Episode #59: 3 Things I Wish I Had Known About Burnout
In this episode, I share the three things that I wish I had known about burnout decades ago. I like to imagine that this knowledge could have helped me avoid my epic crash and burn. I couldn’t save myself then, but perhaps I can help guide you to a more sustainable and healthier future filled with perspective, peace, presence, and purpose.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
Not sure if you are on the path to burnout? Download the FREE “Symptoms of Burnout that Might Surprise You” quiz that is linked in the show notes to this episode and find out.
So, I was thinking the other day about what I wish I had known about burnout years ago.
I would like to think that if I’ve had this information a decade or more ago, then I would have been able to change course before it was too late.
I also know how ridiculously stubborn I can be.
But in the hopes of sparing you from crash and burn, I want to share with you 3 things I wish I had known about burnout.
#1 Your superpower might be your Achilles heel
Do you remember Achilles? Here is a refresh just in case. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, when Achilles was an infant, his sea-nymph mother dipped him into the river Styx to make him immortal. But since she held him by one heel, this spot did not touch the water and so remained mortal and vulnerable, and it was here that Achilles was eventually mortally wounded.
Are you one of those people who thrives in chaos?
Or prides yourself on your ability to push harder and longer than other people?
To continue to perform past the point of fatigue; eyes locked on the prize?
Maybe you are an endurance athlete--in sport or in life. Or both.
Do you get knocked down and hop back up, over and over and over again, but without ever taking a moment to bind your wounds and recover from your injuries?
Do you regularly log 50+ hours in a work week, exercise 5-7 times per week, volunteer in your community, and think sleep is for wimps?
Are you really, really good in a crisis? Cool, calm, collected? Unflappable?
Do you get asked often “how you do it all?”
And if you are NOT one of those people, is that who you admire or aspire to be?
Are you molding yourself to become one of those venerated leaders who sleeps 4 hours a night, trains 5-7 days per week, reads 52 books a year, lifehacks like a boss, takes meetings on a treadmill, somehow manages to be at their kids’ games, and answers email at all hours of the day and night?
On one hand, as I write this, it feels like exaggeration and hyperbole.
But it isn’t. I tried to be one of those people. I was one of those people in many respects for more than a decade. And I know I am not the only one.
And here is what I also know now. The very performance and coping skills we have used to get where we are . . . are fueling our path to burnout.
Because the more we ignore our body’s natural signals . . . to sleep, eat, drink water, move without crushing ourselves, and to engage in authentic relationships with other people, and connect with a purpose larger than ourselves . . . the more we shut down our emotions in order to appear rational, logical, unflappable, and perfect . . . the more likely we are to put ourselves into a position where what was once a small weakness in our overall health and well-being has now become a gaping wound.
What makes us seem superhuman is actually our Achilles heel. The very habits and behaviors that will have us pushing ourselves to our breaking point and beyond.
#2 You cannot “snap out of” or “push through” burnout
Building on point #1, if you are a high achiever, overachiever, perfectionist, perform at all costs type of person, your developed instinct is to push through obstacles.
If you have a bad day, you might cajole yourself to “snap out of it” and “get yourself together” and keep going.
Maybe you take time off to go to the doctor when you're sick. MAYBE. Maybe you even take a day off. And then you wonder why you don’t feel better already?!
But whether you feel better or not, you are back at it, whatever “it” is.
This behavior may have served you well up until now . . . in the form of awards, recognitions, promotions, and accolades . . . or at least by helping you avoid negative feedback from someone with untenable standards.
But if you are in or approaching burnout, here is where your instincts and habits will not serve you well.
Because you cannot “snap out of” or “push through” burnout.
In fact, if you continue to push through, to ignore the signs and signals your body is sending to you, your burnout will only progress. (For more on the phases of burnout, you can listen to Episode 52 of this podcast, or check out the transcript at my website)
Sometimes we aren’t meant to bounce back or persist. At least not immediately.
Sometimes we are meant to rest. To recover. To take stock of what is working and not working. To make adjustments. To let go of beliefs, habits and behaviors that are no longer serving us. To ask for help. Maybe even to build up some reserve or strengthen our resources before we set out again.
For decades, I “succeeded” by surviving.
I am an expert at perseverance. My ability to put my head down and put one foot in front of the other, no matter what life threw at me, and not only that, but to perform at the highest level the overwhelming majority of the time was honestly something I was proud of. But it was also something that kept me stuck in behaviors that were making me sick.
From the time I entered therapy with severe mental illness in 2012 to the point at which I almost ended my life in 2015, I kept trying to use the same set of skills. I didn’t lower my expectations of myself one bit. In many ways, I kept raising the bar even as my body was sending me desperate messages.
If you are even flirting with burnout, I can promise you that pushing through is not going to restore you to a place of health, well-being, and ultimately, the performance you have come to expect from yourself.
In fact the opposite is true. The sooner you step back and recalibrate, the sooner you intervene on your own behalf, the less damage will be done, the faster you will recover, and the more sustainable and impactful your performance will be (for more on recalibration you can check out Episode 57 of the podcast).
#3 The price isn’t worth it.
There is a cultural norm that I take issue with at this point in my life because of what I have lived through. . .
There is this idea out there that if we make sacrifices and work hard for success (outworking our peers and competitors), if we do “all of the right things”, that not only we will find success--defined primarily as financial and material--and happiness, but that the sacrifices we made will be “worth it” it the end somehow.
We just have to be willing to “pay the price.”
But who set the price tag? And why does the cost keep rising?
The price I almost paid for “success” was my life.
What is your Achilles heel?
Where are you intentionally and purposefully (or perhaps even subconsciously) separating yourself from your actual, real, and valid physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs in pursuit of something that was “promised” to make you feel successful, safe, and happy?
What is it costing you? Really costing you?
Is it costing you your health? Your relationships? Precious time you cannot get back?
Will the price tag be worth it in the end?
What if success or happiness prove to be elusive?
What if instead, you end up lonely, exhausted, and physically and/or mentally ill?
What if the price you pay is the loss of your loved ones?
What if the price is chronic illness or an early death?
I can look back and say emphatically that the price tag was too high. And that success without physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being is empty indeed.
So now I challenge you to consider . . .
What if instead, you learned to embrace and embody this moment as what it truly is . . . the only moment you are promised?
What if instead of treating your body as an obstacle, you treated it as a precious, intelligent vessel which is always in communication with you about what it needs, and what it needs to heal?
What if your true superpower is actually learning to embody and embrace your humanity, and in so doing, to realize your greater purpose on this earth?
What if your future could be filled with perspective, peace, presence, and purpose?
I am here to tell you that this life is possible. And this life is worth the work it may take to get there.
If you are not sure whether you are on the path to burnout? Download the FREE “Symptoms of Burnout that Might Surprise You” quiz that is linked in the show notes to this episode. And if you aren’t already getting my newsletter in your inbox, I am including the subscription link in the show notes as well.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!