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Interview: Tracy Lawrence
On Psychedelics, Founder Burnout, and How To Heal
(Photo by Helena Price)
Tracy Lawrence, originally from Los Angeles, California, has a rich background in entrepreneurship, cultivated from a young age in a business-oriented family. Her passion for business led her to launch Chewse, an innovative catering service, during her college years at the University of Southern California. Chewse's mission was to transform office meal experiences into communal gatherings, fostering a sense of belonging and togetherness.
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Under Tracy's leadership as CEO, the company expanded to 300 employees, served over 700,000 customers, and was part of a rapidly growing $55 billion catering industry. Tracy's success with Chewse, which included raising $40 million in venture capital, earned her a place in Forbes 30 Under 30 in the “Food & Drink” category in 2018. At 30, she sold Chewse to Foodee, a Canadian office catering platform.
After selling Chewse, Tracy ventured into the field of psychedelic integration and trauma-informed executive coaching. Drawing from her vast entrepreneurial experience, as well as her personal journey through depression, burnout, and physical illness, she now aids founders dealing with similar challenges, emphasizing the use of plant medicine and somatic work. Her role as a Psychedelic Integration Specialist and Trauma-Informed Coach allows her to guide others towards finding calm, clarity, and self-love during life transitions and mental health struggles. She lives in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Founder Things readers can have a free introductory consultation with Tracy—just reply to this email and I’ll put you in touch.
Okay. Hello! It feels funny saying a formal hello because this is just what we do. We already talk about this stuff for hours on end. So thank you for being here.
Oh my god. You're so welcome. We've been talking about this for so long, so this feels like the perfect place to have another conversation.
So for those reading, Tracy was my executive coach. And so we have a very unique history. We met in a professional capacity, when I was a CEO with thirty employees. We also met during what would become the hardest time of my life, both professionally and personally. And so Tracy not only was a witness to that, but she coached me through it. And I cannot imagine a better person to do that for me based on her own experience as an entrepreneur, and based on her practice of integrating healing into her work. These are all things that we'll dig in on. But I couldn't have asked for a better person for the job. And after our wild ride working together, we’ve developed an amazing friendship that has been so rewarding. So I can't wait to have a conversation about all of it.
Oh my god, we signed up for such a wild ride. I had no idea. But I knew when Khalid introduced you, I was like, “This has to be a very special person.” Because Khalid was my coach at Reboot. So for him to make the introduction, he knows me to my core. And for him to match us together, he knew that magic was going to be made. And he was right.
Absolutely. And you know, you not only coached me through some of the hardest emotional times in my life, but you quite literally coached me through professional obstacles that I could have never comprehended. And as fate would have it, you'd experienced a lot of these obstacles yourself. It’s just another reason you’re so good at this work.
But let’s get on with it. What drew you to coaching?
I built my own company called Chewse, and I ran that company for 10 years. We were a venture-backed company. We'd raised $40 million. We had 300 employees at one point. Over that period, I grew a lot. I failed a lot. I learned a bunch.
I ended up selling the company in 2020. But it was a very, very rough process. Because just as we were selling, COVID hit. And we sold to physical offices. So all of these offices started to close down before our deal was closed, which is a whole story in and of itself.
Once I had finally closed the deal and took some time off to figure out what’s next, I thought back to my time as CEO, and looked at what was giving me energy and what was detracting from it.
And as I reflected, there were two key things that gave me energy. One was coaching my executive team. I just loved it. I didn't like managing as much—that's why I had a COO, but I loved overseeing personal development. I loved helping work with them on their own shadow that would come out and then see them overcome it and win and perform, but also feel happier as humans.
The second thing was mentoring entrepreneurs. I mean, you know, as well as I do, that so much of the ecosystem is giving, paying it forward. When I started as an entrepreneur, 17 entrepreneurs spoke to me about how to fundraise, which is how I raised a million dollars for my seed round. And so now I try to talk to as many founders as I can.
And every time I had those conversations, I felt more love. I felt more consistency. So I figured I’d give it a try professionally.
