A few months ago, I had lunch with a colleague who was curious about how I got started with my company, MommaStrong, in hopes that it would help him launch his own venture. As I sat down to eat, I noticed that he had a notepad out and an organized set of colored pens at the ready. I knew immediately I was in for a serious brain picking.
This guy wanted to know a formula. How much capital did you raise? How did you develop your content? How much research did you do on e-commerce platforms? When did you know it was time to launch? What sales strategy did you apply?
The questions poured out of him, but my answers were as chopped as my salad. The more I talked, the more I felt a tug on every word and so I quickly interrupted myself and said, “Look, you will never start if you are spending all your energy trying to get ready.” Needless to say, he left that lunch with a blank notepad.[thb_image full_width="true" alignment="center" image="9774" img_size="full"]
The reality is that my work in the world didn’t happen because I had some sort of grand plan or because I had spent time developing business acumen. Some nights - well, most nights - I wish I had more of both of those, but the truth is my company happened because I was desperate about solving a problem.
After having my second child and finding myself in the fog of the postpartum experience, I realized that there was something terribly wrong with my situation. I was in excruciating physical pain every minute of every day. I was isolated in my house with tiny children and a bunch of plastic toys and the churn of social media as my most frequent company. I was stressed about finances. I was in an abusive marriage. I was suffering from postpartum depression. And I lacked all energy and motivation to do anything about any of it.
But, the thing that sustains MommaStrong to this day is the same thing that made me get up, rather than give up: It was a decision to live inside the solution, rather than submit to the problem.
And, so, I focused myself on the most basic, least emotional obstacle I was experiencing: My physical pain. As a certified Pilates teacher with years of experience, the fact that I was in so much discomfort didn’t make sense. Nothing I had been taught about pelvic rehabilitation and core strength was helping me, no matter how hard I tried to do it “right.” And that’s when the golden curiosity hit me: Maybe it’s not that I am doing this wrong, maybe there is something wrong about the modality. Maybe we’re not strengthening and healing the female body the right way.
From there, I started to break down the supposed authority of all my years of training and began to see some incongruencies with the anatomy of the modern female body. For example, methods like Pilates wherein we are encouraged to strengthen the abdominals through crunching (flexion) movements were created before the Industrial Revolution, when people were far less sedentary. This means that their spines were naturally more extended just by doing daily manual labor and, so, crunches were vastly more effective and certainly not damaging. Today, with the fact that most of us have desk jobs and are driving more than walking, our spines spend way too much time in forward flexion. Crunching, therefore, not only becomes ineffective, it also proves harmful. This realization prompted me to dive head first into research and hands-on experimentation with my own body. I soon discovered that my hunch was right: The female body needed core work in extension, along with pelvic floor work that taught elasticity, rather than just static kegel powers.
Photo Courtesy of Edutopia
This detective work lit me up. It gave me breath. It gave me vitality. And it also started to give me access to solutions that would heal my life in every way imaginable. By starting with my pelvic floor and recovering my body from years of pain, I released my nervous system from unnecessary stress. That release allowed me to behave more powerfully on a very primal level. That powerful behavior helped me make drastic changes to my life, including divorce. And from that freedom, my company came to be. I wanted to share what I learned, in an accessible way, to women who were in my situation and perhaps were beginning to believe that their bodies were broken. My mission was crystal clear: Revolutionize strength protocols for women and reduce their physical pain, so that they can show up in the world as they choose.
Today, five years after that tender time, MommaStrong serves thousands of online customers from around the world. Via streaming videos, these customers are able to access effective and efficient strength programs that address their pain and buoy their lives. In just 15 minutes a day and for just $2 a month, we are helping members to lead stronger lives, strengthen their core, and to have access to the playful part of them that makes them a better mother. Along with that, my customers and I have developed an outreach program that serves women-in need (i.e., incarcerated women and victims of sex trafficking) by providing them the same physical rehabilitation tools so that they too can heal their lives. I call this Share to Show up.
My business works - and not just because of the numbers, but because my initial curiosity is still the strong thread that weaves a solution to a widespread problem.
Now, while all of this is inspiring, there’s an important postscript in my story, one that I think encompasses the entirety of entrepreneurship. In the five years of building this venture, I have made every rookie mistake in the book. It has been harrowing, exhausting, and ridiculously humbling. And I’ve found myself back to the drawing board oodles of times, in a full-on depression and ready to quit.
