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This year my boyfriend (and Testlio’s co-founder) Marko and I decided to get married. In a small wedding surrounded by our closest family and friends, he completely surprised me with something that I had only dreamed of — a horse.

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Crazy, right?! I know.

Even I couldn’t believe it when I first met my horse Rockefeller. The first three minutes I just thought that he has been brought there for us to take photos, but when Marko finally started explaining how he has been taking Rocky for walks for the past week, I was in shock and realized that he will actually be part of our family! It’s been three months now and I have to say that I’m happier and feel more fulfilled than ever before.

Marko is the only one in the world who can read my mind and knows exactly how I’m feeling at any given moment. Since starting Testlio he has seen me hit the lowest emotional points of my life, those times where you think you’re worth nothing even after working so hard.

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I had ridden horses as a child for a few years before my family was no longer able to afford it, and I never realized that it was such an important thing missing from my life. Until the day I got married, I actually didn’t have any hobbies besides playing piano, which meant I wasn’t doing anything physically challenging. Unfortunately the lack of exercise (and the fact that I wasn’t engaging myself outside of work) led me to a point of emotional self-destruction — feeling unhappy, guilty, sad.

The hardest thing about running business for me is feeling responsible for everyone and everything. As a founder and a CEO I want everyone to be successful and happy. I constantly question myself. Am I making the right decisions? What if…? What if…? What if…? It’s a constant battle against the fear of the unknown.

I felt like I was in constant f*ck up mode. Like I was morally responsible for everything that goes on every day, and I was failing.

I honestly don’t know how long I could have continued like this. Luckily, I never will know because since Rockefeller came into my life, I’ve felt happier and know that everything is going to be alright, always.

But it took me a long time to get to this point, where I feel emotionally balanced and like an unstoppable force. It’s clear that the two are related.

So what broke the cycle of stress? What is it about Rockefeller?

I simply hadn’t been taking care of myself, and Rockefeller reminded me of that and helped me move forward. When you’re faced with a difficult situation that you don’t know how to act on it’s best to sleep on it. Or paint. Or in my case, ride a horse. But I hadn’t allowed myself to pull away.

Rockefeller both recharges my brain and helps me take better care of my body.

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There’s no question that my current goal in life is to make our community of testers, customers, and my entire team successful. But with anything you work towards, you have have to take a step back.

Hobbies have actually been proven to make you more productive and happier at work. Just one hour of a creative or physical hobby can lead to more success and fulfillment in the entire day. Hobbies help you refocus, become more creative and attack problems better than ever before. Because with everything we do in life, we always learn something new. The more we know the better we are at making decisions.

Here are three ways that Rockefeller helps me tackle the hardest parts of running a business on a daily basis.

Taking Time Off of Work

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to actually take time off of work. Everyone needs to find that one thing that forces them to take a break and balance their mind.

A passion, a hobby, an activity, a loved one. Someone or something wants to pull you away from work and you need to let them.

But guilt can creep in, telling us to finish our tasks and keep pushing. Sometimes guilt is a message we’re supposed to ignore. Even if that feeling won’t let you rest, you can choose what’s best for you and give your brain the downtime it needs.

Learning to be Simultaneously Patient and Confident

Running a startup is a constant rollercoaster where one day you feel on top of the world, but most days you doubt yourself and your self worth as a founder.

This is when having a hobby pays off. You can feel good about life even on the worst days, knowing that you at least have that one thing that is constant and good. You get that extra boost of confidence in your professional life, while feeling more attuned and more patient. When you’re taking care of yourself and feel balanced, there’s less rush.

That clarity often makes solutions arise faster.

I’ve struggled to solve a problem for four hours to no avail only to play the piano for ten minutes and boom! There’s the solution.

Balancing Work with Physical Exercise

Besides just having a hobby that challenges our minds, we should also put our bodies under pressure. Because if your body feels good, so does your mind. Physical activity produces endorphins — chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers. They also improve our ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.

I would have never bought a horse on my own. How could I possibly have handled the responsibility on top of long workdays and constant travel?

But I’ve made it work. Instead of sleeping until 9, I wake up at 6, do my training and get started at Testlio. I arrive fresh and ready to nail the day!

I consider myself very lucky, because I really love this company, but from time to time, even I need time to relax and do other things. I’ve seen people crash and burn multiple times in my life. Not only will you not succeed if you don’t take care of yourself, but you deserve to be healthy and fulfilled.

This was originally published on Medium.


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Kristel Kruustuk Kristel Kruustuk
Kristel is passionate software tester and the CEO of Testlio (Austin ’13). Previously she was a QA Analyst at FlexTrade Systems in London.