Now that you are a coach, how do you feel like your experiences as an entrepreneur have helped you approach your work?
I really get the founder's journey and hold a deep respect for it. As a coach, it's easy to be on the outside and say, “Shape up, reframe,” right? But I also understand the emotional depth, the hard work, and the exhaustion that come with it. That perspective isn't always conducive to the right mindset. Recognizing this balance has become a key part of my approach. Sometimes, just by looking at my founders, I know when it's not the day to push them for a mindset shift.
Being a CEO, it's such a multifaceted role. No two CEOs handle the same tasks, and the way we think about our roles varies so much. It's not like typical executive coaching where you're focusing on one department. As a CEO, you might be in charge of every single aspect of your business. Who’s picking up the slack? Who’s the behind-the-scenes fixer? It’s the CEO. That's exactly how it was for me at Chewse.
I literally led or was directly involved in every department at some point—the first account executive, the initial customer success manager, even handling the billing. I've been a jack of all trades, but this gives me the edge to effectively coach founders in similar situations, like when they need to step in for their head of sales. I know a lot more about sales management and processes than I ever thought I would, but now, it's a crucial part of my skill set.
This experience is especially valuable when I’m working with first-time founders who don’t have the luxury of time or emotional space to learn everything on the fly. They're smart, they know how to learn, but they're swamped with a myriad of other tasks.
I want to tell you that one of the most important things you did for me as a coach was just to hold space for me to bring everything I was going through. Just having someone there to witness and validate my experiences was as important as your help working through them.
Yeah, and you were the first to tell me how important it was for me as a witness for your journey, your wild journey. The value of me being a witness to you was because nobody would believe the crazy ride that you were on, but I was there, shoulder to shoulder with you, seeing that. And I think that left a huge impression on me.
Because I used to be so focused on how I should provide value, especially in my early days of coaching. I'm like, we gotta learn something each session and have a takeaway. And you were the first to be like, “Hold on—I need the space to just be witnessed and heard out and to recount and to process the journey, but with somebody that has also been on the journey that can hear me and hold that space.” And I had to really check my assumptions at the door of what a great coaching session would be. And you taught me that. So thank you for that. That was so special.
Of course. I mean, did you feel that when you were a founder? Did you feel that isolation, or did you have a proper support system around you? Founders sometimes deal with problems that involve millions and millions of dollars, and you can try to talk to family or friends about it, and it can often be hard for them to sympathize. It’s hard to find people that can hold space for that.
I definitely experienced that profound sense of loneliness as a leader. No matter the support I had, there was always this lingering feeling of isolation, like a constant, gaping hole. I believe loneliness is a part of the wound that comes with leadership—a wound you have to accept and carry. Even surrounded by great people, there are moments when the responsibility and accountability fall squarely on you. In those moments, you have to rise above, be larger and braver than the whole.
“I believe loneliness is a part of the wound that comes with leadership—a wound you have to accept and carry.”
The support that helped me came mainly from two sources. First, my coaches. I became a coach partly because of the incredible impact my own coaches had on me. I had three over the decade of running my company, and they supported me through some incredibly tough times, both professionally and personally. I remember sobbing in my coach's arms when my fiance left me just weeks before our wedding. Our relationship transcended business, and that’s something I now cherish with my clients, who often become friends. Knowing them in various contexts helps me push them effectively in their professional lives.
The other significant support came from fellow founders. Jessica Mah, one of my closest friends, was my go-to person. I’d call her in the middle of the night, and she’d almost always answer. Her support wasn’t about giving me solutions but about making me feel heard and understood. Her presence has been more comforting than any partner I've had. She’s like a sister to me. Jessica didn’t downplay my problems—she acknowledged their difficulty, which helped me sit with the uncertainty and, ironically, find my solutions.
Yeah. One of the things that struck me about your working style was how you integrated healing work into your coaching work. It was so helpful for me personally. Can you tell us more about how you got into this space and how you work with it?
