I was hit with a hard truth last week. I’d had hints of this hard truth surfacing over the last month or more; however, every time the whisper came I quickly buried it, moving to the next thing.
That hard truth is that I am burnt out.
Or, if not fully burnt out, so close that I don’t know how to tell the difference.
Whether I am burnt out or on the edge of it, that hard truth left me with a choice to make:
I could continue as I had been, pushing away the signs of burnout and very soon finding myself in a place hard to come back from,
I could scale back and find my way back to a less crispy version of myself.
How I Got Here
I have been in “push” mode since March of last year when the COVID lockdown started here in the U.S. (And, I know I am not alone in this; there are many others of you out there also reckoning with the fallout of a damn hard time.)
While I have had moments of rest and some time off during the last 15 months (not nearly enough though), I realize now that it felt like those time-off moments were never actually as off as I needed them to be in order to downcycle and give my system sufficient time to restore.
I was on alert and very aware of what our business needed, wondering what potential pivot was coming and if we would see it in time to make the right move.
I was on alert to how our team was faring and if we were doing enough to support them, to prevent burnout.
I was on alert to the upheaval and turmoil so many of our clients were navigating with their own businesses.
I was on alert to the needs of my aging parents, whom I was not able to visit and care for due to COVID.
I was on alert to our broader business audience and community and how we could serve them better during such a tough time.
And that was before considering the broader COVID implications and how to navigate safely in the world, the societal unrest and reckonings that were happening here in Portland, OR and around the world, the political upheavals coming, again and again, the Oregon wildfires and fear of needing to leave our home and seeing friends having to leave theirs, supporting friends who were losing loved ones… and on it goes.
How I’m Scaling Back
And so with tears in my eyes as I sat across from Charlie at lunch, I let him know that I needed to take a step back from our business for a time. There were many ways in which that was an awful thing (in my mind) to have to share.
- I had no way of knowing what that step back was going to look like.
- I had no idea for how long it would be.
- I knew that it was going to slow down important projects.
- I knew Charlie needed time off, as well.
- I sensed that we had teammates that needed time off, also.
I could list many other stories in my mind about why this was such a hard truth to share. At the deepest level, I know that my mind is going to keep heading down that well-worn track and playing its greatest hits, which include: you are here to take care of others, your needs don’t matter as much as someone else’s, you are lazy, you don’t have enough stamina, you don’t follow through, you’re not good enough, you’re a disappointment, and more.
I am embarrassed to admit that the old stories still play out in my mind even after all this time; after all the therapy, self-work, spiritual development, and learning. I don’t think I’m supposed to admit that out loud?
At least I can say that I am aware of the bullshit that lives in my head at times. I’ve created a lot of new, healthier stories and they guide me on my journey much more than they ever have before, so I’m going to take that as a win and say to the old greatest hits: I see you. I know you still have an impact on me, especially when I am tired and burnt out. I’m working on finding a better fit for me with your replacement. Consider yourself on notice.
I’m only a week and a half into my realization, so there is a lot that I still don’t know yet, and at times that makes me uncomfortable. True to form, I wanted to have an end date for this burnout recovery time period. I wanted to be able to tell Charlie and our team when they could expect to see me back at 100%.
Since I am still figuring this out, here is what I can share up to this point:
- I had the “hard for me” conversation with Charlie about needing to step back. He was and is incredibly supportive and sees how badly I need to step back.
- I let our executive management team know, as well.
- Then, I let our full team know that I was going to be “going dark” for a while, but that I didn’t know exactly what that looked like yet.
- I let our team know what two important business projects I would continue to work on, but other than those and essential meetings that I would be stepping back to restore.
- Throughout this time, I will continue to communicate with the team about what to expect from me (to the best of my awareness and knowledge at the time).
- I have talked to our team about what we are doing within the business to bring down the overwhelm and ensure that each of us is moving at a sustainable pace and taking care of ourselves. To that end:
- We have slowed our operations tempo for the summer.
- Many teammates have scheduled long vacations and/or several long weekends for the summer.
- We have talked about healthy habits throughout our workdays, such as taking breaks when needed and working within our chronotypes.
- Charlie and I are scheduled for many long weekends throughout the summer, which will slow things down for the team and give Charlie and me more time to restore.
- While I am in burnout recovery, I am going to be prioritizing two important-to-me practices that have become intermittent at best since the winter: I will be getting back to a healthy and consistent writing and yoga practice. These two practices are a vital part of my well-being, as they both help me move what needs to be moved. It’s not a coincidence that as these practices languished, so too has my overall quality of life.
How Are You Managing Against Burnout?
I may be sharing more about this journey as it unfolds for me, but for today I want to leave you with a few thoughts and questions:
- Where are you in your own journey right now related to burnout? Are you on the edge, like I have been? If so, how will you acknowledge this and what steps will you take to scale back so that you don’t burn out?
- Perhaps you’ve done an excellent job of taking care of yourself or you’ve taken the time already to step back and make sure you restore. Great job! How will you ensure that you continue to stay in this healthy balance?
- If you are a leader or manager, have you taken a really good look at your team to see how they are doing? Have you asked them how they are doing? Have you modeled for them how to take care of themselves by taking care of yourself? Have you encouraged them to take care?
I know from the many conversations I have had with our community members, colleagues, and friends that burnout is showing up in many businesses right now and in all positions. Are you aware of how it is impacting you and those you work with? And, how are you helping to be part of the healing?