If you search “how to avoid career burnout,” you’ll discover tacit advice like:
“Get some exercise,” or
“Meditate to control your stress,” or
“Manage your time better.”
Which sounds lovely.
But that kind of “wisdom” gives me indigestion.
Truth is, the old school ways to avoid career burnout don’t work anymore.
That makes sense, right?
Everything else has changed in our contemporary workplaces, so why wouldn’t we need new techniques and tools to manage our lives at work?
Let’s dig into the smarter, practical ways to avoid career burnout–and just as importantly, how to reverse career burnout if you’re already on fire.
In this guide:
- What is Career Burnout, Really?
- Strategy 1: Identify Your Pattern
- Strategy 2: Listen to the Whispers
- Strategy 3: Move on to the Next Scene
- Strategy 4: Involve Others, Early & Often
- For More Help
(Just a note: if you believe that you or someone you love might be struggling with a serious physical or mental illness that’s more than just career burnout, please, please, see a medical professional in your community. This article in no way replaces advice provided by your healthcare provider. It’s simply intended to offer actions you can take control of right now if you sense you’re approaching–or you’re in–a career burnout state. Okay?)
What is Career Burnout, Really?
A big mistake many of us make is believing that career burnout is just a physical exhaustion issue.
We assume that all we need is a freeeeekin’ break:
- a vacation by the beach . . .
- a weekend without commitments . . .
- an evening where we’re home by
5 67 . . .
- a full night’s sleep without an Ambien assist . . .
So we try those things, and even the best Netflix & chill-a-thon doesn’t make our burnout magically disappear.
That’s because in most cases, career burnout is not a physical exhaustion issue.
It’s a mental exhaustion issue.
And here’s the darndest thing.
Most of what’s exhausting our mind is of our own making.
Quite simply, your mind never rests.
In the short term, most of us find it hard to build those yogi, quiet-your-thoughts skills.
Sure, it can be done over time, but what can you do NOW?
You can begin to examine how career burnout works for YOU.
Career burnout doesn’t happen all at once.
No single failed meeting or uncomfortable conversation can cause it.
And truth is, it can look different for each one of us.
In my professional coaching work with high performing leaders, I notice that true burnout is kind of like a roller coaster.
- You embark willingly, happily, taking on the new job, project, leadership responsibilities. . .
- And you ride out a few minor highs and dips, for a while.
- Then. . . your stress/frustration/concern slowly inches higher, higher, and higher, until . .
- It plummets screamingly downward, making you feel like your face will soon pancake on the ground.
This is not a gentle fall.
So how can you avoid it?
The challenge is that on the climb up, most of us don’t know where the peak is– the point where we’ll start crashing downward.
So how do we uncover that point–before it’s too late?
We can ask our brain for help. Here’s how.
Strategy 1: Identify Your Pattern
If you’ve been in the working world for a while, it’s highly likely you’ve crashed before.
It’s perfectly normal, and even expected.
And while you might wish you could forget that time in your life, let’s let your brain remember it now so we can learn from it.
Grab a piece of paper and answer these questions:
- What did my last crash look like? (For example, did I make a huge mistake, get really sick, say something inappropriate, etc.?)
- What was happening in the months before I crashed?
- If I could go rewind the film of my life, at what point did I see a warning sign and ignore it?
- What exactly was that sign?
When I did this exercise, the warning sign for me is when I start reaching for a word (something that’s usually my jam) or start misspelling simple words.
One of my coaching clients identified that it’s when she jumps to anger quickly.
Another knows that his sign is when he (a lifelong runner) doesn’t feel like hitting the track.
Red flags, all of them.
But letting your brain dig up those warning signs can save you from a career crash.
Strategy 2: Listen to the Whispers
What is your burnout trying to tell you?
What’s the thing you KNOW inside but you’re not admitting to yourself, or constantly talking yourself out of?
Feeling fried is the best time to listen to the whispers.
Your future self (often, your better or aspiring self) is actually talking to you.
And she’s pretty smart.
Tune in to what’s being broadcast by your brain–just like you’re tuning an old-fashioned radio dial.
It may take a quiet space to let the whispers be heard, but trust me, they’re there.
So . . . what are you hearing? Be honest, now.
Maybe it’s something like:
- “I’ve outgrown this job.”
- “I really want to move closer to my family.”
- “I’m bored.”
- “I’m better than this.”
- “I want my work to matter.”
Again, write those things down.
I know–you might not want to write them down, because once you do, they’re REAL (gulp!)
But trust me–seeing them honestly now will save you loads of stress later.
After all, the truth’s never easy, but if you want to avoid career burnout and its ugly consequences, stop lying to the most important person in your life–YOU.
Strategy 3: Move On to the Next Scene
Screenwriters talk about the “all is lost” moment in their work.
- Hans is encased in carbonite.
- The Stillwater band’s plane hits turbulence.
- Buttercup finds Westley dead.
The “all is lost” moment is a crucial point where, if this wasn’t a movie that had to end in another 30 minutes, all of the action could stop.
And that’s exactly what happens in our lives at work.
We hit an “all is lost moment:”
- You don’t get the promotion.
- Your beloved boss announces her retirement.
- The company gets acquired by a rival.
- Your industry goes through scandal or begins to be irrelevant.
- You write down the whispers and admit they’re real.
No matter what, these moments become a catalyst for change.
At this point, we only have three choices:
- Ignore them, and stay stuck and exactly the same as we are now (which isn’t working, or else you wouldn’t be reading an article about how to avoid career burnout, just sayin’);
- Mull on them over and over, hoping something will suddenly look differently, or
- Move on and create the next part of the story.
The only way to avoid career burnout–now or later–is to choose #3.
Just like in the movies, if you’re at an “all is lost” moment, you can choose to move on to the next scene.
How? Let’s do some writing again.
Write down your answer to these questions:
- If this were a movie, what would the next scene be?
- Who would be the characters that show up?
- What would the hero do?
Read your answers back to yourself, and then ask:
- Since I am the hero of my life, what do I need to do next?
This conversation helps your brain get unstuck and start to do what it’s built to do–create ideas and action.
Strategy 4: Involve Others, Early & Often
When we’re feeling career burnout, we often start disconnecting from friends and other groups, thinking that we don’t have time for them.
Which is exactly opposite of what we need to do.
If you want to prevent career burnout or reverse the roller coaster, start getting others involved.
In other words, ask for help.
This doesn’t just mean talking to your manager or leader (although that’s an underutilized strategy, and you can find scripts to make this easier here.)
It may mean reaching out to a colleague or a mentor. Others who interact with you regularly can often spot the signs you’re inching up the roller coaster toward the top–and they can flag you before you crash.
Or, working with a trained, experienced coach can help you see your patterns faster, and provide non-judgmental encouragement and accountability so you take the actions you need to take. Working with a coach is like flossing for your career–a little action goes a long way.
Hopefully, these strategies can help you nip career burnout in the flaming bud.
And if you’re already on the burnout bus, that’s okay.
Let’s stamp your ticket, get off at the next stop, and start using these tools to change your life at work today.
For more help
No matter what’s happening in your life at work, a 30-minute chat with me can help you get unstuck and move forward, fast.
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