My personal journey has been a deep dive into self-healing. I’m currently in what I consider my third personal evolution. Back in my younger days, I was all about action and energy, with little time spent on introspection. As I grew older, I started understanding the deep connections between my past experiences and my current self. A pivotal moment was realizing how being bullied in childhood and eating lunch alone influenced my desire to create a company culture centered around communal lunches. This insight kickstarted years of analytical introspection, a phase that was heavily cerebral.
The next phase of my journey began after selling my company and moving to Hawaii for a break. There, immersed in deep meditation, I confronted intense physical and emotional pain that I couldn't explain at first, but later identified as trauma stored in my body. This was the beginning of my exploration into somatic healing, which led me to see the importance of combining this body-centric approach with the more traditional, brain-focused executive coaching.
During my time in Hawaii, I also ventured into psychedelics, training to become a guide. This experience opened up a new, deeper connection with the universe and a sense of spirituality that was new to me, despite my mixed-faith upbringing. Psychedelics have since become a key part of my toolkit, offering founders a way to find clarity and grounding.
This journey has made it clear to me the limitations of focusing only on the brain. It's inspired me to guide others towards embracing their entire being, not just their intellect.
Yeah, well, I certainly wanted to bring up psychedelics.
I was wondering when we were going to talk about this.
So you obviously know the impact that psychedelics have had on my life. There are going to be a lot of people reading this that have heard of psychedelics. And it's a booming industry right now. There's a lot of venture capital going into it, there's a lot of chatter about it. But people may have no idea what it's really about, and whether or not it's something they should even go near. So I would love to know your perspective on psychedelics, and why they can be such a helpful tool for founders, and people in general.
So psychedelics are not for everybody. I want to say that first. I think when we hear about psychedelics, people are always pushing it on others, saying “This is the best thing that ever happened to me. Everybody should do it.” I actually say that not everybody should do it.
So I would define psychedelics as incredibly powerful technologies and tools that help us really understand ourselves at a deep psyche level, hence the name psychedelics.
These tools can truly help people of sound mind. What do I mean by that? Psychedelics are wonderful tools for people who are going through depression and anxiety. Critical tools, I think. But if you're dealing with something like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, you know, if you're already in a place where your mind is extremely unsteady, psychedelics don't help, because the whole point is that it's meant to blow you open in order for you to process everything that’s there. If you’re dealing with a serious mental disorder, it will likely create more disorder.
Now, it also depends on what the psychedelic is. So a psychedelic like MDMA is powerful if you have specific trauma. MDMA is a really powerful psychedelic because what it does is it allows you to look at the trauma for the first time without getting retraumatized. Mushrooms also have a very similar capability, but mushrooms also work on the serotonin receptors, which are this part of your brain that actually deal with oneness and openness to possibility. So they can not only help with trauma, but also issues or problems that you've been facing that you just don't know how to solve. So I really see this as a tool, not just for “big T trauma”—the car accident, abuse, etc—but also “little T trauma”, which are the things that can accumulate in our daily lives that cause us pain and that we don't have a work around. These can be like lower levels of guilt or shame or embarrassment that psychedelics can all help with.
So I think that's a wonderful way to work through deep issues that therapy is supportive of as well. But therapy can take a lot of time and it also depends on the therapist. With psychedelics you are really the driver, and the psychedelic is the copilot. And so you drive that experience as opposed to an external source driving the experience, which is really powerful.
For founders reading that are typically very results-oriented, could you share some examples of how psychedelics can tangibly impact their lives and careers?
People come to me because I'm a psychedelic integration coach. They have a variety of issues that they're working through. I see that, for founders in particular, there is an issue that they might have in their day-to-day at work, that's actually very entangled with their past. So it might show up as… they're having an issue with one of their executives. Say, a female executive that's a super bulldog. And they're like, “I don't know what it is. I get so triggered. I just can't speak to her.”
