We need to talk about burnout. This has come up over and over again on my calls this week. A few months ago I told this story. It seems worthwhile to repeat it today when so many people are under pressure like never before.
Several years ago in my first consulting job, I experienced the true cost of a burn out. It was one of those “fly out to the client every week” kinds of jobs. At first, I had loved the adventure of it – seeing new cities, working with great people, tackling interesting problems. But about 2 years into the role, I hated getting on that airplane every week. I became anxious during take-off, when before I had always loved to fly. I didn’t want to go, and my hands would start to shake as the engine roared.
Once I got to work, I felt completely overwhelmed. Everything was coming at me at once. I felt constantly behind, despite working crazy long hours. What’s worse, is I felt completely alone. Since I’d been recently promoted, I believed I couldn’t turn to my manager to ask for help. Everyone was working a lot – so why should I be any different?
I had gone from feeling like a rock star – getting an early promotion and recognition – to feeling like a complete failure, inadequate to meet the demands of my new role.
Finally, one weekend, I decided I had had enough. I declared to my husband that I was quitting my job. Seeing how miserable I was, he supported that decision. Monday morning, I did it. I sat down with my manager and told him I was leaving the project and the company, effective in 2 weeks. I didn’t have another job. I didn’t have a back-up plan. I just knew that the emotional and psychological toll of the job was too high for me to stay.
It took a long time for me to recover from that experience. I carried that sense of failure with me into my search for the next job – and you can imagine how well that went. Interviewing when you’re full of self-doubt is a losing proposition. I showed up uncertain and small, with none of the confidence that my credentials and experience should warrant. It became a vicious cycle of self-doubt.
With 20 years of hindsight and experience navigating corporate life, I can see now that quitting my job was a costly and unnecessary mistake. The self-doubt and uncertainty I experienced in the wake of that awful experience would come back to haunt me, even long after I got my next position. If I had to do it again, there are several strategies I would have tried first.
I’ve had the opportunity to help clients through this over the years. Some come to me when they’re at a low point in their careers – in a job where they feel overworked and overwhelmed, unsupported by their boss. We work together on strategies they can use to advocate for themselves and their teams. When it works, they’re able to stay at their companies and build careers there. When it doesn’t, they’re able to leave with dignity, knowing they did what they could to try to change a broken system. Having done that, they’re able to hold their heads high in the job search, and find a new role that better meets their needs.
Other clients come to me after they’ve experienced their own “crash.” They’ve moved on, but the reverberations from that are getting in the way of being successful in their next role. In those situations, we focus on rebuilding their confidence and courage, so that they can their careers back on track.
Whatever situation you’re in at work, being able to take a step back to see the bigger picture and the patterns that are contributing to your situation can make a huge difference in your experience. You can take them less personally. You can come up with creative strategies for dealing with them. You’re more likely to remember the resources you have at hand. You can make a decision to stay or to move on from a place of strength and choice. Ultimately, separating out what’s about you and what’s not allows you to reclaim your power and confidence.
For most people, seeing these things when you’re in the middle of them is nearly impossible. That’s where having a coach can help. Finding an independent person, who’s not involved in or invested in the situation, can help you see with fresh eyes, and find the best way through.
If you’re in a situation that’s not bringing out your best work, or you’re feeling overwhelmed, let’s talk. Book a call with me now at zmcoach.net/call.