Birth of a New Self…

Olga Skipper
10 min readOct 20, 2023


or How to get yourself out of burnout while building a world-class startup

Photo by Tom Dahm on Unsplash

A while ago I posted a story about my burnout, how I got into it, and how to prevent it. Yet more often than not, when someone reads the article it is too late… Only those who have experienced burnout or an emotional breakdown or sorts can relate to my words and usually, they are at the point where they ask themselves a different question — I want to be kind to myself and mindful of the energy level that I have yet I need to function, move forward and take care of those who are dependant on me.

With this piece, I want to explain to you what journey you are actually on and how to move forward with acceptance and kindness to yourself. So here it is…

Disclaimer: if you feel like you are experiencing burnout, please consult a mental health professional, who can 1. diagnose the situation and 2. offer you treatment.

Just take a break…

On July 30th, 2014, I woke up in the morning and realized that I couldn’t fall asleep at night, it was very hard for me to wake up in the morning, get myself out of the apartment and I couldn’t accomplish any task at work. That story is very well described in my previous post. In a nutshell, after multiple weeks of crying on my office floor, I texted a friend to share with her how I felt and she texted me back “Girl, you are having an emotional breakdown, go home, sleep, and set up a routine to get yourself out of that”.

On that day I realized that I burned out and I’ve been trying to brush over it for months. All books and all articles advise you to take a break. For a month or so. But what if you can’t take a break? And your “can’t” is not about deadlines at work or upcoming family events. You really can’t. You need to keep working to be able to pay your bills, for the company to move forward, take care of your children, and maintain what you’ve created so far. But you can’t make any decisions anymore either.

Also, for a while you really tried to live “the normal life” at the “normal pace”, yet it dragged you even deeper into burnout.

The same happened to me. My overachiever mentality wanted to quickly get rid of this “disease”, not understanding that it is not something coming and going — I was going through a personal transformation, that was needed for years, and just now my body was making it obvious to me.

So I needed a different plan (rather than “take a break”) that would include me 1. taking care of myself and 2. taking care of others who really depend on me. After talking to my friend and reading everything I could possibly find I started testing multiple approaches and some of them you will find below. But before we dig into the practical part, there are three mental models that we need to throw out of the window before we can move forward.

New self and what stops us from creating one

The biggest mind trap that you might have if you experience something similar is to wish to come back to the “old self”. Here is the deal, you are at this point not because you need a step back, but because you need to move forward.

You are not the “old self that you are looking for and you just need to wait till it reappears”. You are a new self getting born and it needs time and space to reveal itself and to take the leading role.

The old self isn’t coming back…. I am sorry…

Accepting this as well as the fact that the aggressive “just get over it approach” or passive “just take a break” aren’t working. A child needs 9 months to come into this world and multiple hours of labor. So does your new self.

The second trap is to say “So it will somehow figure itself out”. It might, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, if there are ways to help it to be born in a “natural and ecological way”, I’ll take them.

The third way that you might derail yourself from transitioning into a new self is actually “take a full break”, sabbatical for example, and then come into your old life with the same attitude as before.

At some point, you will need to reintroduce the old life to the new self, this is inevitable. So the way here is to slow down and approach almost every single interaction that you would count as “been there done this” with a beginner's mind. You are a new self on a new territory, and it needs readjustment. And you will also need time and space to process what is happening.

If you take these 3 aspects into consideration and arrive at the point of acceptance that there is no way back, you might want to create an environment that will support the transition. And this is what mine looks like.

The plan

To support myself on the journey of bringing the new self to life I created a plan that looked the following way:

  • Acceptance: Accept that you are tired and your energy is low, that the previous chapter drained you, and that lots of inner resources are going into the “birth of the new self”. You need time and space.
  • Routine: this transition might feel very scary and overwhelming, to calm down your nervous system, you must begin and end your day in the same way, creating some “stability”. Every single day I woke up at 7 am in the morning and went to bed on time. My routine was kind and gentle to me and included time for nice things and calm moments of reflection.
  • Reconnect with your Body: Reconnecting to my body and getting moving is one of the biggest tools to be in here and now. I asked my body every day what kind of movement it needed and allowed it. Some days it looked like sleeping on a couch for 15 minutes in my office, and some days like an hour workout. If fluctuates.
  • Emotions: I had to accept that I don’t react assertively. It is like having a broken bone in your leg, you can not walk at the same speed. Same here, that’s why I started eliminating any possible “energy drainers” (see below) and reintroducing joy into my daily routines, like books and yoga, ice cream, and meditation were my daily treats.
  • Declutter for the energy saving: I needed to cut off any time-consuming and emotions-driven communication. No exes, no people asking for help and never returning a favor, no random strangers. I would also advise you to delete unnecessary social networks from your mobile phone escape comparison. You are where you are right now and you can only compare yourself today to yourself yesterday.
  • Support: During those transitions I always have my therapist supporting me to unpack all emotions that I have been neglecting for a while, yet in an ecological way. Find someone who understands how to structure works with a high-performing individual and allows them to be your “emotional” partner in crime. Brainstorm who else and how can support you. Maybe your cofounder, maybe your team, or your spouse, hire help and do whatever you need to create more time and more space to focus on yourself.
  • Allow yourself: I should, I have to, it is required — question those beliefs on a daily basis. You would be surprised how much it is our belief vs reality. Allow yourself to take time off, to say what you feel out loud, and be in the mood you are now. Allow yourself to say to not want certain things anymore or explore new activities and energy sources. Allow yourself to do less than you would usually do, to start slow, to achieve less.