So we dig back and we realize, “Oh, this has so many strong links with your mother, who had the same personality.” And that is where the psychedelic layer can come into play. It’s how we can really address that core wound and the core trauma. I've seen this happen with psychedelics—that once you really address that core wound, you actually see people unfold and grow. They unwind the trauma, and then all of a sudden—when they go into the present situation, they can have that difficult conversation. That conversation doesn't hold the charge that it used to have. That leads to enormous strides in improved culture, improved productivity and just joy at work because they're not constantly being triggered left and right.
I've also seen psychedelics quickly improve physical ailments. I've seen people who have had terrible gut health issues, like IBS, and heal it essentially overnight. And I wouldn't say it’s because psychedelics are necessarily a medicine for the physical, but because it is a medicine for the physical as it's related to the emotional. And so the more that they heal their emotions and nervous system, their body actually comes back into alignment because they're not holding the trauma in their body, which is impacting the nervous system. So I've seen a wide range of applications, from physical improvement to improved team dynamics.
Yeah. This all actually makes me want to take a step even further back. Because I remember that before I did any of this work, I didn't know that the conflicts I was facing in my current life had anything to do with my past. That realization alone is a huge milestone in self-awareness and connecting the dots of why you are the way that you are, and why your life might be going in directions you don't want it to go.
So for readers that might just be connecting these dots right now, can you share more about this concept, of past core wounds impacting the present?
It's like having a silent backseat driver. You don't know that they're in the car with you, and they're carrying a lot of pain. They've been in car accidents before and so they're very skittish, and somehow they've taken over the wheel.
I think where it really clicked for me was when I went through a CEO boot camp with Jerry Colonna, who's an incredible coach. We started to talk as a group of CEOs about some very intimate subjects, like our past traumas. We began to talk about our experiences being bullied in childhood. And I started to share about my bullying experience because when I was ten, I was bullied so badly that I used to eat lunch alone in the bathroom. This was just a common occurrence for me. And up until this point, I had just told myself, “It happened, you’ve got to move on, go forward with your life.”
So I kind of knew it was there, but I didn't feel a lot of feelings about it. As I started to share it with the group, Jerry looked at me and said, “What is it that your company does?” I explained that my company is a catering company. And I said, “Well, we make sure that nobody eats lunch alone.” In that moment it was like 30,000 volts of electricity went through my body. And I realized that so much of why I built the company was actually to help save and protect this younger version of me, as well as so many people that have been excluded from school lunches by literally helping to facilitate group lunches at offices.
That was when I realized that my past was driving my present. But it wasn't a bad thing. It actually unlocked a next layer of motivation for me and helped us create our new mission, which was authentic connection. That was the whole premise. I thought it was just a business opportunity. That was partially it, but it was actually about bringing people together. And so I think looking at the trauma doesn't always have to be a sad, hard grieving thing. Sometimes it can be a beautiful thing that makes you realize you're not just doing this for the money or for accolades. You're doing it because you want to heal a part of you, which also heals the world.
“I think looking at the trauma doesn't always have to be a sad, hard grieving thing. Sometimes it can be a beautiful thing that makes you realize you're not just doing this for the money or for accolades. You're doing it because you want to heal a part of you, which also heals the world.”
That's beautiful. It also makes me think of a question that's a little more on the advanced side for readers who might be further along in their healing journey. These readers recognize that a lot of their motivations for building what they built in their life did come from trauma, or early negative experiences. Perhaps it’s the need to prove yourself, or to impress an authority figure. I've spoken about this a bit in my previous interviews.
As you heal, many notice that those drivers start to go away. And I'm curious if you have any advice for that group, because that can be a terrifying moment where you're like, “Wait a minute, I'm healing. Why can’t I motivate myself anymore?” And you realize that a lot of the drivers that were trauma based are gone. And for a moment you lose your motivation, and you don't know what's going to drive you anymore. What advice would you have to share for that community of people?
So, let’s take a lantern. You think about the initial fuel that you have for this fire in the lantern. The fuel of trauma is muddy fuel. It's unclean, it's got all these bits of trash and garbage in it so that the light flickers. Sometimes it's super bright and sometimes it goes down to nothing. It's very inconsistent, and the flame itself is also going to create a lot of burn off and harsh residue. Because the fuel is so dirty, it takes way more fuel to keep it bright.
