Successful entrepreneurs aren’t exempt from burnout but are candidates for it. The high demand of running a thriving business can push even the most passionate person into a state of exhaustion and dissatisfaction. Unaddressed, burnout can have profound effects on your personal and professional life.
My guest today serves the rule of happiness and offers a very unique solution. Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty and I’m very excited to be joined by Dr. Manuel Astruc, to share stories and learn how we can all develop a healthy mindset around life and work.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: All right everyone, I’m super excited to jump into today’s episode with my man, Manuel, also known as Manny. Manny, how are you feeling today?
Dr. Manuel Astruc: I’m excited. I’m excited to be here, thank you.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, absolutely. I’m really happy to have you really talk about something very important and kind of close to me as well. Your new book, Happiness Rules: Beat Burnout, Embrace Happiness and Become a Better Entrepreneur.
I mean, let’s be honest, man, our world today, we glorify entrepreneurship but the reality is, it’s very difficult, right? And the balancing of life and work could be that much more hectic.
So I kind of want to start off by giving our audience just a little bit about you and your personal background and sort of how you came to this topic and writing about it.
Dr. Manuel Astruc: I’m a psychiatrist and I’m the one who supposed to be helping people and in September 2008, I hit a wall. I was just very, very burnt out and it’s something that had been building up for years. I knew I was headed in that direction but I didn’t really take any steps to change anything. I really didn’t think about it too much.
I [was] just kind of head down, working as hard as I could, lots of hours seeing patients, successful private practice, and the month before — so September — I hit my bottom. In August 23rd of 2008, my twin sister, Magdalena passed away. She’d been battling a brain tumor, brain cancer for years and she just handled the entire experience with a smile on her face, a lot of positivity.
A lot of happiness around it, gratitude, and the bottom that I was hitting and how she handled her circumstances, I was healthy, I had a thriving practice and I was miserable and I was literally looking at a picture of her and I made a commitment. I’m going to enjoy the ride, no matter what and it was really a moment of drawing a line in the sand and it was a moment of truth. I had to make some changes and that was the beginning of the transformation for me.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow, that is, first of all, I’m sorry for your loss, but that is such a powerful thing to just feel to begin your journey to a better health, right? To better mental health and how we see the world, how we see our own journeys in the eyes of others.
Again, I’m sorry for your loss but I’m grateful that it empowered you in such a way to really change and kind of get out of that moment of despair. I think for entrepreneurs, no matter what you do out there in the world, solopreneur, working with a team, we find ourselves in these dark areas sometimes and we need a sign, a reminder, something that can help us come out of that.
In my book, I talk about in that moment of despair and I was in Iraq, so there was a war happening when I was very young, I talk about hope a lot and I feel like, for me, my hope was surrounded by family. Thank God I was a kid and so for you, it sounds like that moment of hope was just kind of analyzing your situation and the world around you and what your sister was going through and readjusting how you see the world.
Can you tell me a little bit about sort of the mist of burnout? Sort of, what led you there? How did you turn that around? I know your sister played a role but what were the steps moving forward that you decided to take to turn those things around? I know also, around that time, we were kind of heading into a recession. So what did you do?
Dr. Manuel Astruc: The burnout was caused, really, it was just this dogged determination to make ends meet no matter what. I had six kids, two from my first marriage, two from my marriage at that point and then there were two step-kids. There was college, there was bills, there were, lots of payments going out and I knew how to work hard.
That was like, at that point, it was my superpower. So what I needed more revenue, more income to pay bills, I just dotted hours and I said, “I’ll just work as hard as I can as long as I can.” There were 12-hour days of seeing patients back to back to back and after a day of seeing patients, it would be a couple of hours of calling in prescriptions, returning phone calls to patients and that led to the classic symptoms of burnout.
So there’s a mental and physical exhaustion. You start to get this cynical, snarky attitude and you start to find that you’re losing your effectiveness at work. So all of that was getting progressively worse and the first thing that really transformed the process for me was that commitment that I was no longer going to indulge the negative thinking that I was spiraling around.
