5 Tips to go from Burnout to BlazingJan 17, 2023
It’s been 7 months, 28 days, 4 hours and 19 seconds since my last blog. (Sounds like a song from the Broadway musical Rent, doesn’t it?) I stopped writing because I thought I had nothing to say. I never wanted to be the blogger who put out content only based on what I had read or what was popular. I always wanted to share my unique lived, professional experiences. I wanted to make sure that I only delivered meaningful content that added value to the reader. But, the truth of the matter is, I was in hiding. I ran in to many of you at events all over North America during this time. Some of you asked me, “What happened to the blog? I miss reading it!” I gave you the nice answer, ‘I’m taking a break--getting right back to it.” But I knew it was a lie. I just didn’t have it in me.
Upon reflection, I was experiencing Burnout. Maslach & Leiter (2016) define Burnout by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and professional inefficacy (this means inability to produce good work).
As the weeks turned into months, I had to admit, I didn’t have the bounce in my step. I wasn’t showing up to work early. I wasn’t as creative. I didn’t stay as late. I wasn’t taking the initiative to take on the hard things. Simply put, I was tired. I was worn down. I was experiencing something I’ve never felt before.
I thought to myself, ‘Holy *#&$#, am I experiencing burnout? That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m Ivan Joseph, the well of hope, optimism and energy, the guy who brings the light into the room, who has endless amounts of creativity and ideas. That’s what I do.’
You know, it finally hit me when I was working on a Strategic Plan at the university with a consultant I had worked with before, and we were both feeling the malaise of our process and the product this time around. It didn’t have the ‘magic to stir one’s blood,’ which is a quote I’ve used many times from the architect Daniel Burnham because it usually resonates strongly with me during a visioning process like this. He challenges us to, ‘Make no little plans.’ The consultant, who had worked with me previously, could see and feel the difference in my energy and enthusiasm. Neither one of us was happy with the outcome. This was the impetus I needed to pause and reflect on my work during those last 7 months.
It became salient to me that I needed to remember when was the last time I was raring to go, chomping at the bit. It was when I was coaching for the World Cup Qualifiers. I realized that my last blogs happened just after I failed to reach that goal. This failure must have hit me harder than I thought.
I hate failing.
In fact, there’s hardly a day that goes by when I don’t think about that loss and what I wish I had done differently. As a Vice President, I’m also facing organizational challenges: budget constraints, structural alignments, policy and process renewal, the list goes on. I know that many of you are under these same pressures. I realized that multiple stressors were contributing to my Burnout, resulting in a lack of happiness at work and overall weariness.
I surely did not like the new me, and this wasn’t a space I needed to stay. My first gut reaction, was to quit my job. My second reaction was a pity party for myself. My third reaction was shame which fueled me to roll up my sleeves and get to work on solving this problem.
After all, I am the Captain of my Ship and the Master of my Fate.
Research has suggested that individuals and organizations can take specific steps to restore from Burnout. I built on those established and tested methods by adding a deeply intentional focus on enhancing recovery:
Here’s what I did:
- The research said, ‘Take a Break.’ I didn't head to the beach, but I did unplug. I withdrew in order to REFLECT on what really matters to me--the priorities and the principles of the job. I specifically asked myself some tough questions: What exactly was missing that I needed to get? Was it structure? Was it new projects? Was it expanded autonomy? Was it synergistic relationships with colleagues? What was missing that wasn’t restoring my cup?
- The research said, ‘Examine the congruence of personal and workplace values.’ I didn't get stuck in my own head. I checked my cynicism by calling and visiting my MENTORS and close colleagues to test my thinking. When we think alone, we often simply ruminate—focus in on our own perspective of a problem and blow it up in proportion to our emotional reaction. I started reaching out to my long-term friends, my ride or dies, the ones who have my back and tell it to me straight. These targeted conversations with people who know my VALUES and understand my industry helped me to clarify what exactly was exhausting me.
- Recently, it has been proposed that actively involving employees in making changes to how they do their work can impact Burnout. They’re calling it ‘Job Crafting.’ I made a plan, and I secured executive sponsorship—meaning asking my boss for what I needed. I proposed what would it take to get me going again moving towards my mission-centered life that I love. I spoke to my boss about what I needed in the workplace from a resource perspective, from a strategic alignment perspective and from an enticing project perspective.
- Research tells us to ‘Utilize relaxation strategies,’ and ‘improve health and fitness.’ I didn't meditate in my office or take the stairs. I started planning things and participating in things that would fill my cup and restore my happiness. One example was playing ping pong every day with students. I sponsored a weekend tournament. All of a sudden, I was laughing more at work. I remembered why I started into this career and who I really work for—the students.
- Finally, all of the research implores us to enhance our coping strategies. I needed to let go of the guilt from the past. It was weighing me down. While this might be a little vulnerable for me, I sought the professional help I needed. We can’t remove the stigma of Mental Health if we are all afraid to talk about it. I can feel the difference, folks.
Sometimes as a high performer, we think we can grind our way to excellence. We tell ourselves the answer is to dig in, work more and affirm our way to our goals. But if we find ourselves digging and ending up somehow deeper in the hole, we have to face it. There are times in our careers when need more than a confidence letter, an affirmation, or a mantra. Nobody does EVERYTHING alone. We could all use a map, an ear and a helping hand.
I'm happy to report that I'm finding myself eager to get up and out the door in the morning. I'm back to pushing the envelope. I've got some big ideas, and I know with certainty that I have more to give.
Thanks for welcoming me back into your community,