Instead of calling it burnout, why don’t we just say, “I changed my mind?” 100% no way, absolutely not! Now, let me be clear – I did not make this statement. In fact, we are not aligned with this statement. I saw this posted on social media, and the person who posted it typically works with entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Part of the message behind the statement was that it’s okay to change your mind when it comes to your professional ambitions. And we are aligned to that. In fact, I have changed my mind on my professional ambitions three, four, I don’t know how many times in my adult working life! So of course it’s okay to change your mind, but to suggest that your professional ambitions are what is causing your burnout, and that by simply changing your professional ambitions it replaces burnout, it makes burnout go away – this is false.
This is for the rare few. In fact, the research shows that that is not the reason why your professional ambitions are not the leading cause of burnout. Gallup found things like unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, unrealistic time expectations, lack of manager support, and unclear communication from managers. Those are the leading causes of burnout, not your professional ambition.
Look, I am out there in the world speaking about the “and” life – having this powerful career and extraordinary personal life. If you want to have this ambition, go for it! But you’ve got to be really clear on what that professional ambition is, and start to prioritize it. We also know that you need to understand your ambition and the other aspects of your life; your personal health, relationships, and how you want to have fun out there.
You’ve got to be aligned on your ambition, your goals, and your vision for all areas of your life. And in order to reduce the burnout so that you can meet those professional ambitions, you as leaders have to come together with your senior management, with your organization, and support your employees so that everyone together has those manageable workloads, and gets rid of these tasks that don’t lead toward reaching your professional goals.
Only until we have the communication, we set parameters, we work together, only then will you be able to achieve your professional ambition and reduce your burnout. But do not go out there and reduce your standards. Man, if you want to go for it, go for it! That’s what we’re here for. Make adjustments in other areas, it is not about you just saying, “Yeah, maybe I dreamt too big. Maybe I was thinking too high, maybe I was going for it too much.” Absolutely not! You go for it! Let’s figure out the other ways to reduce burnout, based on the research-proven drivers that are causing it.
Screaming, absolutely screaming at my six and four-year-old’s, Ethan and Reese, because they left socks in the middle of the family room floor. Saying no every single Friday night to invitations to have dinner and drinks with friends. Blaming my boss for giving me a promotion. Feeling drunk during the day, because I’d only been sleeping a few hours every night. I thought those were the signs that I was on the verge of burnout, but turns out those were the symptoms of absolute burnout. I mean I was on fire, already burned out to a crisp beyond recognition.
Yet, it is your responsibility to recognize the onset and early signs of burnout. So, what are those? It’s funny, I was thinking back to when I accepted a promotion that became the catalyst for me experiencing burnout. Only three months after I accepted that promotion, my husband, Matt must have already started to see my own signs of burnout, because I remember he surprised me by getting my girlfriends together for a day of wine tasting. Now it should have been really apparent, for my husband, Matt, to say, “Oh my gosh, let’s get her out of the house to go with girlfriends for wine tasting,” three months into my promotion, yet I didn’t acknowledge it for another 10 months -13 months total, when I hit my burnout, that I even really acknowledged what was going on.
What are the signs of the early onset, so that you can change course and change direction, to help mitigate that burnout? I’m going to share some of those signs with you, but please also know that everybody carries and has symptoms and signs of stress and anxiety and burnout in different ways. So really, the most important thing is for you to listen and pay attention, physically and mentally, to your own body. But here are a couple of things that you can watch out for.
Physically, where do you typically hold onto stress and anxiety? For me, I usually hold on to it in between my shoulder blades. I’ll feel tightness when I’ve had a little bit of extra stress, but back then I should have recognized, whoa, this is extreme. It felt like a cinder block in between my shoulder blades. So bad that I had already started to schedule massages. That was sign number one. Now, I took a course of action to say, “Let’s go have some massages to start to take care of that.”
I also realized I started carrying tension in my hips, but I didn’t recognize that early onset until it became so extreme, I thought I had arthritis in my hips in my mid-thirties. Turns out, I was really stressed out. Sleep is another one. How tired do you feel? Look, we all have days where it’s a little bit harder to get out of bed, or at the end of the day we feel exhausted. But how frequently is that happening? Are you starting to notice a consistent behavior where you never want to get out of bed or every single day at the end of the day, you just throw yourself down on the couch and physically and mentally can’t do anything?
That’s a sign of the early onset, when the frequency starts to increase. Or the frequency of taking sick days, or the frequency of contemplating taking sick days. So pay attention. Do you get headaches, do you have stomachaches? What’s the frequency that it’s happening, what’s the elevated degree? When you start seeing things and experiencing things more often and in different situations, for example, are you starting to feel conflict or get agitated with friends, family, or co-workers in situations that you typically wouldn’t have felt that way?
Those are the signs; we have some increased frequency, consistency, or really new, unusual places and times that it’s happening. That’s when you need to stop and say, “I am on the verge of burnout. I need to change course and start taking care of myself,” to mitigate that burnout, before you reach the absolute breaking point. So start writing down, start acknowledging, and reflect on those situations, your experiences, and how are you feeling today, and over the course of the next few days and weeks.
I felt 100% trapped. I was stuck, right where I was. You may have heard the term, “the golden handcuffs.” And that’s what happened for me when I hit my absolute breaking point, and I believed my only option was to quit my job. I couldn’t see how that was possible, because here my family and I had built a certain lifestyle, and it was very dependent upon my job. So I felt stuck – that if I wanted to keep our lifestyle, I had to stay in my job.