So I was kind of wallowing in the cesspool of negativity. Like, “This is terrible, this is awful, this is… I’m going to be working like this the rest of my life.” It was just nonstop. Anything that you can think of, negative that was going on in life with absolutely no gratitude or ability to pull myself back from that and that was the first thing that I really did.
I made that commitment to stop letting myself go there. I put up blinders to that negativity and just focused on what was in front of me and I made a couple of really simple changes right off the bat. I stopped watching the news. I loved sports radio but even sports radio in the morning, I would listen to it going into work but even that had turned into something that was more about drama rather than excellence.
I turned that off. I had a lot of podcasts that I would listen to, a lot of really positive, empowering podcasts. I focused on moving more so I have previously tried to develop an exercise habit then I would be good for a week and then I would fall off the wagon but I just made a commitment, you know, a couple of minutes a day. Let me just, like, get the habit down, something that was really low-hanging fruit and it was really out of desperation.
Not that I knew that that was actually researched back, that starting with low-hanging fruit is super useful when developing new habits but a couple of minutes of exercise. I knew I needed to change my nutrition and rather than change everything, I just like changed my breakfast. I have a couple of minutes of working out and then I made a smoothie instead of grabbing a bagel and lastly, I focused on making sure that I was getting better sleep.
So rather than just kind of working hard and doing stuff that was robbing me of my sleep, I set a bedtime and a wakeup time and I stuck to that and those were the very first steps that I took that I was able to focus on as — and I didn’t necessarily believe that they were going to do anything but that was going to be something different than what I was doing and they ended up being incredibly helpful.
The House Rules
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, they sound extremely powerful and it also sounds like you kind of took the control back, right? Control back from these, “This is what you can control.” You can control how your day can go, you can control when you go to bed, when you wake up, you know, though it’s rough around the edges especially when you’re really being intentional about it but it’s that repurposing those habits and you know, eating a little bit better.
What I consume, meaning, what I hear, what I listen, what I watch and what I eat, and what I read, all have to have this a positive outlook on things so that it changes my internal mindset which I just love man, because you know, I think as entrepreneurs, sometimes, we — I’ll be honest with you.
So in 2016, I lost my father. In the midst of that, I had eight employees. I had a big printing operation which is like a big print shop. Apparel printing, all that stuff and you know, after that man, I just – I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do. I got into that business because I couldn’t get into the architecture world and it was really difficult because after I graduated, we were in the middle of the recession.
So, I kind of did this work out of desperation but I did it so well and so long and so often like you, like 12, 14, 15 hour days, kind of put my head down and went there, I got extremely unhealthy. Like, I was earning money, I was paying my things but then I looked up all of a sudden, my father was gone. I amassed like, some debt, I was building my business and I found myself in a way, extremely burnt out.
I was so exhausted. I couldn’t even fake a smile anymore and so, for the next four years, I literally did everything in my power to figure out a way to sell my business in a healthy way and like you, I had to change what I listen to, what I was thinking about. So I just appreciate that perspective so much and you illuminate that throughout your book by talking about setting up rules.
Can you walk me through a little bit? There was four sections basically that you go into, four sort of outlines and they’re all around these specific rules. Can you share with us some of the rules that you believe happiness has to have in order for us to, I guess, progress through that?
Dr. Manuel Astruc: Yeah and the way that I came up with these rules, I had been doing some research and reading and exploration of what is happiness and there’s an author, Shawn Acre, who has a definition of happiness that I’ve borrowed and he says, it comes from the ancient Greeks.
He says that happiness is the feeling of joy that you get as you strive to fulfill your potential and I just — I loved that and I was talking about that with people and what was missing was like, “What are the action steps that help you to know that you’re doing this thing?” You know, feeling of joy as you strive to fulfill your potential because embedded in there is the fact that number one, embrace the suck.