So what happens in the healing process is that you have to go through a moment where you swap out the fuel to something that's cleaner, that's brighter, that's more sustainable. But there is a point while you’re making the swap when there’s no fuel in the lantern at all. And you're like, “I have no fuel. I don't want to go to work. I don't have this drive to compete. I suddenly don't have this drive to prove anything to anybody.” So while that feels scary, that is the moment that I tell people that this is actually a really good sign. Because it means that you're making room for the cleaner fuel. And there is a patience and a trust in the process.
And the cleaner fuel is really about finding what you want to move towards. And that's the opportunity for you to get into true alignment with yourself. And I've gone through multiple iterations of this myself. It used to be that when I was starting my company, I wanted to compete, I wanted to succeed. I wanted to prove to myself and to anybody that ever bullied me that I was worthy. Once I swapped out that fuel, it actually became the cleaner, brighter fuel was just love. I love people, and I love connecting people. And that became so much more sustainable. That cleaner fuel brought me through the next seven years of the ups and downs of multiple layoffs and financings and the traumas of building a company, because ultimately it was predicated on love. That fuel got me through.
And so I think you can get to a place where what motivates you is love and compassion and connection. I think it's a beautiful moment. But you have to go through this valley of emptiness. And I think the emptiness scares the high achiever, and that's where the high achiever can start to use other tools to rebuild themselves.
“I think you can get to a place where what motivates you is love and compassion and connection. I think it's a beautiful moment. But you have to go through this valley of emptiness.”
Absolutely. What do you have to say to readers about how to handle the magnitude of what some would consider the additional weight of self-awareness, realizing your traumas, starting to do healing work while you're running your company, which is already so hard?
Founders need to establish a support system early on, before trauma or the realization of their healing journey strikes. If you embark on this path feeling isolated, you're not only dealing with loneliness but also the heavy workload that often accompanies it.
It's crucial for founders to understand that once the healing process begins, it's hard to pause. You can try compartmentalizing to some extent, but it's like accruing technical debt. If you delay addressing it, the interest piles up, making it harder to repay later. It's better to address it as it arises. People often feel guilty, thinking they should dedicate 100% to their company. However, running a company from a traumatized state means you're likely operating at half capacity. True potential is only realized once fully healed.
With clients, I first encourage a step back to gain perspective. This involves being brutally realistic about what's achievable. Founders are naturally ambitious, but during healing, they can realistically focus on only a few tasks. We narrow down priorities to the top three, stripping away the excess. This initially meets resistance, but it's essential for managing trauma.
“Once the healing process begins, it's hard to pause. You can try compartmentalizing to some extent, but it's like accruing technical debt. If you delay addressing it, the interest piles up, making it harder to repay later. It's better to address it as it arises.”
We then align these priorities with the team and examine the founder's schedule. It’s about creating a daily routine that includes self-care basics and aligning tasks with energy levels. This approach transforms the healing journey into a daily practice of growth and learning. It's a challenging process, requiring courage and support, often involving both a therapist and a coach. The therapist delves into the past, while the coach helps apply those insights into actionable steps. This journey is not just about personal growth but also about understanding how your environment reflects your inner state. It's a tough but rewarding path, demanding patience and perseverance while still managing a company.
So to me, this is related to this other thing that I want to talk to you about, which is founder burnout. This is something that you've been really focused on, researching, and putting a lot of your time and energy into. And there's not a ton of literature on founder burnout, right? In many ways, you're the one that's kind of carving out this path, which I find really exciting.
And so there's a big overlap between founders finding themself on this healing journey and founders who are burnt out. And I would love for you to go a little bit into this work that you're doing. What drew you to it and what are you finding that could be really relevant to the folks reading this?
About a year ago, I fell into this deep malaise, the most intense fatigue I've ever felt. For three months, I was coaching lying down because sitting up was just too much. I'm grateful my clients stuck with me during that time. It was a struggle even to finish sentences. This was diagnosed as long COVID, but I think it was also a hangover from the decade spent building my company.
