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Dealing With Burnout

by Amy McGrath June 30, 2015

Let me set the scene.

You’re usually the first one in the office and the last one to leave. You naturally take on big projects because you can blast through large volumes of work and understand where all the little pieces fit into the larger picture. You’re dedicated to your work and highly enthused by it. No matter what position you’re in, you naturally take the reins and steer the ship.

Somewhere along the way, though, something shifts. You move from being fired up about your work to being overwhelmed by it all. Yeah, you willingly took on a lot of responsibility, but you also have a lot of added items on your list that you don’t remember asking for. You’re pretty sure you know why you have so much work. There are some external factors you give credit to: the economy, low resources, the inefficiencies of others … perhaps your monster boss. So you suck it up and do your work. You try to keep your discontent to yourself.

Eventually, you cave under the load. You forget a meeting. You miss a deadline. You snap at a coworker. You’re normally a very capable person – in every situation. So when you start to slip up, your first reaction is to come up with possible explanations. You had a more urgent matter that needed your attention; maybe you’re working too many hours; maybe this stuff is a little bit above your head. Fighting fires seems to be your m.o. (modus operandi) lately.  Maybe you’re not the person for the job.

Burnout is a sign of career depression.

The issue isn’t really that the hours are too long or that the work is too hard or that you’ve been given (or taken on) too much responsibility. If that were the only issue here, the whole thing could be fixed by having a conversation with your boss about workload or requesting/deciding to move on to a more suitable position.
Negotiating fewer hours, finding easier tasks, and taking on less responsibility isn’t the real solution because it’s not addressing the real problem. The real problem has to do with the real reason that you don’t speak up. Why you don’t express that you’re having a hard time keeping up. Why you keep taking on more work. Why you are afraid to say “no”.

I think the real reason you don’t speak up is because you wanted to see something in your world and you didn’t. In this instance, you wanted to see ‘high achieving you’ surpass expectations, pull a rabbit out of your hat, and dazzle everyone with your ability to keep a cool head under pressure. You wanted to do what you do so well. You wanted to turn in the work of five people. You wanted to clean up all the messes. You wanted to complete a high volume of work with speed and excellence. You wanted to have it all together. You wanted to see that hardworking, strong version of yourself … and right now, you don’t. Instead you see a super tired, super stressed, super overwhelmed version of you that has run out of juice. That is not a vision you want to share with anyone else – especially not your boss, who you try so hard to impress. So you don’t speak up. You sit in silence with this undesirable vision which triggers feelings of disappointment and failure. If you sit with the vision long enough, the disappointment turns into shame.

Shame is the real problem. We always try to hide shame. We will go to great lengths to keep our insecurities entirely to ourselves.

If shame is the real problem, how do you get over it? The same way you get over fear.

You notice that it’s there and pay attention. You address it by looking it straight in the face. And you speak truth to it. You have noticed that feeling ashamed and trying to hide your emotions leads to not speaking up. That’s exactly what shame wants. Shame wants you to hide. Shame wants you to be silent. That’s because shame cannot exist once it is exposed. When the truth is spoken, shame has to leave.

Have that conversation with your boss about how you’re burnt out. If you’re not ready to talk to your boss, talk to your spouse, your partner, a good friend or a coach. Work together to create some breathing space. Use that space to deal with your shame. Take the time to figure out what you’re disappointed about. Think about what it really means if you’re not always perfect and you don’t have it all under control. Be gentle and understanding with yourself, and rather than design a life where you fail if you’re not superhuman, think about the life you want to live and what that could look like if only you could give yourself permission to be human.

Coach Amy is a Certified FOM Coach and a regular contributor to our newsletters.  Read more about Amy (and our other Coaches!) HERE.

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