Burnout is a topic that I hear often – both with clients and all over the media.
Burnout is never fun. It’s exhausting to the point that it drains your energy and motivation, often leaving you feeling stuck, alone, and hopeless. But here’s a truth I’ve learned over the years: stopping and sitting with the feeling of burnout could be your answer.
I love how Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, sums it up perfectly:
“When we’re feeling burned out or having a tough time, we often become overly focused on reaching the light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. I want to propose something different. What if, instead of rushing toward the light, we learn how to SEE in the dark?"
Burnout can feel all-encompassing.
What if you refused to give it power over you? What if you could expand your awareness and see things from a new perspective instead? What if you could let it teach and guide you?
Let’s try it:
I’m giving you permission to see it differently.
Awareness – Signals and Symptoms of Burnout
There is only one thing you need to know about burnout: it’s more than just overwhelm.
Burnout is sneaky and can show up slowly. For most, it starts with situations/circumstances you don’t love, but you tell yourself, “This is okay. It is what it is.” You just keep going, pushing through it and tough-it-out. You may tell yourself you’re “lazy” or not committed if you don’t view it as a productive challenge. You tolerate it.
But over time, this rationalization and coping turns into a monster.
It’s fine until it’s not – and then burnout sets in.
6 Reasons for Burnout at Work
At its core, burnout is a fundamental “mismatch” between you and elements of your job.
What that looks like and what you can learn from it is different for everyone. But it tends to fall into 6 specific “mismatch” categories based on the research from Maslch and Leiter, Early Predictors of Job Burnout and Engagement:
Workload: this usually is significant workload and a lack of resources or support to get it done, especially for high performers. I see this a lot in lean and growth-stage startups. The workload is intense and requires ungodly hours + wearing multiple hats. At the end of the day, it’s simply impossible. Things may get done, but usually not to an ideal standard. There aren’t adequate resources to get the job done right the first time. No wonder working in that kind of stress mode quickly becomes unsustainable, right?
Control: this often displays as a mismatch in management style – or expectations. Clients being managed by someone who’s intimidated by them – or worse, lead from a place of fear or micromanaging. There are expectations to do a task, yet you don’t have the clarity or alignment. I see this in marketing a lot – you’re expected to come up with the genius consumer insight without the support to do the necessary consumer research. Directions shift and change with the mentality to just “build the plane while flying it.” Or “fail fast” – which is a fancy way of saying do it fast and right the first time. Sounds pretty crazy, right? It sets people up for failure more often than not.
Reward: a reward can refer to financial compensation to simple recognition for a job well done, yet typically the only recognition offers is that of negative feedback. Sadly, high-fives and virtual pats-on-the-back have gone out of style. It’s an epidemic in our society: people generally don't get recognized for the value they bring and aren’t paid their worth. But here’s the irony: most people (especially females) are afraid to advocate for themselves, yet when they do, they’re surprised they actually get what they want.
Community/Support: if you feel unsupported, especially in highly competitive environments, you’re headed toward burnout. It’s the type of environment where you don’t want to get too friendly with people because you don’t know how to trust them. There’s no transparency, and employees are pitted against each other. Not surprisingly, this can be incredibly unstable and draining always working in stress mode. It’s not conducive to long-term success – for anyone.
Fairness: nothing is worse than witnessing promotions given to those who don’t deserve it. Or when high performers keep getting more and more “stuff” added to their plates because people know they get their s@#% done. It’s not right, but I see it all the time. Then you’re left with resentment and wonder how to get others to raise their hand/volunteer. No one wants to stay in a work environment like that.
Values/Skills: if the values of the job (or company) don’t align with your core values, a fundamental mismatch will always exist. For example, if you’re in an intense, fast-paced work environment but prefer a slower “sit back and think about things” flow, you’re regularly going to feel your energy draining. It’s always going to be incongruent. It’s important to note here: only you can decide how many (or which) core values need to align and how many don’t – before accepting a role.
These are the 6 typical mismatches that lead to burnout (and likely there are more) – if you suspect you’re experiencing one or more of these, the question remains: how do you want to be with it and understand why it’s happening? How do you learn to SEE in the dark? How can you accept your reality and let awareness guide your next best step?
Embrace the Darkness
Question: How can you learn from the early stages of burnout before you’re in that pit of despair?
Sometimes just bringing a little bit of clarity to the situation helps you understand how to take the next step. Without pressing pause and just “powering through,” sometimes you get further away from the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why it’s essential to observe and notice what you see in the darkness.
It’s not always easy to ask the hard questions. But we must.
What do I need at this moment? More support. Resources. Rebalancing of work.
What can I actually control? My actions and honoring my values. Choosing to complete what’s possible. Support and treat others. My words.
What’s out of my control? What other people think, say, feel, and do. Unspoken expectations. The past.
How will I accept and let go of what I don’t control?
As you consider mismatches you may be faced with, sit with them.
Recenter your nervous system.
You just might find that catching the symptoms of early burnout becomes an unexpected gift, illuminating new possibilities.
Are you open to it?
Julie Breckenfelder, The Alignment Coach, is a seasoned life and leadership coach. With a passion for helping others live a purpose-filled and impactful life, Julie supports her clients in understanding their values, their dreams, their barriers to success, and helps them to create a new path forward. Julie believes that mindfulness and positive intention are foundations for living the life you truly want. If you're ready to step into this next chapter of your life, Julie is here for you. Book your free strategy session today.