The physical toll of it was terrifying. My brain is my most valued asset, and to feel it slipping, almost like early dementia, was horrifying. Being single and living alone, except for my dog, made it all the more daunting.
As I started to emerge from this, I started attracting clients grappling with their own legitimate work-induced burnout. There was this deep resonance I felt with them. It struck me: how is there not a better framework or solution for supporting people, especially founders, through this evolution into burnout?
In my work, I've coached and interviewed many founders and non-founders about their burnout experiences. Here's what I've learned: healing from burnout can take anywhere from six months to five years. Six months is the bare minimum, but on average, it's more like three years. This is a warning to founders who think they can just push it off for a year or two. By the time you really crash, it's a long climb back.
One key discovery is that no one ever goes back to who they were pre-burnout. Instead, burnout becomes a call to a sort of spiritual transformation. For some, it's a profound shift in their relationship with work; for others, it's like a deeper change in their soul. Commonly, people leave their roles or even their entire industry. I've seen a psychologist switch to interior design and a teacher move into somatic therapy. Entrepreneurs often shift from being CEOs to taking on roles like chairman or chairwoman of the board.
Another important aspect of recovery is finding something to do that's less brain-centric. I've observed people who were very cerebral in nature taking up physical work as part of their healing. I’ve seen everything from becoming a mover to driving an armored vehicle, or even working on a farm. The theory here is that as a CEO or entrepreneur, you're used to dealing with complex problems without seeing immediate results. Engaging in physical labor allows you to see the fruits of your labor directly and quickly, which is vital for recovery.
So in dealing with burnout, it's crucial for the CEO or founder to carve out time for activities that offer immediate, tangible results. It's a challenging process, requiring a reevaluation of fundamental beliefs about work and success. But what I've developed is a protocol that addresses this, helping individuals redefine their long-term vision and reshape their core beliefs.
This makes me want to bring up a point that I know some people are going to be thinking while we're having this conversation, which is like… “I don't have time for this. I already have too much to do as a CEO. I don’t have the bandwidth to start a healing process.”
And I remember being in this place, and there's just something that I had to teach myself, which I think is important. As a CEO, there's actually very little that only you can do. Like, you have to do the big stuff. You have to close the round. You have to do the board meeting. You have to approve the budget. You have to do the layoffs. You have to decide whether or not to shut the whole thing down. You have to make those big decisions. But then there's all this other stuff that you think you have to do, but it actually just distracts you the big stuff that is looming over you, that only you can do.
And I accidentally ended up on this epic healing journey in the middle of running Haus, and I had to just come to terms with the fact of like… “If I'm busying myself with anything that can be done by someone else, I am taking energy away from what I'm needed for, which is to make the most important decisions that define the future of this company.”
And if I'm busying myself with stuff that can be done by other people—even if it's done a little bit worse than me—if it can be done by other people and I’m doing it, then I am not fulfilling my obligations to the company. What I should actually be doing is using that time to calm down my nervous system so that I can make the coherent decisions that a CEO is literally required to make. So my perspective on whether or not you incorporate healing into your schedule as CEO, is that it’s actually your fiduciary obligation to do so.
Yes. To those who say, “I don't have the time,” my response is, you're essentially turning yourself into a martyr for your company. And that, right there, is an ego-driven decision. It's entirely your choice to either make time or not. You can choose to be a victim of the trauma, or you can step up, take control, and carve out the time needed. Because, truly, if it's important enough, you will make the time. I've seen this pattern a lot, especially with female founders, and I've experienced it myself. We often embody the archetype of the giver, the lover. But the shadow side of being this nurturing, servant leader is becoming a martyr, where you're the first to sacrifice yourself.
