My alarm went off and immediately I was filled with a sense of dread. My mind raced to all the things I had to do that day. All the possible mistakes I was likely to make. I was exhausted and drained from the long hours, challenging clients and difficult colleagues. I was struggling to get out of bed in the mornings. Completely drained and lacking motivation. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.
A job that once gave me so much joy and satisfaction was now draining the life out of me, literally. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I had burnt out.
How did this happen? How did I get here? I was only 28, this was my first real job, and it was a great job.
My role was to support women leaving prison get their lives back on track. It was the greatest and most meaningful work ever. How come I was struggling to get up and go to work every day?
Hindsight is a beautiful thing and now I know exactly why I was feeling how I was feeling.
At the time I had no idea what was going on. And the only way I knew how to deal with it was to do something extreme, I quit my job with no plan, little savings, and no idea what to do next.
Many people told me I was crazy. That I should stay until I had found another job. But I knew that wasn’t an option. I couldn’t keep on doing what I had been for the last five years. Just getting out of bed was a struggle.
It turns out quitting my job wasn’t such a bad decision after all. I took time off to get out of my head and get some perspective on the situation. It also enabled me to recharge and get some much needed rest and relaxation. To learn more about me and be true to what I needed at that time.
Returning home after three months of travel, I was suddenly back to square one. Needing to find a job but having no idea what type of job I was looking for. I became fearful that I might choose the wrong job, burnout again, and be back in the exact same situation. So I decided to do some deep soul searching, lots of reading, and asking myself some good questions to get to the bottom of my burnout.
By going through my own journey of burnout and recovery I learned three key truths that I believe can prevent or reverse the effects of burnout.
1. Getting my ‘Worth’ from ‘Work’
Getting a good job was a big emphasis in my family growing up. My parents spend a lot of money on my education and it was always assumed that I would go to university and have a decent career.
What people did for a living was important in my family, and more importantly working hard was also important. This belief became embedded in me and I carried into my working career. I truly believed that if I wasn’t working hard and doing well in my job than I was no good, less significant, less worthy than someone who was excelling at work.
Striving to get my self-worth or security from my career turned out to be a disaster. I was always striving, always working harder and harder to get the affirmation from my job that it could never give me - no matter how good I was at it.
I became dependent on feedback from my supervisor. Wanting her to tell me what a great job I had done, and if I didn’t receive the recognition I thought I deserved I crumbled. If I made a mistake or if someone provided me with ‘constructive feedback’ I became defensive, I justified myself, I blamed others.
My self-worth and value was closely linked to my performance at work that if I failed to meet my internal expectations of myself (or the expectations of others) I fell into a pit of hopelessness and despair.
This resulted in the continual striving for perfectionism at work, eventually burning me out.
Getting your worth from an external source like work will never satisfy, it will never make you feel ‘you are good enough’ because getting your self-worth from work doesn’t work. Knowing your self-worth comes from inside rather than outside is the key to overcoming burnout.
If everything was striped from you, all your work achievements, would you be ok with what was left? Are you happy with yourself now for what you have already achieved? Because f you are not ok with who you are today, no level of achievement is going to make you feel better about yourself.
Look at all the successful actors, business people and sporting heroes and see the highest levels of divorce and substance abuse.
You can be happy with who you are today without looking to the future. You are worthy, just as you are, and no level of achievement is going to make you are a more worthy person or more deserving of love and acceptance.
2. Relationship Status
As a single 28 year old I have more freedom with my time compared to a married woman with three children. This is both a good and a bad thing. Good because I can do whatever I want whenever I want. And I do love that! But also bad because it makes it a lot harder to say no to big projects at work which often result in working longer and later hours.
We are missing that accountability partner at home who will be upset with us if we are late for dinner, or if we cancel on a movie night.
Without that partner at home, young professional career women don’t mind staying late in the office. We love to work. It meets our need for fulfilment, accomplishment and significance - for a time. And it sure beats coming home to an empty apartment and watching Netflix alone (not there’s anything wrong with that).
It’s a lot harder to say no to work when there’s noone we want to go home to.
The secret to overcoming this bad habit of working late is to know what else you love to do outside of work, and DO IT!!
Create a plan to put firm boundaries in place so when you are tempted to stay late and work you can say, ‘Sorry, I have an art class to go to’. Or a yoga class, photography class, whatever it is that you have already promised yourself you would go to that night.
The key is STICK TO YOUR COMMITMENT TO YOURSELF!
If you bail on your own plans with yourself, you let yourself down. This weakens your relationship with yourself and trust in yourself. The more you stick to the plans you have created the stronger your confidence and self-worth becomes. This confidence then overflows into the workplace and you bring more energy and enthusiasm to your career.
Would you like to have more passion? What about more passion for your job?
Often my clients come to me and say, ‘I wish I knew what I was passionate about’. Although passion is a fantastic feeling that can enable us to take massive action – it can also have the reverse effect.
Being incredibly passionate about something can lead to overwhelm, exhaustion and burnout. Becoming so passionate can sometimes result in our identity being enmeshed with our cause.
I know because this is what happened to me. I was so passionate about helping women with using drugs that I started to live and breathe my work. Everything I read, everything I watched, everything I spoke about was related to this topic. And I loved it. I didn’t want to talk about anything else. As soon as someone started to talk about wanting to have children, or going travelling I switched off. I was immediately bored.
At the time I didn’t identify this as a problem but when I hit burnout is when I saw what a real problem it was. I had invested so much time and energy into my passion meant that I had neglected other areas of my life. So when I hit burnout it was difficult to recover because I wasn’t sure what else I enjoyed doing.
How to tell if you are burnt out?
Ask yourself these questions...
What do I enjoy doing outside of work?
How many hours in the past week did I spend doing these things?
When something needs to be done at work is my default response yes rather than no?
How do I respond when my manager gives me constructive feedback?
Do I become resentful when my hard work isn’t noticed?
These are just some questions to get you thinking about your relationship with work. If you would like some help overcoming burnout and finding a career you love, book in a FREE discovery session with me to learn more about how I can help you.
Have a great day!