“There are two types of people. Those who are burnt out, and those who are in denial about being burnt out” - Greg McKeown
I loved my first Director of Fundraising role.
In some ways it was my dream job.
And on paper it was perfect.
But it was leading me – or I was leading myself – to full blown burnout.
This is my story of burnout and recovery. I want to share this with you as well as some tips and resources so you can recognise whether you’re on the path to burnout and what you can do to help yourself.
In this Director of Fundraising role, I had been brought in to help the organisation and team after a difficult time. I knew I had been hired to turn around their income and quickly.
I certainly felt the expectations on me from the Board and CEO and then I poured huge amounts of pressure onto myself. I literally felt like all the responsibility for raising their income and keeping that organisation going was on my shoulders.
Looking back, I can see this wasn’t the case. I was part of a senior leadership team, I had my own team, there was the Board of Trustees and I certainly wasn’t the Chief Exec.
Sometimes we can fall into a heroine or hero complex. We think we need to rescue everyone and save everything and if we work harder and harder, surely we can turn it around.
I put all my energy into the role. I was overinvested and overworking and doing it for far too long.
Professionally, I was winning.
The results were fantastic – after two and a half years, the organisation was back on its feet again and was growing. My team had transformed and I had this amazing experience on my CV.
Truthfully, I had wanted to quit multiple times in my time there and was convinced not to. I loved the job and the cause and the team but I was beyond exhausted.
After that, I just wanted to escape and have no responsibilities.
I sold my house, took that money and decided to just do things that interested me for a while. I ended up training as a coach, spending summers in the South of France and starting a wellbeing business.
Reflecting back, I realised I couldn’t blame that situation for my burnout. I recognised that I’m a high achiever and I tended to massively overinvest in my jobs. My excitement and drive for results means that I put my foot flat on the accelerator and don’t let off until I crash.
Recognising those traits in myself was invaluable for understanding why I got burnt out and how I can prevent it in the future.
Your first step is knowing yourself and recognising your own traits. It’s not bad to be somebody who works incredibly hard but it’s not sustainable or healthy to do it constantly. You need to know yourself, how you work best and recognise the signs of exhaustion and burnout in your body.
Having poor boundaries can lead to burnout especially your work/life boundaries. This has been especially clear in the pandemic with the line between work and home having completely disappeared. It’s important you set your boundaries, communicate them and be disciplined with sticking to them.
If you consistently overwork, at some point it is going to catch up with you. You might think you’re doing more but it’s not actually productive and the quality of your work is less. Your work can become addictive and you might resonate with the idea of being a workaholic.
Ask yourself why you feel addicted to work and how you can find more pleasure in your personal life to get the balance back.
Sometimes we’re not in the right role for us. It could be a perfectly healthy organisation but actually, we're in a role that just doesn't work for us. To compensate, we're working really, really hard which leads to high stress levels, frustration and imposter syndrome. Consider whether your role is using your unique strengths, whether it fits into you Zone of Genius and if you enjoy the work.
If you’re reading this and thinking “I feel like I’m in burnout, I need to help myself”, here are some tips to help you get started.
Sometimes we can work really hard and then have a lot on socially as well. You might also have a family and we know that’s not very restful, particularly with young children. Create some space for yourself and scope out time for rest. Read a book or have a cup of tea or sit in the sunshine in the garden and just watch the bees, butterflies and birds buzzing and flying around.
You're probably really kind to everybody else but you may not be kind to yourself. For example, if you wouldn't ask a team member to do it then why are you asking yourself to do it? You can aim to treat yourself as you might treat a child that you love or are your best friend. Look after yourself as much as you look after other people.
Know that your worth is not linked to the quality of your work. You have innate value just for being you. There is no one else on this entire earth that has your unique combination of experience, personality, relationships and the energy that you show up with.
You are valuable exactly as you are and you do not have to work yourself into the ground to prove to anyone else or yourself that you're good enough. You just have to choose to believe that you're good enough, and to tell yourself regularly to counteract any negative thoughts that so often come up.
I’ve been through full burnout twice and experiencing many mini burnouts and right now, I’m seeing many clients and connections in the stages of burnout.
I’m creating Rebalance, a 30 day, self-guided audio programme to bring you back from the brink of burnout.
This is designed to be listened to on a short walk each day, helping you to create space in your day for you.
Each day, I will share one idea, concept or tool that you can use. By the end of the 30 days, you’ll have come back from burnout, feel calm, energetic and rested, and have created a working life you love that fits into the life you desire.
You can sign-up to the waitlist for more details and to get access as soon as it begins: https://www.carlamillertraining.com/burnout
If you’d like to hear the full podcast episode, you can access it here: https://www.carlamillertraining.com/podcast
I’d love to hear your experiences or your thoughts in the comments.
For more articles on the issues that impact women leaders at work follow Carla Miller on LinkedIn
Find out about the various ways Carla works with women leaders and organisations on her website www.carlamillertraining.com