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I burned out chasing money and hustle culture's standards. Now, I'm taking a 'no shame' approach to my business.

Charissa Cheong   

I burned out chasing money and hustle culture's standards. Now, I'm taking a 'no shame' approach to my business.
  • When Deya Aliaga's business hit a multi-six-figure revenue, her next goal was a seven-figure year.
  • She pressured herself to work harder but found herself burned out and making less income.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Deya Aliaga, 28, from Berlin, about changing her approach to entrepreneurship. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I launched my own business, "Digital Business Manager Bootcamp," in April 2020.

Prior to that, I worked as a freelance online business manager for around four years. I helped clients, including bloggers, content creators, and entrepreneurs with digital products, build their dream businesses. I felt a growing call to become an entrepreneur myself, and in January 2020, I started working on my own business idea. I packaged my knowledge into an eight-module course called the "DBM Bootcamp," which has become my business' signature program about how to be a digital business manager.

My business has brought in over $700,000 in revenue since it launched in April 2020.

Around two to three years into being a business owner, I began putting pressure on myself to bring in seven figures a year. Other entrepreneurs were sharing their hustle content, and I felt like I wasn't working hard enough to build my business. It made me stressed and ashamed.

Comparing myself to other entrepreneurs wasn't serving me or my business. I slowly transitioned into a "cozy entrepreneur," where I set boundaries with work and am kinder to myself. It's cured my burnout and made me more productive.

I was hard on myself when I was aiming to bring in seven figures

My business hit a multi-six-figure revenue in 2021. That year, I put more pressure on myself to work more hours and launch more products and services. I invested more into mentorship, professional development, and hiring more people to delegate to.

I wanted to aim for seven figures. I didn't have a timeline, but I felt it should be the next goal.

I was watching more entrepreneurship content on YouTube. When the entrepreneurs shared their advice, their delivery was super rushed, and I felt their underlying message was you need to maximize your productivity constantly, or you'll lose money. It made me feel like I wasn't doing enough.

I went into "hard entrepreneurship" mode, pressuring myself to be faster and more productive. I'd aim to wake up early, by 9 a.m. latest. I'd make ambitious to-do lists and feel like I'd failed if I didn't finish everything.

I always had this little voice saying, "Why aren't you doing more? Everybody else is starting work at 5 a.m. You're not good enough."

I was constantly frustrated, burned out, and overwhelmed. I wasn't seeing a financial reward either. Revenue began to decrease.

Last year, I asked myself what it would be like if I started being nicer to myself. It was a gradual process: I slowly began making changes, and now I can't imagine returning to that hustle mentality.

I stopped shaming myself and set boundaries around work

I started using "soft entrepreneur" and "cozy entrepreneur" around a year ago. I was brainstorming ideas for YouTube videos. People associate entrepreneurship with grinding hard, so the opposite would be a soft approach. I took inspiration from "cozy gaming," a genre focused on a relaxed approach to online gaming.

One step I took toward becoming a "soft entrepreneur" was implementing a "no-shame policy."

I'd regularly call my entrepreneur friend. If she said she wasn't getting enough work done, I'd respond with encouragement and tell her it's more important she spends time with family, but I wasn't treating myself the same way.

I decided to consciously shut down that little voice of shame in my head until it became quieter and spoke less. I'm more compassionate with myself now.

I don't set an alarm or force myself to work 9-to-5

I don't even set an alarm these days. On average, I start work around 10 a.m., but sometimes, I go to a café and won't start until 10:30 a.m. or 11. I've realized I can trust myself to finish the work, so there's nothing to shame myself about. In my opinion, business success has nothing to do with hours worked but is about the impact of the work.

I maintain really strict boundaries around work. I don't work on weekends. Most days, I'll close my laptop by 5 p.m., and I intentionally don't work beyond six hours a day.

Previously, I wanted to work as many hours as I could. I thought eight hours was the standard because that's what people do in a 9-to-5, but I couldn't manage it.

Research shows that people who work 9 to 5 aren't productive for eight hours. Ideation is important in entrepreneurship, and it's hard to force ideas when sitting at your laptop.

I've spoken to entrepreneurs who say they love their work and don't want to stop doing it in the evenings or at weekends, but I've been intentional about building hobbies I'm excited about outside work.

I've started playing more games, including board and video games, making friends in my city, and reading more fiction. These activities have helped me detach my identity from my business.

The 'cozy entrepreneur' approach is making me a better person and business owner

It's too early to tell how these changes might affect revenue at my business, but I think the "soft entrepreneur" approach will be more profitable in the long run because I feel more productive and creative.

I'm more comfortable with risk and generate more ideas now. Plus, I feel less overwhelmed and trust myself more.

The hardest part has been shutting down that negative inner voice. It's always sneaking in, but I remind myself this approach is making me a better person and business owner.

Initially, I was worried that working fewer hours would lead to less output and judgment from others that I was lazy. Ultimately, I found that I got the same if not more, done, and it doesn't matter what others think. It's not their life.

I see myself sticking with "soft entrepreneurship" for the foreseeable future. The rules I set for myself might change with my circumstances, but the core principles, like being compassionate with myself and refusing to chase "more" for the sake of it, will remain the same.

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