When a leader says they don’t have time to heal, they're not just setting an example of victimhood for their team; they're effectively crippling their own company. It's a hard pill to swallow for people pleasers, for martyrs, to realize that embracing your personal power is not just beneficial for yourself, but it's essential for the greater good. In fact, it's always the better choice to step into your power. Falling into workaholism is actually a form of victimhood; you become a slave to your work. Think about the language we use. I used to always say, “Sorry, I'm slammed.” But really, what's “slamming” me? Is it really the schedule, or is it me allowing myself to be controlled by it? So, in the end, it boils down to making a choice. And that’s the choice I put in front of people. Some don’t like to hear it, thinking their situation is unique. But while everyone’s trauma and path to healing are indeed unique, the fact that you have the opportunity to make time but are choosing not to is a common thread I've observed in many founders.
“When a leader says they don’t have time to heal, they're not just setting an example of victimhood for their team; they're effectively crippling their own company.”
Yeah. It's not so useful to pretend you're not the boss when it’s pretty obvious to everyone else that you are the boss.
It's so true. And you know, when you don't step up, things get weird. My coach always said to me, “Tracy, you need to take your seat as CEO.” Because if you don’t, there's this power vacuum that forms. In that vacuum, all sorts of odd things start happening. People try to step into your power, trying to take over the throne, so to speak. And yeah, part of that is on them, but really, it’s on you if you’re the leader and you’re not sitting where you should be. We don’t talk about this enough. There's this tendency to feel sorry for the leader—oh, so much responsibility, so much weight on their shoulders. Sure, compassion is important, but we can’t forget about responsibility. That's just as important.
Yeah. Been there. I mean, this is what we signed up for. Pretty simple.
But it's that fine line, too, between responsibility and self-sacrifice. You take responsibility, but don't let it become “woe is me.” I'm still learning how to do the dance.
Absolutely. Okay. Where do we go from here? For any founders that have read this conversation who are wondering if they have burnout, can you share what burnout looks like from a symptomatic level so that people can be like, “Oh, yeah, okay, I’ve got that.”
Yeah, okay. So the biggest thing I’ve seen with founders is this denial of burnout. But it’s harder to deny in the later stages. Let’s talk about the subtler, early stages because that’s where you can really make a difference. Let me list some symptoms I’ve noticed in myself and others. Physically, you might feel unexplained fatigue, or struggle to get out of bed. Your sleep gets messed up. You might even wonder if there’s something medically wrong, like with your thyroid, but no diagnosis comes up.
Emotionally, you might snap at loved ones, which isn’t usually your style. You start resenting your work, the people around you, blaming others instead of taking responsibility. Overwhelm is a huge sign too. It’s an obvious one but tough to deal with because when you’re overwhelmed, making space for self-care seems impossible. Here’s a weird one I’ve noticed—and I’ve heard it from a surprising number of other founders too—fantasizing about getting into a minor car accident just to get a break. Sounds extreme, but it shows how much you can feel like you’re a victim to your own schedule.
I’m not saying this to shame anyone—I’ve been there. These are all warning signs, especially if you’ve got a history of trauma and you’re running a company. You might not connect these dots. And this is where I circle back to psychedelics. They do an incredible job of weaving together all these disparate thoughts and feelings into a coherent story, helping you realize, “Oh my God, I’m burnt out, I’m depressed, I’m anxious.” Because it’s rare to just wake up one morning and realize, “Hey, I’m depressed.” It's about noticing all the small signs and symptoms of burnout.
Yeah. And, you know, I'm sure there are a few readers who are like, “Wow—I've had these symptoms, like, as long as I can remember. I've probably been burnt out for a long time.” And Tracy, I know that you've told me that you've seen in your research the parallels between burnout and PTSD.
I’m a good example here. I've been diagnosed with PTSD that I've likely had for most of my life. It's very possible that someone reading has had burnout or PTSD for a large portion of their adult life, or maybe since childhood, and you have just kept on truckin’. But what you don't realize is that you've been running at 20%, 30%... you've been running a fraction of your capacity for your entire life. But the positive flipside of that is… think about how amazing you're going to be once you actually do the healing.
