My Burnout ExperienceAug 24, 2022
What happened to me?
Why don’t I feel like I used to?
When did this all start?
These questions were ones I’ve struggled with over the past year. Trying to understand what happened to me in the years leading up to my significant life shift and ultimate crash and burnout. I think I only now (a year later) fully appreciate that what I was experiencing was in fact “burnout.” At the time it was just my normal life, albeit more stressful and frustrating than in years past.
In my mind images of “burnout” included dramatic scenes with an inability to function or take action. It was a world of complete chaos, depression, drama, and anger. I was still functioning and marching forward – didn’t that mean I was fine? Didn’t it mean that I wasn’t truly in “burnout”?
As I began reading “The Burnout Epidemic” by Jennifer Moss, I felt the shades lift off my eyes where I could finally see my world as it really is and had been. Jennifer defined burnout using the World Health Organization definition as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that had not been successfully managed.” She went on say it’s characterized by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Check, check, and check! My experience certainly met all three criteria.
How did I get to this point?
What led me to a full-blown burnout scenario that it took me over a year to acknowledge? Looking back, it's almost a wonder I couldn’t see it at the time.
I was working as Vice President of Shared Services with responsibility for and managing Talent Management, Information Technology, Customer Services, Order Management, Project Coordination, and Legal. In prior years, I’d had a son and shortly after experienced a significant health crisis for two years before they discovered it’s cause. I worked through all of it and pushed my way through surviving it. I experienced multiple miscarriages during this time only to then be followed by a twin pregnancy. I had my twins in the summer of 2019 and they had a food protein intolerance which meant they could not tolerate formula. This meant I had to nurse them both and get donated breastmilk to feed them (for 18 months). The stress of feeding two babies, giving my three-year-old son attention, and trying to return to work was significant.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, my twin girls were 9 months old, and my son was 4 when the world shut down and we were forced home. I was trying to navigate technology challenges, HR challenges, legal challenges caused by the pandemic all while juggling three small children at home. My husband, also employed by the same company working full time as well.
Six months later, the business required a workforce reduction and as head of Talent Management and legal I was responsible for ensuring we did it effectively and legally. All of my teams took significant hits in this reduction, everyone was being asked to do more work with fewer resources including me, who had two employees out on maternity leave that year! As an extreme extrovert, remote work was a challenge, and the feelings of isolation definitely took their toll but with so much to do with my three small children I had no time for “virtual happy hours” or “friend zoom calls.”
By the end of 2020, I was feeling disconnected, frustrated, exhausted, and the negativity and cynicism were beginning to grow. Then in May of 2020, the company was hit with a ransomware attack – yes it was as bad as you could imagine. I was working long days (and nights) stressed, worried, and overworked. On top of it all, there were internal relationship dynamics adding to the stress and feelings of frustration.
Looking back, it's really not a surprise that I was in “burnout” but at the time I really didn’t realize what was going on. I began writing my first book “The Exceptional Life R-Evolution” – I think probably mainly to cope with all I had experienced. To put into words my desire to live a better life, one filled with exceptional experiences at work and at home. In writing the book, I think I realized I needed to make some changes if I were going to truly have an exceptional life.
What created the burnout?
I’d essentially run through my life for over two decades – from college to grad school, to law school, to the corporate world, to balancing kids and my job in leadership. I’d often go years in between vacations, always running from one workplace crisis to the next. In Talent Management/HR there is never a lack of drama, crisis, or issues to keep you stressed and exhausted.
Jennifer describes burnout as often occurring as pebbles that slowly become boulders. I think this is exactly what happened to me. I didn’t notice one single major event that caused my burnout – rather it was all these separate instances together that created it. She shares burnout is triggered most often by the following:
- perceived lack of control,
- lack of reward or recognition,
- poor relationships,
- lack of fairness,
- and values mismatch.
Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. I was most definitely experiencing all of these at the time of my burnout.
What did I do?
After a few challenging interactions, I knew it was time for a significant change and left my company to start my own business. It was only after leaving that I experienced the “crash.” I crashed hard. I was so exhausted in those first months I slept at least 10 to 12 hours a day. I couldn’t function as I had for all those years. I felt completely depleted and lost in the world. I had a lot of mental health work to do to recover from the abuse I had put my mind and body through over the past twenty years.
I journaled, I worked with coaches and therapists, and slowly I came back to life. Once again, I wrote a book “Fiercely Cherished Beings” sharing my journey to discover myself and love myself. I definitely wrote this book for myself, to guide me back to who I am and how I want to choose to live my life. To learn how to love myself and care for myself to protect myself from experiencing this again. But I realize now, I am not the same. I am still not the person I was before the shift before the burnout.
Where am I today?
One year later, I am still battling exhaustion and health challenges resulting from chronic stress. One year later and I’d love to say all is well now, but the truth is all is better but not perfect. The damage I did over those many years is going to take longer to unwind. For many it takes months and even over two years to recover from the trauma experienced as a result of workplace stress and burnout. I think I am one who is going to fall into that category. I take comfort in the fact I am not alone. I take comfort in knowing that my inability to “suck it up” “pull it together” and “move on” is not because of a fatal personal flaw but rather due to the experience I had that led me to this state.
I guess it makes sense that damage done over two decades can’t be completely undone within one year. However, I will say that the progress I have made has left me feeling better in many ways than I did during those two decades of running. My life today, how I live it, how I experience it, how I view it is significantly improved from my past life. The relationships I’ve built, the time I give to care for myself, and following a purpose that fills my soul has made all the difference.
I wrote and published my new book “Fiercely Cherished Beings,” hoping that my story, my words, my experiences, my insights, and my lessons might help someone else on their own journey.
For the many hundreds of thousands of people who are suffering from burnout but may not even know or realize it yet, my book is for you.
For those who struggle with who they are and how to love themselves and care for themselves, my book is for you.
For those, who feel there must be something more to life and just aren’t sure what, my book is for you!
Do you find yourself meeting the criteria for burnout outlined above?
Do you find yourself experiencing the six most common triggers of burnout?
Are you exhausted, frustrated, depleted, and not sure why or what to do?
If so…know you aren’t alone and you do not have to live this way.
My book Fiercely Cherished Beings is now available - this book provides my journey thus far and I hope you will find it helpful to you! Want to check it out first? Get the first 25 pages free on my website:
For Female Leaders...
I’ve been working with a partner Dana Parker on a program specifically for women leaders “Evolving Female Leaders” that will include all of the development I needed but didn’t get as a leader. The development necessary to truly succeed in leadership while also enjoying and loving your life. You can learn more on our website below and/or reach out to discuss!
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