This is the life of an entrepreneur: Burnouts. Not a single burnout. Plural burnouts. But, guess what? Are you ready for this? I am an advocate of the burnout. Why? Because, if we look at my story and the stories of countless other CEOs, all ventures start because of a burnout that leads to an idea and all ventures continue because of burnouts that lead to invaluable lessons learned.
The delicious, yet ugly truth is that there are many times that I have a trembling finger hovering over the “I Quit” button coupled with guts of steel that pull it back. And up until recently, I was so afraid and ashamed of this saga. But, what I have come to understand is that if we choose to be a dreamer that is also a do-er, than we are choosing also the saga of the burnout.
So, instead of pathologizing burnouts and speaking about how to properly organize your business life so catastrophic and humiliating events don’t occur (ahem, they will), I instead would like to offer a new take: How to Befriend Your Burnout.
Here’s my 5 step guide for how to face and make valuable a burnout:
1. Get used to saying: “This is what it looks like.” When someone (read: your mother) tells you how much she wishes you had a stable job, repeat back to her: “I appreciate your concern, but this is what it looks like to be me.” When friends start giving you grief for not having enough time for them, say: “I totally hear you and I can’t wait for that to return because it will. Until then, this is what it looks like to be me.” When your own dear, amazing monkey mind starts criticizing you for not being perfect, simply pad those thoughts with, “This is what it looks like to do the hard things.” The point here is that your hustle, your struggle, your late nights, your mistakes, your lack of money, your inability to be a good friend are part of the process. They are temporary, if you let them be. But, they are 100 percent normal and they are 100 percent surmountable in time. For now, this is exactly what it looks like to make amazing things happen.
2. Nix the tasks that you are not good at. Many times, burnouts happen because you are trying to do things that you are simply not good at. And while I know you are gifted and I know you could figure it out, I promise that it won’t be for the benefit of anyone. And, the longer you ignore this fact, the more likely it is that you will cause irreparable harm to your business and your life. Walk away from the stuff you can’t do well and focus on things you are good at! You are enough exactly as you are right now and you do not need to expand, develop, or broaden until you have the right resources to support that.
3. Surround yourself with positive role models. When I’m in a low spot, it’s easy to find lots of folks around me who will echo the need to quit. It’s not their fault, they are concerned and they are expressing care. However, you have to be discerning and choose to surround yourself with people who support you and your goals. If there isn’t anyone, cut out magazine articles of people who are doing the impossible and of warriors who have pushed through the hard parts of their journey. Write quotes on post-it notes that remind you to stay attached to your mission. Listen to podcasts like Tara Brach, Tim Ferriss, and How I Built This every time you feel a pang of darkness. Cancel out sources of negativity like it’s your job. During a burnout, you are a sponge and you will absorb what is around you. It becomes essential that you protect your vulnerable state and fill it up with inspiration only.
4. Shove off traditional notions of self-care. When I’m in a burnout, a spa day isn’t going to save me. Everyone will tell you to go on vacation and to get a massage, but I will beg you not to do that. I believe that burnouts are symptoms of you pleading for perspective and creative space, which means they require exertion outside of your normal routine. Find an adventure. Exercise every single day. Go on a hike in nature. Unplug from social media. Go take a weird dance class or head to a boxing gym. Watch your favorite classic movies all in one day while eating cheese puffs and chocolate. Get wild. Your burnout will become instantly friendly.
5. Say to yourself on repeat: I can handle this. I leave this one instruction for last because it is the most important. I know that you can handle this burnout. And I know you know you can. However, with all the stress coursing through your body, the reality is that your nervous system might start to feel like it cannot handle it. And then your mind will start sending alerts along those lines and you’ll start to have tangible evidence for why you can’t handle it. Panic attacks. Giant stress breakouts all over your beautiful face. Insomnia. Headaches. Heart palpitations. Etc. However, if you can remember that growth is designed to challenge your nervous system to become more evolved, then you can say to yourself, “I can handle this.” The moment you do that, your beautiful spine can stand up tall and get in the fight with you, instead of slinking away. And then the next burnout will just be another training session for yet another layer of success.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."