In fact, I stayed in the same position for several months, and then I stayed at the same company for four more years. All that while, I was coming out on the other side of burnout. So when people ask me, “Colleen, what do I do when I feel stuck? I’m burned out, but I’m stuck. I’ve got to stay here. What can I do?” I’m going to share with you the very first thing that I did that drastically and immediately changed what was happening for me. Now again, I didn’t change my position, I didn’t get a new family, nothing else changed around me. I started doing this one thing, and I call it my energy remedy.
Every morning I’d get up early, go downstairs before the rest of the house was awake, I’d turn on a soft lamp, sometimes I’d light a candle, I’d sit quietly on the couch, and I’d turn on my phone timer for roughly five minutes. Most mornings was about five minutes; some mornings, maybe three, some mornings, seven or ten. But about five minutes, and then I would close my eyes and I would ask myself one question. Now back then my question was, what makes me happy? I encourage you to just shift that word happy to, what brings you energy?
You are going to ask yourself that question over and over and over again, for the entire five minutes. When the five minutes is done, journal. Pen to paper, old-school pen to paper, write down all of the things you thought about. And then, guess what? You’re going to do it again the next day. I did this practice every single day for about five minutes for nearly two, three weeks, asking the same thing over and over and over again. And here’s why – because when you first asked that question, what gives me energy, it’s the obvious things, the things that are at the forefront of your mind.
You know, going out with my friends, watching a movie with my family, all of the things that are obvious are going to come to mind. But what we want to do is dig deeper. You are going to start recalling times where you had energy. For me, I would think about, what was my best day at work, when was I happiest? When did I have the most energy? Oh, it’s when I went into Rosie’s office and I worked directly with her and we solved a problem together, and I saw the light bulb moment. That’s when I felt the most energy.
Or, I felt the most energy when I would be teaching at the gym and an older member would come up and say, “Colleen, I’ve been coming to the gym for a year and my doctor just told me, I no longer need to take this medication.” Like, oh my gosh, that just energized me so much! So I started to recall these situations, and what was I doing in those? I then took that and started to apply it everywhere I could. So for me, the overarching theme was when I was training in some way; teaching, coaching, training. So even though my current job description didn’t have trainer officially on there, I just tried to find ways that I could integrate that, either in my day-to-day role as a leader, or additional things.
I still had the same job, but I asked my Vice President, my leader, “Hey, could I do this little lunch and learn?’ I felt energized to do that. It wasn’t burning me out; in fact, it had the opposite effect. The more I was doing things that brought me energy, the more that the day-to-day stuff felt lighter. I started to enjoy those even mundane things to a greater degree, and it was helping me start to build out of that burnout.
So I encourage you to take practice, try this energy remedy, and see how it works for you. Uncover what those things are that bring you the purest sense of energy, and find ways to integrate those into your everyday role, professionally and personally, and see how that starts to change your attitude, as well as bring about the perception from people around you!
Are you so busy that you believe there’s no time for fun? You’re barely squeezing in the basic necessities to keep yourself, and maybe a family, alive that you can’t possibly imagine how you could find even a moment for any fun! If this is you or someone you know, I invite you to check out this week’s video for a creative idea on how you can actually have the time for fun!
If you want to be there for your job, for your loved ones, for anyone – you must take care of yourself! But it’s challenging to find the time for self-care. And if you think it’s impossible to do, then you’ll definitely want to watch this video!
After school one day, Reese was sharing with me what they’d been doing all week in her seventh grade, Home Economics class. She was first of all, thrilled, because they were finally learning how to sew – something she knew mom could never teach her. I mean, other than knowing how to sew a button by hand, I don’t remember anything about sewing from my seventh grade Home Ec class.
Reese also shared that in her class sitting next to her was a student with special needs, and that student had a full-time aide there with her. But neither the student nor the aide knew how to sew, so they had been asking Reese lots of questions and for support.
Now, as a parent, my heart was absolutely melting as I listened to Reese share with me how supportive she was. And without even thinking, she was jumping in and helping. However, the teacher hadn’t asked Reese to do this. So her due date for her project was the same as everyone else’s, and Reese continued on sharing that she was now behind on her project, and she was needing to use some of her tutorial or nutrition time to work on her project.
You, as an adult in your corporate job, may be facing the same situation as a seventh grader in Home Ec; that you are using your time that’s needed for your projects to support others. You may be that person that is pulled in for meetings for additional collaboration.
And whether it’s because you have institutional knowledge, you are the subject matter expert, or you’re just really darn nice and you like to help people; whatever the reason, there’s some caution behind this. Because absolutely, I am in full alignment that we should be supporting and helping other people. It is part of our humanity. It is what we should be doing as good people.
I constantly share with you about this epidemic of burnout. And this is one of the contributing factors, is if you find yourself where you are giving up your time, your energy to support other people, and now it’s causing you to spend more hours after work or more stress, more anxiety, this is all contributing to your burnout. This is not a healthy scenario.
So unless this is built into your performance measurement, unless this is built into your professional development plan – if it’s not, if it’s just at your own good nature, your own sense of humanity, there has to be some boundaries, some parameters that are set so that you don’t cross the line into burnout. This is where I want you to sit up and pay attention.
It’s not about, “I just want to help, I want to be a good person, I love supporting others, I feel so good when I give advice, I feel so good when I can collaborate.” Great. But at what point does that feel good turn into burnout for you with your own projects, your own responsibilities, your own professional growth and development?
So I encourage you to really take a hard look and assess if you are that 3 to 5% of employees who are constantly being pinged, a meeting added to your calendar where you’re the collaborator, make sure you are evaluating whether or not you are supporting your own health, your own well-being, and that you’re not giving up so much that it’s causing you to burn out.
Take a look today, ask those questions, assess, set boundaries, ask for help, whatever you need to do to make sure you strike a balance between humanity and your own health and well-being.