This is a guest post from SheStarts founder, Danielle Owen Whitford, on burnout, stress and what sparked the idea for her startup, Pioneera


It was time.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

As the reality of that statement set in, a tingling of fear crept up my spine. I knew that once I admitted this to myself, surely I had to do something about it. But I was too exhausted to even think about a next step. I just needed to get out of what was happening now. It wasn’t a rational thought, it was an instinct, an urge to run.

I was baffled by this feeling, as I’d never felt this before. Or if I had, I’d never admitted it to myself. Then the words came out of my mouth “I don’t want to do this anymore” and I looked at my boss shocked to hear my own voice admitting it whilst fighting back the tears. He smiled at me kindly and said “OK”.

Feeling the burn

I didn’t realise until it was too late that I was burnt out. Gratefully, my experience of burnout sparked a passion to help others and prevent this from happening to other people. Through SheStarts, I founded a startup, Pioneera, which uses AI to help predict and prevent stress, so nobody ends up fighting back tears in their bosses office like I did.

“I think it’s a real crunch culture and I think people do really glorify it all the time – how many hours we do a week and that it has to be done that way.”

– Megan Flamer, Xcelerate Director on That Startup Show’s Turnout & Burnout episode

And now I get to spend time sharing this message of self-care and stress prevention. I recently was on the panel of That Startup Show’s Turnout & Burnout episode with Xcelerate Director and mindfulness consultant, Megan Flamer. It’s fantastic that these conversations about wellbeing and stress in the workplace are becoming more visible.

Danielle Owen Whitford speaking with That Startup Show host, Rae Johnston.

Danielle Owen Whitford speaking with That Startup Show host, Rae Johnston.

The lure of the corporate job

Big corporate roles were all I’d ever known. I loved the adrenaline, the opportunity and the chance to truly make a difference. The roles got bigger, the scopes got broader and my impact got wider.

So, how had I gotten to the point of burnout?

I was burnt out and nobody knew – least of all me. I wish I had seen some of the signs earlier and perhaps that tearful heart-wrenching conversation would have been different.

Of course the signs were there, I just studiously ignored them!

I am lucky my boss at the time (the 3rd in 5 months) was kind and generous and he knew me well, so it all worked out for the best.

After reflecting and recovering, I realised there were some key things I missed, that I won’t miss next time, so there isn’t a next time!

What I learned I could’ve done better:

I worked way too much.

It was common for me to work from 7am until midnight with a break from about 6-8pm to put my children to bed and have “parenting” time. It’s excruciating to admit, but my work came before my kids. I had no down time, no time to recharge the batteries and was mentally and physically exhausted. I was probably also a pretty average mum.

“People are thinking that ‘oh maybe this isn’t worth costing all of my relationships and wellbeing’?”

– Megan Flamer, Xcelerate Director on That Startup Show’s Turnout & Burnout episode

I had no other hobbies other than work and kids.

My life was work, work, work! I joked that I had two jobs (both parent and employee) and that was all I did. There was little joy or fun in my life and very little adventure and exploration – which I’ve now realised I love and need to have in my life.

I let nobody in.

I didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling or what I was thinking for a long time. I soldiered on, expecting that if everyone else could do it, so could I. It’s not that I didn’t have people in my life – I had and continue to be blessed with incredible friends and family, but talking to them felt like I had failed. My life looked so great on the outside, how could I feel like that on the inside? What right did I have to that?

“Find people around you that you can trust which is really important. Realize it’s ok to ask for help. And have one or two people you can be really vulnerable with.”

– Danielle Owen Whitford, founder of Pioneera on That Startup Show’s Turnout & Burnout episode

I measured success based on title and money.

Yes, I was one of those people. I could buy designer shoes (don’t tell my mum!) and travel business class and I loved all of that. What I didn’t have was the relationships that would sustain my soul and help me create a full life.

Prevention is the best

Slowly but surely over a period of years I recognised how I needed to change and I did it. I am now happy, healthy and running businesses that help people do the same and look after themselves.

My burnout actually was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because it forced me to reset, evaluate how I was working and has now enabled me to help others through Pioneera.

But the startup world is proven to be full of its own stresses and risks. And awareness of your health and wellbeing is the first step to prevention.

But don’t wait for this to happen to you – it’s a long, painful road back and you can short cut it by learning from those like me.

A new way forward

If you know your workplace needs to nudge people towards better wellbeing and work-life balance, contact and Pioneera could help. Reduce stress before it burns you out, like it did me.


Watch the series of That Startup Show. Final episode released on Tuesday Sept 18th. 

Want to prevent stress at your workplace? Get in touch with Danielle at Pioneera

Filed under:   burnout   founders   pioneera   self care   startups   stress