Yes, I’m really glad you mentioned that. Burnout in its later stages can mimic PTSD symptoms. That’s why some people need to take a sabbatical or even leave their industry completely. Just the thought of returning to work can be enough to trigger physical reactions like hives, sweats, or sickness. Some can’t even face their laptop for more than a couple of hours a day. It becomes a physical issue, where even thinking about certain work-related scenarios can spark an intense emotional response. It's like PTSD, but instead of a traumatic event like a car accident, it's work-related stressors like an angry boss or an overwhelming schedule.
This is actually why I find burnout so fascinating and why I delve so deep into it. I call myself a trauma nerd—I'm constantly studying and researching trauma. When I started looking into burnout, I recognized it immediately. It was all too familiar, just with a specific focus on work, but the underlying patterns are incredibly similar to those of trauma.
In your experience with your clients, what are the benefits that they can quickly see from doing this work? Again, when a reader hears “five year timeline,” that’s a long road ahead—what are some more immediate changes and benefits that you see?
Yeah, absolutely. The first thing I often see when people start making space is they begin working smarter, not harder. There’s this sense of spaciousness, calm, and clarity that just emerges. It’s like they’ve been struggling to breathe and suddenly, they find their inhaler. Everything clears up, and they see their business in a whole new light, becoming more creative and feeling more positive about it.
They also start to see their own ego and hubris, leading them to delegate more. It’s like there’s this downward spiral when you’re overwhelmed and traumatized, but there’s also this beautiful upward spiral. It starts small—you delegate a bit, create a bit of space, and suddenly there’s more creativity, a better culture, and people start taking more responsibility. This gives you more room to be the visionary, attract better talent, and the cycle just keeps going up.
But the key is the leader, right? There’s this saying, “When a leader sneezes, everyone catches a cold.” But I like to flip that—when the leader heals, everyone else gets the chance to do their best work. It’s not just about making time for yourself; it’s about your entire organization. I’ve seen too many leaders, including myself, accidentally traumatize their teams. I’m sure I’ve done my share of harm, but realizing and working on that was a huge part of my healing journey. It involved addressing my people-pleaser nature and having honest, direct conversations.
“When the leader heals, everyone else gets the chance to do their best work.”
The benefits are massive, not just for your leadership but for everyone’s well-being. And then there’s the joy that comes with that spaciousness. Like, rediscovering why you loved being a CEO in the first place—those moments of speaking to your team, rallying everyone. We lose sight of these joyful parts in the daily hustle, but they come back once you heal that traumatized layer, reminding you that there’s safety and security in the everyday stuff.
Yeah. I think my last question would be for anyone who's read this interview and is like, “Yeah, I think I check all the boxes here. I need to confront this and start healing.” Where would you tell them to go?
Okay, so, I really want to talk about this approach called somatic experiencing. For brain-focused leaders and entrepreneurs like me, discovering this was a game-changer. It’s gaining popularity, and I think it's important to spread the word. Somatic essentially means “of the body”—“Soma” being the body. It’s a revelation for those who feel like talk therapy has run its course, which was exactly my experience after years of it. Somatic therapy is about moving beyond just talking and tuning into the body. Trauma often drives us into our heads because the body feels unsafe, especially when we haven’t had anyone to help us navigate those intense emotions. So we escape into our intellect, becoming smart, ambitious, high-achieving, and publicly recognized, yet still unable to sit with discomfort in our chest or stomach, which is where most of my clients feel things.
Somatic therapy guides you back into your body gently. I encourage people to check out SEI. They offer great resources, workshops, and a directory of licensed therapists. In my coaching, I integrate somatic practices with executive coaching. We explore body wisdom alongside what the brain is processing, ensuring a holistic approach. You can visit my website for a complimentary consultation. I also have a newsletter where I discuss how to incorporate the body and heart with the brain in your work, helping to slow down, heal trauma, and not rely on work as a band-aid for trauma. So those are the main ways to get in touch with me and learn about somatic work.
Beautiful. Well, thank you for this. I love talking to you, always.
Thank you, sweetheart. I love our conversations. This was beautiful.
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