Sampler founder and CEO Marie Chevrier.

Futurpreneur’s upcoming event on Mental Health & Entrepreneurship, the latest in our Trailblazers series, features young entrepreneurs offering personal stories about the highs and lows of business ownership—and how they manage through it all.

That topic certainly hits home for entrepreneur Marie Chevrier.

Chevrier. who is moderating the event, is the founder and CEO of Sampler, a platform that helps brands deliver samples online and build one-on-one relationships with their customers. The idea stemmed from her job handing out flyers as a brand ambassador in college, an experience that taught her how “untargeted and unmeasurable” product sampling can be. After getting her start in the VC world, Chevrier eventually got up the courage to start her own business in 2013; seven years later, Sampler has reached over 50 million consumers in 24 different countries and now has 32 employees. This growth, while impressive, took a toll on the company founder.

Last fall, after going through a period of burnout, Chevrier wrote a widely-shared essay on her LinkedIn page detailing her experiences in the hopes of breaking down stigma around mental health struggles and helping other small business owners recognize and deal with burnout.

On October 22, Chevrier will be moderating Trailblazers: Mental Health and Entrepreneurship, a virtual panel discussion featuring young Canadian entrepreneurs. The event, hosted by Futurpreneur in partnership with BDC, aims to foster greater openness on the topic of mental health in the entrepreneurial community. We spoke to Chevrier about her experiences.

(This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.)

Why did you want to participate in this event?

Mental health is something that’s super important to me, certainly because of my own experience. Over the last seven years building a business, and even before when I worked in companies, agencies, high-stress jobs like that – I always recognized it was kind of a taboo thing to say: “I’m not okay.” It was way easier to say, “I’m not coming in because I have a cough” than to say “I’m not coming in because I feel like absolute crap mentally and I’m struggling.” I don’t think it should be.

The people that I work with, anyone who would be attending [this event] – they’re all over-achievers, right? It’s only warranted that at some point, over-achievement hits its limit and gets to a point where you take a pause. It’s a passion of mine to make it less taboo.

Entrepreneurship is a risky, often stressful proposition. What was it like reconciling taking that leap of faith with your own mental health?

A big part of my anxiety is fear of the unknown. It seems kind of crazy to think that I’d take the path of entrepreneurship, but it’s something that comes with the trade. In a corporate environment. I [experienced] that pressure from peers or career advancement or strict deadlines, whereas in a startup environment, you’re paving the path, and often, the path is really unclear. Needing to figure that out comes with a lot of anxiety.

One often-used term is ‘impostor syndrome’ – “Oh my god, can I really do this?” Especially as a founder – at the beginning, you have to [create a path] early on for yourself. Now I’m paving the path for our employees, but also the people who have invested millions of dollars in my company. The stress doesn’t go away – it amplifies.

One question that really helps me with anxiety is, “What’s the worst case? What have you got to lose?” Funny enough, the moment I thought I should start the business was the moment I was lowest in multiple facets of my life. The startup I was previously at had just failed, I was living in New York and lost my visa, had to move back to Canada, and was really low on cash. My then-boyfriend and future husband lived in New York and I couldn’t stay there, so I had to come back to Canada. My friend took me in to her house and let me stay on her couch, and I was like, “Eh, seems like a great time to start a company!” It’s that ironic moment of, “How much worse could it go?”

That’s not to say you should always start a company at your lowest point. But I always ask myself, what would happen if tomorrow, god forbid, everything we built went away? That always helps. I meditate with that. I meditate [envisioning] the headline “Sampler shuts down!” just to feel like I can feel comfortable with that.

Tell us about the reaction you received to your LinkedIn post.

I got a lot of people saying “Thank you so much – that was so brave of you” directly on the post. But I actually got double the amount of people who messaged me privately. Surprisingly, a lot of men were messaging me privately, versus women in my network being maybe more public about their acknowledgement. And some men called that out – saying “Not enough men talk about it.” Other people said they went through something similar – “I didn’t really know what I was going through, but I think I’m approaching a burnout.”

I think people want real, right? My biggest worry [in writing that post] was, “How would my team react to hearing their boss talk about burnout?” But I think it made me a better leader, having those moments of relatability. I also wanted everyone to know that nobody’s immune. Your company could be doing really well, but mentally, you could be reaching that [breaking] point.

How do you deal with stress?

I took my meditation teacher training this year, just before the pandemic. My routine has been, over the last few months, not so great – but typically I end my work day with a meditation. When we could go into studio, that was really helpful because there was one right across the street. It would really divide my day. There’s a crazy amount of adrenaline that goes through a day of back-to-back meetings and exciting conversations. I found that I needed it to truly simmer down. That was my strategy. Now at home, I find morning meditation is more feasible.

I also tried to restructure the way I organize my time. I did a pie chart of how I spend my week a few days ago and found I actually spend a lot of time on strategy, which is great, but it’s scheduled all over in the week, not in one concentrated day.

Ask yourself, what is my mind thinking about when my mind is at rest? When I’m not in the tasks, what am I thinking about? How many of those thoughts are negative thoughts versus positive thoughts? If you are constantly thinking about something and it’s negatively impacting you, how do you isolate it and then put [those thoughts] away in a more organized way?

What’s your advice for someone who thinks they may be approaching burnout?

Just stop if you’re reaching that moment. Be very open to the people around you; for me it was [Sampler’s] leadership team. I had to tell them, “Hey, I’m really not doing well. I’m needing to take some time.” It’s obviously really hard to go to full stop, but I started working four days a week. I feel like there isn’t a perfect time to stop for anyone – but if you don’t, you’ll be forced to stop in a worse way.

There’s a time in the day where you know you’re not productive anymore. It’s similar with burnout – you need to stop, because it’s just gonna take you three times more time to do the same thing, and that has a cumulative effect.

Thankfully, we’re in Canada, and there’s so much great support available. You can find a way to stop. It might not be a 100 per cent stop, but you may need to pause for a little bit.

Trailblazers: Mental Health & Entrepreneurship will be held virtually on October 22. Learn more here.

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