“My burnout is my fault”
This was one of the most devastating conversations I’ve ever had with a burned-out professional.
“I get excited about what I can do, and then I take on so much work that I have to work longer hours to get it all done. I love what I do, I just want to contribute and to do it well.”
That level of enthusiasm shouldn’t lead to burnout. Passion for what you do so well at work shouldn’t lead to harm (exhaustion, cynicism, imposter syndrome, etc.)
AND if you feel you need to put in “extra’ to make things happen, that’s worth unpacking.
What are the invisible rules at play, pushing you past your healthy boundaries?
These invisible rules have a name; they’re called “mindsets”. Mindsets are like a coin, on the one side is the supportive way they help you move through your work, and on the other side are the ways they can sabotage you when it’s over-used. That’s right, the same mindset can be both helpful and hurtful.
“My burnout is my fault” came from a career of making the near impossible happen at work, something this professional was not only really good at, but had taken on as an identity. As time went on it was getting harder to do; not only had their organization’s needs changed over time, but this individual’s personal circumstances changed too. They had a growing family, financial responsibilities. But their mindset was “make it happen”. The invisible rule was “YOU have to make it happen to keep being valuable”.
Hyper-identifying with making the impossible happen at work meant the organization kept this person in the same position for years, thinking no one else could do what they did. While that meant this individual was well compensated, over time they felt like they were being taken for granted. They received more and more of the same near-impossible work with less and less meaningful recognition. No one at work seemed to care about the sacrifices this person was making to get it all done.
This individual knew the consequences for their team if they left (disaster), and they didn’t want to do that to people they liked and respected. Plus, they were so busy they didn’t have time to take care of themselves, never mind look for another opportunity.
They felt trapped, and it was having an impact on their health and family life.
Whatever motivates you to push past your work/life boundaries and encroach on your personal time, it comes on a continuum:
What this points to is summed up by the saying: “What got you here won’t keep you here”; the healthy mindset that got you here (and its invisible rules) might also make it very hard to break free.
So, what if you challenged those invisible rules? What if you said “Eff the status-quo” and made a change?
What would happen?
Here’s some surprising GOOD NEWS. It’s like changing your hair style. When you head out with your “new do” you’re expecting others to exclaim “Oh, you changed your hair!”, but unless it’s a really drastic change most people either:
The majority of people in your life don’t notice the change to your hair at all, even though it may have been a MOMENTOUS CHANGE for you.
It’s like that when you make most changes. For our trapped professional the path away from burnout risk was similar. They started with one momentous change for themselves, that they thought would get them fired, and in the end was barely noticed. They stopped working 50 hours or more a week.
Not all at once, they started what we called “The Reclamation Project” where they worked an hour less each work day for a few weeks. Adjustments to expectations were made at work, and no one flinched or got reprimanded. Then the reclamation project moved on to working 2 hours less each day. Slowly, and with many wobbles (it took time and practice, overcoming obstacles over a number of months), this individual put back the healthy boundaries between work and home… and they did not get fired.
What they got was this:
This individual had a new lease on life AND their career. It re-fuelled their passion for what they did, allowing them to plan for what they wanted to do in the next phase of their career. And they saw how they could do that where they worked, because they knew they were valued for more than just what they could do for their organization today.
Here's the best part: ANYONE CAN HAVE THESE RESULTS.
You’re not at fault for being at risk for burnout (or getting burned out). But the responsibility for caring for yourself rests in your hands.
And you don’t have to do this alone. Here’s what I want you to know:
Carleen inspired me and helped spark the passion within myself to stretch beyond what at times I thought was possible. She nudged me to change by contemplating and changing both my internal and external environments. I highly recommend working with Carleen."