You can be feeling joy after the workout but in the middle of a workout, when your muscles burning and you’re sucking in air, you may not be having a great time. So you embrace that and there’s also a component that Dan Sullivan of strategic coach puts really eloquently. He says, you know, “Make your future bigger than your past” but what I found I had done connecting the dots backwards were these rules.
So the first two rules are, the house rules, which we talked about briefly. Get your body into shape, get your mind into shape. The next two rules are around growth and number one there is connection, the power of our relationships. There is so much evidence that our relationships in the long run are the most powerful correlations to happiness and health and people as they age and also learning and growing, like you’ve always got to be learning and growing, right?
Developing yourself personally and engaging with the world and then the last two rules are really the purpose rules. Blazing your own trail, where you really look for purpose and meaning in your life, you look at what you’re curious about, what you are good at and you make this determination that blaze your own trail. Figure out what your life is about and one of the things that was true for me was that growing up and until I hit my bottom, I was living a life by default.
There was a path to become successful as a psychiatrist and then involve working and seeing patients and then you know, having a house and family but everything is by default and what I came to believe, what I have come to believe is that happiness is not the outcome of a successful life. If we make happiness and flourishing the engine that drives our life then success becomes the outcome of the happiness rules.
The last rule was, in the book it’s resiliency but it is really about this commitment to enjoy the ride with an understanding that life has suffering and there’s going to be obstacles, there is going to be curve balls, there is going to be adversity that we have to face but developing that mindset of resiliency and acceptance and being able to overcome adversity while maintaining our peace of mind is super important.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. My whole book was about the ideas of resilience, art, and all the things that come between you and things that you are striving for and they’re not necessarily against you but in some way, shape, or form, they’re there to help sort of unpack more of yourself, more of your purpose. With all of those things kind of being said, how did you make that transformation?
So for example, you went through the late 2000s, you kind of started working on yourself, improving those things, applying these rules to yourself and I’m sure, also teaching them to others, where do you find yourself today? Like how have all these things that you’ve put into practice, how have they helped you? Where are you at now as far as like your mental health, your balance of work-life? How are the kids, are they well taken care of or are you feeling good about all those things that you once faced?
Dr. Manuel Astruc: It is all a work in progress. From a mental perspective, I feel like orders of magnitude better than I ever did. My life doesn’t look that much different, if we were to look at how many hours I’m working and it is not any different but my mental attitude is so much better. There’s spirit and energy and a desire to take on more challenges. I am launching this book, I’ve got a coaching practice besides my psychiatric practice.
My psychiatric practice is growing and I am bringing in additional technologies. I am bringing in additional prescribers and practitioners. So it’s all really exciting. What I tell people though is it’s been a very long runway. So if we go back to 2008 to where I am now, it’s been slow, steady, progressive changes and I have tried a lot of things along the way. The thread that goes through it, it was always trying things that allowed me to learn and to figure some more things out.
It was taking a step adjacent to where I am, so it was making a move that did not require too much energy, time, resources, money. So for instance, I thought at one point that I wanted to teach on a psychiatric disorder that many people were not familiar with and is often misdiagnosed, it’s bipolar type two and so I spent a chunk of time putting up YouTube videos on it, giving conferences on it.
Videotaping and I ultimately decided I didn’t really want to be teaching about illness. I wanted to do something more positive but as a result of that experience, one thing I discovered was that I loved being on a stage and talking and sharing and teaching what I knew and that is something that I wouldn’t have figured out unless I’ve had that experience. All these adjacent possibles, learning things, trying things, and always keeping in mind the big vision for me, which is to help more people, to help more people and it probably took me 12 years to kind of hone in on that message and be able to say it simply.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, it takes a lot of time to sort of harness all of these things and bring them together, so that the pattern of the tapestry is really comforting, right? It is the pattern of what you know, what you learned, your experiences and what you teach, and what you’d like to teach, and the message all sort of line up in alignment to serve your people, your readers, whoever you work with and most importantly, yourself, your wellbeing.
