First Hand — How burnout changes your approach: The Other Box’s Leyya Sattar
Leyya Sattar is used to hard graft. Along with Roshni Goyate, she’s the co-founder of The Other Box, a company celebrating people of colour and those from other underrepresented backgrounds in the creative industries. For the first 18 months of the initiative, she poured her time and energy into developing the platform alongside a full-time job – working late evenings and into the weekend. But as TOB saw huge success, Leyya ended up burning out, and spent six weeks recovering from pneumonia. In this extract from her podcast episode, she recounts the experience, and how it triggered an overhaul in her outlook and priorities.
At the time that we started The Other Box I was juggling a lot. It all took off really quickly, and I found myself asking: How do I balance this alongside a full-time job, alongside everything else I’m trying to do? We kept it up for 18 months, but as we got more traction and won awards, we had more and more people wanting things from us. We just couldn’t deliver everything on top of our jobs.
I ended up with pneumonia; it was very dramatic! Going into 2017 I had to massively cut down on what I said ‘yes’ to. What I realised, which became one of my biggest learnings, is that as a millennial I have a real fear of missing out. I thought that if we said yes to everything, we’d get The Other Box to grow and reach more people – I wasn't being very strategic.
“It really forced me to look at myself and what I wanted from life.”
I was stretched like I’ve never been before, and became so ill that even now I still feel the repercussions of it; I have to be really careful. As soon as I get a cold, it can develop into a chest infection. It’s a constant reminder not to go too hard, but when you have your own business, it’s kind of hard not to do that. I had six weeks off and it really forced me to look at myself and what I wanted from life. It reminded me of a time when I promised myself that I would always enjoy what I do.
During my first year of university, my stepdad was diagnosed with cancer, and in May 2011 I moved home temporarily to help look after him and my family. He passed away in August. One thing he said, which will always stay with me, was “Work work work – all I’ve ever done is work, and look where it’s got me.” That’s really sobering to hear, especially from someone you love.
From then on, I realised that whatever I do, I need to make sure it gives me more purpose than working to become successful and rich. I need to enjoy myself and live the best life I possibly can at the same time. Having pneumonia really reinforced that. I said to myself: This is what you promised, you have to live by it.
“Whatever I do, I need to make sure it gives me more purpose than working to become successful and rich.”
In the end, it got to the point where Roshni and I wondered: What would happen if we just put all our energy and time into The Other Box? Roshni was also seven months pregnant, so it happened really nicely – and it’s paid off massively.
I’m still quite bad at saying no. It’s in my personality – I hate letting people down. But I realised I needed to be more strict with myself. So now I make sure that everything I say yes to will benefit me and The Other Box in some way, and that I’m happy to do it – not just because it’s financially rewarding.