kept me excited by our work, and it gives me the space to play and build on our next phase of the film — sales and distribution.
It’s really easy as an entrepreneur to get lost in the climb — to work so hard for something you have built. And oftentimes we trick ourselves into thinking goal-setting will work for us. “If I just get that next level of investment,” or “If I just hire that one person,” our life and our company will shift and settle down. I don’t think that’s true. I think as we grow, so do our expectations, and it’s up to us to carve out the time now to make it worth our while. Surrendering to self-care is the first step.
Erin Bagwell is the Director of Dream, Girl, and is going on vacation next week for seven days. To learn how to bring Dream, Girl to your community or watch the film at an event near you visit dreamgirlfilm.com.