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Burning out? Here’s how to save yourself and your career

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I write this piece as a working professional who has experienced serious burnout in the past. Trust me when I say, it’s not a place you want to be.

At the time, I had no idea what it was. It came after 20 years leading a growing organisation with thousands of people involved. Lots of exciting things were always happening and lots of goals were being kicked. By most measures, we were very successful. The organisation was benefiting almost everyone we served – except me. I was slowly dying on the inside.
My marriage relationship was struggling, my inner world was very tired and, if I am honest, I was quite bored.

After 20 years at the helm and a few tough seasons, nothing was touching me anymore. I was high functioning, performing my role well, mostly. Upon reflection, the edges were fraying a little. I noticed in myself a lack of compassion and a growing intolerance towards people who required extra help to fit in and flow with our culture.

In my current role as Business Mentor, I see many business owners and corporate executives who are struggling with similar issues. They are high functioning, but no longer excited about the opportunities and the impact of their work. They are relieved to get through another week, to make budget, to clinch that new deal or to increase their market share. Like my experience, they are a bit over all the juggling they must always do at work and between work and home responsibilities. They are living on the edge of burnout.

Unmistakable signs of burnout

Burnout is complex. It is a slow burn that culminates over time and each onset has their own story. You can feel emotionally numb, and yet little things may set you off into an angry tirade. People tend to be a drain, and it is difficult to avoid becoming cynical.

Burnout can also make you vulnerable to thoughts of escape, irresponsibility and temptation to do unusual things for a little excitement. Those suffering burnout will also find it hard to feel refreshed and renewed even after sleep and time off.

High achievers have the highest risk

No-one is exempt from the debilitating effects of burnout. High achievers who are used to working things out, making things happen and being very self-reliant are among the most at risk.

More surprisingly, these people are often surprised to find they have limits at all. They think it could never happen to them and it only affects those who do not have their act together or are not as smart or resilient. High achievers who experience burnout usually hit an emotional wall in their early 40s. It’s during this decade that work life tends to be at its most demanding alongside family commitments at home. Quite simply, there never seems to be a moment to stop and recuperate.

The challenge for this cohort is that they are not usually great at asking for help. If there are close family relationships, parents or siblings around, then this can provide some support. Beyond that, many high achievers over time become the emotional strength of their family and do not know what to do when they have a need.

They are not sure who to call or the thought of asking for help doesn’t even enter their heads. They just continue to push through until the day comes when pushing through feels like the hardest obstacle in the world. Welcome to burnout.

Easiest ways to reduce burnout

  • Ask for help and don’t be afraid to show close friends, family or colleagues the imperfect version of you
  • Learn to say ‘no’ to people and requests that aren’t reasonable
  • Create boundaries and spaces in your busy schedule to do little to nothing
  • Partake in regular activities outside of work that will totally absorb your attention
  • Constantly seek out humour with friends and those around you
  • Constantly seek out humour with friends and those around you

Burnout can happen to anyone, and we need to respect ourselves, our mental health and our physical health enough to implement self-care strategies that help us to breathe and regenerate regularly. Get this right and you’ll be sharper both in your personal and professional life.

Read next: How much stress you actually need to perform

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