With its scorching effect on your identity and the cynicism, sadness and isolation that can ensue, emerging from burnout means you are changed. It’s possible to emerge from burnout more empowered, authentic and capable of implementing positive change. As Nate Klemp observes, “burnout can be a catalyst for making the hard decisions that we tend to avoid in our ordinary lives”.
That’s why literature on burnout recovery which suggests you “get back to where you were pre-burnout” annoys me.
If you’ve been through something as horrible as a burnout,
why would you waste the valuable lessons it offers?
With the right support and perspective, burnout can have an enormously positive impact on your life.
Upside to burnout #1: It forces your hand
As someone who was historically a people pleaser and needed strict orders from an authority figure like a doctor to put myself first, burnout helped. It was a boss that outranked every partner at the law firm, and even all the pushy voices in my head. When I finally reached a point of being undeniably burnt out (sobbing, lying on the carpet at the arrivals area of Nantes airport while my brother and my boyfriend carefully patted me on the back), everything else took a back seat. I was Not Coping – and I had hit a wall, which forced me to confront the fact that I was miserable and that something major needed to change.
Upside to burnout #2: You have to reassess your priorities
When your body sends you messages as strongly as those it conveys during a burnout, you have no option but to listen…
What really matters to me?
Is it worth compromising my mental and physical health for this job?
Is this really how I want to spend my time?
What are my goals? What are my values and priorities?
Burnt out, with literally no fuel left, there is no energy to tolerate what doesn’t serve you. You start seeing things more clearly. You have no option but to reassess your priorities and live in accordance with them, every day. Anything else will ultimately lead back to burnout.
Upside to burnout #3: You get insight into what makes you happy (or at least what definitely doesn’t)
Burnout shows that something is wrong – it might be
- The work you are doing (like, the whole industry)
- The way you are working (e.g. right field, wrong job)
- The amount you’re working (perhaps it’s exactly the right role for you – but you need to rein the hours)
Often, you will intuitively know what’s up. After I burnt out, the firm set up an appointment for me with a life coach. I’ll never forget his opening statement:
“You already know whether you want to leave the firm or not.”
I remained silent, but inside a voice screamed: “LEAVE.”
If you’re an entrepreneur, involved in a start-up or work freelance, it can be hard to know how and where to scale back. And casual workers have far fewer options than I did on a cushy fulltime contract with a bunch of accrued vacation days. Still, there is always scope to ensure your mental health doesn’t crash like a house of cards (these are moments when reaching out to a life coach like me or a therapist can be super helpful). And if you really care about your business, your career and your happiness, you have to look after yourself first before you can look after anyone else. Insert oxygen mask metaphor here.
Upside to burnout #4: It will only get better
When I finally acknowledged that I was suffering from a burnout (cut back to the arrivals hall at Nantes airport – fun times!), it was the low point. I had been so terrified of admitting I was burnt out that when there was simply no holding it back any longer, I felt relief.
Obviously I’m not advising you try to burn out – all measures should be taken to avoid burning to a crisp, Nantes airport-esque scenes. Nor should you take it lightly: it can be overwhelming and devastating to concede you need to slow down when you’ve been running on momentum (and away from acknowledging reality) for a long time.
Admitting I was burnt out was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the best, because it led me to the amazing life that I’ve lived from the day I left the firm.
If the above sounds familiar and you think you would benefit from a free coaching session, contact me now!