I used to wear my feverish work pinned on my shirt like a medal of honor. I told everyone about how blissfully busy I was and recounted all of the things that made me that way, some of which were a bit of a fish story if I’m honest. To clarify, I wasn’t actually burnt out, I was zealous. I wasn’t the type of person who used how busy I was or how exhausted I was as an excuse or a complaint. To the contrary, I was so proud of who I was and the work I did in all facets of my life. I was excited and feeding off of the state of chaos I was living in. One day I was asked what I did to turn it off, which was a completely foreign concept to me. I didn’t want to turn a thing off just crank it up! How could I brainstorm while I was cooking dinner? Could I strategize while on snowmobiling in the winter or out by the lake in the summer? Could I develop the constructs and values that would propel me forward in my career in all of the places that inspire me so that I could spend work time doing the “real” work? (Now I know I’m a recovering workaholic because even as I’m writing this I can feel my heart rate elevate and my mind start to rationalize why all of that is still a great idea.)
I was hungry for the challenge and I was doing a good job. I was meeting deadlines, accomplishing progress, managing change, empowering those around me, making some mistakes and improving everyday. I was also, gaining weight, praying less, losing time with my husband, losing time with my kids, and when I was with everyone my mind was constantly multitasking back to what was easy for me to become enveloped in, work. I was relying all but exclusively on my own abilities and getting praised for it so the rest I just figured would work itself out. Then, in an abrupt about face, I was not praised for the work I was doing, I was questioned on the validity. I wasn’t encouraged to expand, I was told to stay in my lane. I wasn’t allowed to share my plan and vision (all the strategy and constructs I had conceptualized), I was told vision would follow the chain of command. I tried to put in more time and effort but was maxed out. Further, I was no longer getting that fuel from crushing it at work but didn’t know how to be fueled by the other aspects of life. Effort running on empty is then, burnout.
As I typically do, I started to think about what got me where I was. After blaming everyone else didn’t really yield results, I started to understand it was because all of my eggs were in that one basket. I wasn’t fueling myself in any other ways. Getting praise for good work is, well good, but putting sole stock in a few key roles, key people, assigning your value is unhealthy and a recipe for disaster.
Once I realized the problem was me and where I was looking for my worth, I could take the next step to determine where that worth would come from in a perfect scenario. Instead of looking out at everyone else to tell me about my value, I went back to basics and looked up and within. It was like an epiphany, when I realized there was no reason to care what everyone else thought. I mean I know we all know that and I certainly did too but to know it and to understand and embrace it were two different things. Do the job I’m asked to do and if the skills and talents that I know I posses aren’t useful or requested in that scenario, this is not my problem. It does not make those skills less important or less useful. Because those are the things that fueled me and had propelled me forward for so long, I didn’t want to lose them. I didn’t want to let that muscle lay dormant without the ability to work, make mistakes, improve, and grow. So I found other avenues to flex in. I joined clubs, I volunteered, I found areas of the business where I could still grow and connect while staying in my lane and following chain of command. I learned to “turn it off” too. I learned that laptops actually close for a reason. I learned no one dies, or even gets maimed, if you don’t respond to an email or set up a meeting at 9 pm. I learned that some of the mistakes we were all trying so desperately to avoid might happen and we would all laugh about them in about a week and made no difference to anything in about a month, sometimes it took longer and the scar was more pronounced, but often not.
Now I had a better handle on the the thing that was easiest for me to control, work, so I started looking at other areas of life too. I mean, I had all of this time on my hands after closing the laptop, I might as well. I started eating to actually fuel myself (rather than stress eating peanut butter and salami everyday). I started setting goals outside of work like places I’d like to take the family and I bet I could master side crow (not yet but some day). I discovered I like reading (something not a single person I know, including me, saw coming). I created a morning routine because I am incredibly introverted and I need some time alone (sure it started as 5 minutes, but it grew to 90). I started a practice of thanking God for my husband (it is really hard to be mad at your spouse for anything that happened the night before if you start your day recounting 3 ways he was a blessing to you). I added strategic times of prayer throughout the day (That sounds fancy but it was like a minute or two on the way to work, at about 2, and on the way home. It obviously added a little prayer back in my day but also forced me to stop, slow down my mind, and refocus on what was important.).
That is my story of how I started taking care of me. How I started putting myself first. Reading it all in one sitting with your coffee or lunch might feel like it was a quick change, I mean I used the word epiphany. It was not. This took literal months probably more like a year or more and came about in iterations with two steps forward and one step back. It was a lot of hard work and to be honest would have been easier to not do it. I could have just blamed everyone else, quit what I was doing, found something else, and chalked it up to bad things happen sometimes going on to relive the cycle with different scenery. That would have been hard too but easier than doing all of the work on myself. It just wouldn’t have yielded the results. I’m a healthier, wiser, more effective version of myself than I was. I’m better not only in the areas that I had previously neglected, but in the one area I was so focused on in the first place!
So if you’re feeling stuck ask yourself, how am I contributing to this? Where am I getting my worth from? What is one thing I can do to improve the situation? Keep asking this last one and implementing until you get where you want to be.