Which I just appreciate so much, so there are many entrepreneurs out there, including myself, what would you say like what would be like one thing that they could start practicing, let’s say this weekend, that you would want people to do, take action on and what would be that one thing if they were to read your book and walk away from it, what would be that one thing that they would do to start practicing today that would really help them in the long run?
Dr. Manuel Astruc: I think it is adjacent to what you had said earlier about starting to take control of those things you can control and I was asked this question some years ago. I was at my first entrepreneurial mastermind and there was this U-shaped table with a bunch of entrepreneurs and they were going through talking about their business problems and what they wanted to get out of the mastermind.
I was sweating bullets because I am a psychiatrist and I had never really talked about business but when it came to be my turn, I was talking about, “I’m a psychiatrist but I also think I want to do coaching and helping people in different ways and I’m not exactly sure how to frame that out or what I need to be doing” and there was a lawyer across from me and he asked me like, “What’s the one thing you would tell people to help them to change their lives?”
I actually waffled on that, I refused to answer. It was a cowardly move on my part, I said, “It’s too complicated. We can’t possibly have one thing for everybody” but I thought about that answer for years and what I’ve come with it is that, we need to remember that we have choice that the superpower that we have is that no matter what the circumstance is, we have choice and sometimes that choice is to do a couple of pushups or to work on our attitude or to sleep.
But to remember that there is hope, there is choice and that if you can imagine a future that is different than what it is today, hope is all about kind of coming to believe that that future is possible and that there is pathways and you’re empowered to be able to get there, just give yourself that runway, right? A long runway to make the changes that you need.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful and so on point as far as you know, as entrepreneurs. Sometimes we dwell on the things that are outside of our control and we allow those worries and those things to kind of spiral us into different corners of despair and I love what you said by re-energizing yourself knowing that you do have a choice and that choice may be as simple as to go outside and take a breather, do some pushups.
Do something that makes you feel good in that moment and then readjust, rethink things through and go back in the world and do your best. I love that so much, the idea of knowing what you can control and knowing what is outside of your control is a very stoic philosophy but it also applies to literally everything. I think once I harnessed that idea back when I was younger, I think I fully engulfed myself in that post my father’s passing, I realized that you know, no matter how much I have to live, it’s still, I don’t want to say short.
But I got to make the most of it and making the most of it means I got to make the best decision that I can make in that moment and move on and so yeah, I feel like sometimes those what feels like hopeless moments really helped define our character and who we become.
Dr. Manuel Astruc: You know, it’s exactly right and what happens is that we get lost in our own thoughts, in our own misery and you know, that’s the story that we tell ourselves. We sort of fall asleep to that reality. That is the only reality that we have and to just make a shift to doing a couple of pushups, our asleep brain, our brain that is fully engrossed in that suffering will say, “That’s not going to change anything. Like why would you even try?” but the very act of not listening and taking control of those things that you have the ability to control is how change gets started.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: You are 100% right. I love and appreciate your message. Manuel, I have learned so much today. Thank you for sharing your stories, your experiences with us. Happiness Rules: Beat Burnout, Embrace Happiness, and Become a Better Entrepreneur, your new book, is out now. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you and perhaps signup for some coaching or sign up for some psychiatric help as well as far as psychology and all these good things that you offer, where can people discover you?
Dr. Manuel Astruc: The best place to go is to my website. It’s Manuel Astruc, so manuelastruc.com, and that is my coaching website. My practice website is manuelastrucmd.com. The coaching website, there is a signup sheet that will get you some regular inspiration into your inbox and the weekly newsletter.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love it. Thank you so much for joining me today, Manuel. Again, I have learned so much. I’m excited to dive deeper into your book, pick up some more gems. If you’re out there and you’re an entrepreneur, I think we’re all sort of headed in a weird direction sometimes to our own greatness, sometimes to burnout and those kinds of things, so you’d want to balance yourself out.
Manuel’s new book, it tackles those things in a very beautiful way, so I highly recommend it, get out there and get it. Again, thank you all for joining. I’m Hussein, we’ll talk soon.