Academy Xi Blog

Avis Mulhall on the Entrepreneurial Burnout

By Academy Xi

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Creator, Doer, Explorer: this is the official title of Avis Mulhall. She’s a serial entrepreneur and the face behind Sydney’s largest change-maker community Think Act Change. But during the peak of her career while climbing the startup “success” ladder, she experienced two burnouts — one that even put her in intensive care.

“I was lying in the bed and the surgeon said: ‘There is nothing more we can do for you,’” describes Avis.

“In that moment, it was like being a movie where the light flashes before your eyes. All I could see were the things I didn’t do in my life, and all I could hear were those conversations I was discouraged to say.”

In that moment, Avis knew she wanted to guide not only herself, but others through navigating their life. She wanted to help people understand that life is not about proving yourself to someone else, but rather about creating a meaningful life for yourself.

Six years ago, Avis began working on her own startup mmMule, a social network that connected travellers to locals (much like what Airbnb Experience is doing today). After a burnout and a stint in the intensive care ward, she quit her job and moved on to the next thing. That next thing was Remarkable, Australia’s first disability-focused impact accelerator.

From the outside, people may have viewed Avis as a success: as someone who tried and failed at one startup and moved swiftly on to the next. She followed her dreams and built a company with a social impact — her calling in life.

But Avis warns not to put entrepreneurs on a pedestal and envision them as the pinnacle of success.

“[Entrepreneurs] are the exact same as us. They have the same struggles, the same fears and anxieties,” Avis explains. “The difference is that they do it anyway and they don’t let fears or anxieties hold them back.”

Avis was always a person who worked on 12 projects at once, but as she continued driving Remarkable forward she noticed her health once again begin to decline. As a sufferer of Crohn’s disease, Avis would push herself to do what everyone else did, pushing aside what her body was telling her. When she got sick for the second time, she told herself to quit and then walked away from it all.

“For me, the biggest thing in walking away from Remarkable was that I walked away from everything,” she recalls.

“It was scary and intimidating: walking away from my salary, visa and everything I’d built and created over the last eight years. There’s a beauty to going ‘holy crap I can do anything.’ And there’s also that ‘holy crap I can do anything…where do I start?’”

Doing nothing for a while is precisely where Avis found an immense power. In this pause in her career, Avis developed a framework around balancing business with self care. She began to teach other CEOs how to build their life around their business, instead of focusing solely on their business alone.

Today, Avis works with all types of people: from students at UTS, to team leads at Apple. She talks about Entrepreneurial burnout — and the importance for people to pause and reinvent their future. She uses a framework to help other career-driven individuals add balance to the rat race and create a greater purpose within the businesses they are a part of.

“There’s the work we do to create money, but there’s the other type of work we do: which is actually just working on ourselves — which is the biggest part of the picture if you ask me,” Avis explains.

You are the biggest design project of them all. You are the biggest creative project— so what are you going to paint the world with?”

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Have you ever felt overwhelmed, overworked, and just down right ‘over it’? If you feel yourself nodding in agreement, you may have suffered a burnout.