“…you must be very polite with yourself when you are learning something new.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

  • Reduce work: say NO to any projects that do not support your main goal or do not maintain “business as usual”. Use the 80/20 rule. Find those 20% of the activities that get you the 80% of the result and say NO regularly. If you can’t take a break for a bit, at least use your energy wisely.
  • Find short timeslots to “run away” — no people, no cellphones, no LinkedIn, no meetings. Find a timeslot during the day or a space where you allow yourself to “run away to”, for example, as a part of your evening routine. It is not “running away”. You are just finally creating space for yourself.

Space for yourself

Here I will give you an example, of what my space for myself looked like. Try those techniques and experiment with your own ideas, and you will find the grove.

Tools that helped me to reconnect to myself:

  • Meditation: I meditate twice a day, depending on the day from 3 min to 20 min each. The first meditation is a part of my morning routine. With it, I clean up my mind from yesterday and visualize today the things I’m looking forward to. The second meditation is about improving different aspects of my life: relationships with people, coping with my past, finding balance, etc. It appears during the day when there is space for it.
  • 1 hour of silence: during the most challenging periods of my life instead of meditation I use the 1 hour of silence technique. Every day I sit for an hour in silence. I call it the reverse meditation. You just allow all thoughts to flow in and out. You allow yourself to recall some moments of your life that you wanted to forget and reconnect with them. My main “eureka” moments were during these sessions.
  • At least half a day a week alone: I still need a lot of space and still need time to get to know myself. When I first wrote this article I didn't have kids, and it was 1 day a week alone. Now it is a luxury, so half a day would do.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell: if you are afraid to tell your friends or family what is going on with you — you are in big trouble. If you think these people won’t accept your weakness — change friends (I’m not kidding). You are hanging out with the wrong people if you can’t be open with them. Real friends understand that one needs time and space for change and transition. Also consciously choose whom not to tell the whole truth to and how will you interact with those people. My job requires a lot of networking, so to accommodate it I give myself an “extraverted energy budget” and then make sure I am mindful of how I invest it.
  • Journal: write down your thoughts and read them a month later. If you stick to your routine, you will see the progress and you need to see it to be able to move on.
  • What does my heart want today: buy a small notebook you like and write it down every single day and answer that question. Some days you will be really specific: cookies, bath, etc. Some days it can be something like “coming back home”. Ask yourself what does it really mean and how can you achieve it today?
  • Mantra: Throughout your whole life you will need a mantra. A mantra can change, but it should be something that means something to you. Literally, a mantra is a thought, thought behind speech or action. I have several mantras I use, for example: “You are in the right place and at the right time, doing the right thing”, “I am love and I bring love” and “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. The last one I used a lot was when I started filtering out emotions, people, and projects from my life.

Meeting the new self can be hard. Extremely hard. There were days when I was waking up not knowing why am I doing it, and there were therapy sessions, after which I wanted to die because I just couldn’t deal with all the emotions inside of me. And every day you ask yourself — when is it going to get better and become the new normal?

Light at the end of a tunnel

5 months after my first burnout and my acceptance of the fact that the “way back doesn’t exist” I felt much better. I would finally see that my day-to-day work of putting myself first was paying off. I would finally see my new self.

For some people my sudden change was painful. Cause suddenly they had to deal with the new me. Some adjusted, some left my life.

At the same time, I started to appreciate my closest friends even more. They were spending their time at my apartment making sure I was doing good and I had everything I needed. They were kind, but assertive, giving me direct feedback when I tried to gain speed again before I was actually fully there.

And of course, I had to be authentic with my team. We were building an open and transparent culture inside the team and if I hid something like this from them I would just betray my own beliefs. So I found a way to communicate my “life chapter” to them and have an open conversation about how they feel.

5 months in I felt better: I had more energy, clearer boundaries, and closest friends. 5 months in I wrote in my journal: “I don’t think I have ever been happier than I am right now, cause before I couldn’t tell you what “being happy” actually is. It is still hard. You question yourself a lot, you judge, you try to learn to trust others and believe in yourself no matter what. Courage comes the last. But trust me — it comes.”

Ps: To tell you the full story, after 5 more months I decided to leave the startup. It became apparent to me that my new self needed something else as her main “occupation”. I did it consciously, assertively, and out of a resourceful place without any hint of an “emotional decision”.

Вселенной больше нет, но я о ней зачем-то помню — Noize MC



Olga Skipper

Executive coach and Advisor for Tech Founders and Entrepreneurs. Asking uncomfortable questions.