“Conflict is change trying to happen”
As the final installment of three personal stories of burnout, this story is the perfect storm. From short-term burnout (The Project that Ate My Vacation) to performance under pressure (Positive Patty Saves the Day), burnout happens to all of us, at different times in our life and for different reasons. Where we’re at personally greatly impacts how we react to these challenges as you’ll see from this story.
This particular experience was by far, the most difficult for me mentally, physically and emotionally. Thinking back now, it was an awakening that helped me reset myself and rediscover my passion. And like many cases of burnout, the storm was brewing for a while.
Calm before the storm
I had just returned to work after maternity leave. Before starting a family, I often dedicated evenings and weekend when the job required. Now, I wanted to be a balanced mom and role-model to other women at work. Gradually, my workload and time at the office increased, again.
The sky turned green
After a few months, I started to notice a sense of overwhelm that I just couldn’t shake. I thrived in high-pressure situations, but this was different. I wasn’t functioning. My performance suffered at work as did my energy and spirit at home. I lost my “light.” I started to feel absolutely ill, confused by how I got here when I had been on such a career-high for all these years. What worked before was suddenly not working now.
I held my head up high, thinking that I can muster through this feeling. I tried different tactics with work like saying no to new assignments, delegating more and being proactive about the client and project pressures I faced. The longer I tried to resist added pressure, the more burned out I felt. It wasn’t uncommon to experience burnout, but the quick wins and short-nature of consulting would get me over that feeling and bring about a sense of achievement. My project, at the time, was a multi-year endeavor with a relentless leadership team, working in a new role and while I had this competitive chip on my shoulder that I had something to prove being back at work – a perfect storm burnout. Work was consuming all my energy.
The eye of the storm
I worked with my coach and mentor to discuss ways I could be more balanced, assuming this was just a passing phase. Countless times I recall saying, “Work is killing me” or “I just feel broken.”
Across the following six months, I worked with an external career coach and a counselor who helped me to break the cycle of feeling “stuck.” The counseling was to understand what I did to contribute to my not functioning, looking back. The coaching was to help steer me on a new path which was really fuzzy, looking forward. I realized that I wasn’t happy with the work, pace or stress that came along with it. I had changed. What kept me going were the amazing relationships (coachees, teams and mentors) I had made. This was a tough lesson in knowing when to confess, “This isn’t working for me.” The admission is not failure, but strength in seeing the truth and extending my own hand to save myself.
Everything looks different now
Once I admitted my job was no longer working for me, the layers of pressure started to melt away. Regrouped and coping, I felt more myself with each conversation because my coach helped me see things objectively. Together, we peeled the layers of my intolerance, filters, black and white thinking and high levels of pressure I put on myself. Talking out loud helped me gain distance from difficult situations I was experiencing. I slowly regained my levelheadedness and inner-strength. After some soul-searching, I prepared a succession plan. I decided to move on.
I left the firm to pursue a new direction in my career. I continued working with my coach and saw many patterns in my corporate experience and remembered another talent, my ability to motivate, inspire and empower others through coaching. And suddenly, I had fallen right back into the vision for myself that I had many years ago of carving my winding road career path, and believing in my own continuous improvement. It’s not risky at all when you have self-reliance and confidence in yourself.
Lessons Learned (too many to count…)
- “Conflict is change trying to happen” – The resistance, negativity and stress felt when under pressure might just be indicators that your subconscious is trying to speak to you. The longer we are under pressure, the less likely we are to respond or even listen to these signs we give ourselves.
- Finding strength by letting go of being the victim – To choose to step away from a harmful situation is freedom. To stay in a harmful situation can sometimes demonstrate your own intolerance, stubbornness and inflexibility to make something work that really doesn’t.
- There’s a lesson in every challenge you face – To succeed, we need to fall down. We need to experience life from both success and failure. These experiences while at the time don’t feel great contain valuable lessons for our character, values and beliefs.
Have you gone through a perfect storm burnout?
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