As a respected thought-leader & leadership coach to corporate executives for more than twenty-one years, Kelly Meerbott is naturally empathetic and intuitive. She attributes her success to the ability to see beyond the symptoms and identify the root cause of an issue. Kelly collaborates with her clients to co-create field-tested, practical action plans to assist them in achieving their leadership goals as quickly as possible. She is committed to healing the wounds of burnout one human at a time.
One of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve observed during my coaching career, is witnessing the internal human light grow dimmer and dimmer until it eventually vanishes. I’m referring to high performing humans who once sparkled, shined, loved their lives, pursued their dreams, suddenly become weary beings devoid of all color and light.
In recent years, we’ve become infatuated with the hustle, obsessed with working hard and achieving. Myopically focused on striving for more in an exhausting attempt to prove our value to the worldis what disconnects us from ourselves.
Burnout is a toxic thief poisoning the world’s best and brightest by devouring their energy, enthusiasm, and passion. It transforms these positive qualities into exhaustion, frustration, distress, and disillusionment.If left unaddressed, burnout can make it difficult for us to function in our daily lives. It’s a syndrome that results from extreme and chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. A Gallup poll found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work often, and workplace burnout costs $125 billion to $190 billion per year in additional healthcare spending, according to the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
If these symptoms resonate with you then this short piece could be a pivotal moment for you. In the next few minutes you’re going to discover how burnout typically shows up in our lives and how it hides behind a range of soul-zapping symptoms.You’re also going to see the dire consequences one client faced as she confronted her own burnout demons, what she did to get through it and how you can do the same.
Her name has been changed to protect her privacy but her story, experiences and emotions are genuine. By the end of this short article it’s my hope that you’ll have gained an insight into your current situation; you’ll be able to identify if and how burnout is manifesting in your life and what you can do about it.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in…
A client of mine, let’s call her Mary, went into her supervisor’s office for her annual review. Her raise, shot at partner, bonus and ultimately position at the law firm were at stake. She was given constructive feedback on the gaps and blind spots in her skill set & job performance. It was crucial feedback that would’ve fast-tracked her advancement to partner in a few short months. But Mary immediately got defensive, shut down and closed off after hearing, but not listening to the input. Immediately following her review, she decided to create a plan of attack which was to do everything in her power to prove her supervisor wrong. She deserved to be a partner and this was war!
Yet despite all her hard work, Mary was still not promoted to partner. She’s failed again. Her focus on proving her supervisor wrong caused a major career backslide. Mary neglected improving the areas of communication, accountability, commitment and empathy she needed to achieve partner. As a “result,” Mary became frustrated, vindictive, combative and overwhelmed. She would often over-react to basic requests due to her short temper. Mary even admitted to me that she was jealous of her co-workers and was sometimes even intentionally spiteful.
Having met a stressed out but usually capable and highly successfully executive can you already start to see a few patterns emerging? In Mary’s case she had been suffering in silence for some time before what we call a “Trigger Event” seemed to kick her problems into high gear and amplified the negative self-talk in her head. From that point she felt like she was losing control. She didn’t see it coming. Mary didn’t feel like she was suffering from burnout because of the range of ways it can manifest. As you all see, these were only the symptoms, these weren’t the real problems.
The real problem was something much deeper — burnout.According to Fast Company magazine, “The scariest thing about burnout: It’s easy not to see it coming. After several years of head-down-focused work, day in and day out, you’ll start to feel the rigorous training you’ve forced your body to adopt has taken a toll. You’ll either push through or hit the wall hard. The most successful people have all dealt with this life-work challenge at some point.”
Burnout has sucked passion out of Mary. Can she or more importantly, can you find relief from the symptoms of burnout? Yes! It takes some effort, requires a change in lifestyle and a conscious shift in mindset. However, once burnout is recognized as the cause of your misery and attended to, it can be leveraged as a positive force in your life. It becomes a chance to rekindle the internal flame in order to shine brightly and an opportunity to transform your internal narrative.
Reconnecting with your enthusiasm doesn’t have to be all-consuming it can be the spark you need to reignite your flame. This may mean that you have to redefine your worlds at work, at home, or both. It may mean that you have to find a way to redistribute the load you’re carrying to shift the burden.Or it could mean that you have to discover a new passion — one that will offer you more balance, more flow, so that you can enjoy your life and your work the way you once did.
Let’s reconnect with Mary who’s just been made partner at her firm after finally making the changes her supervisor recommended during her annual review. Partner came with its own set of challenges and Mary was already weary of her company’s networking events. She sarcastically dubbed them “not” working events. It was the same types of people having the same hollow conversations that often started with the question, “what do you do?” She was tired of choosing her firm over her family and missing milestone events in her children’s lives.
During our sessions, Mary would describe how she felt to me in this way “as a chronic process of unplugging and disassociating from work, friends, family and health with an emphasis on the word chronic.” The feelings of stress, anxiety and fatigue for Mary crept in slowly and insidiously. She compared it to a bottomless pit and no matter how much she rested or slept. Her exhaustion ran deeper than sleep deprivation and it could not be cured by a few days off.She told me often that she wished she could sleep for a month. Then the cynicism began to manifest itself. She felt like nothing she did mattered. Even major successes she achieved (including the partnership) and things she once loved didn’t elicit her usual enthusiasm or stoke her fire.
Overall, Mary felt disengaged in her work and in life. She felt like she was exerting significant effort but wasn’t making any progress or gaining any recognition. Mary lacked attention to detail and had an inability to focus for extended periods of time. She had become emotionally drained, fatigued, exhausted, and overwhelmed. But she wouldn’t dare to even drop hints about what was going on with her internally to the other partners in her firm because they conditioned her to believe that leaders cannot be, “emotionally erratic” or labeled as “difficult”, “hysterical” females if they expected to remain a partner. We’ve just described Mary’s fall from grace. She has become this unrecognizable cantankerous woman in the office.
In order to accurately diagnose the problem, we must bring awareness and shine light on what the real problem is — the majority of women experiencing burnout will remain at work. The Guardian says, “Often the only people who don’t recognize burnout are those who are exhibiting all of the symptoms, because highly motivated, driven, high-functioning, ambitious people can have great difficulty believing they are breakable.” They don’t realize expecting too much of themselves or believing that the work they are doing is not good enough will contribute to feelings of inadequacy or incompetence. These women feel unappreciated.
They may have unreasonable demands placed upon them or are in roles that are not a good fit. All of these factors are symptoms of burnout and being aware of changes in attitudes and energy can help with early identification.
Back to Mary, burnout has infiltrated every fiber of her being — personal, professional, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. She came to no longer recognize the haggard, broken down shell of a human that stares back at herwith lifeless eyes from the mirror. Mary has ended up in the hospital multiple times for anxiety, panic attacks, headaches, nausea and muscle tension. Only to have her doctors run tests, try to overmedicate her and tell her that there simply is nothing wrong with her physically.
How did Mary find relief? She reached out and immediately enrolled in our eight week coaching program.
First, we co-created a space where she felt safe and not judged. We were able to diagnose her situation, redistribute her workload, and assist her in keeping her partnership with her law firm on her terms. She was once again able to be in the flow of life. Mary’s internal fire was reignited. She was once again passionate about her work, excited about upcoming vacations that she had scheduled quarterly, and was more aligned with her purpose. More importantly Mary felt like her old self again. She regained that sparkle in her eye and that spring in her step. She caught herself laughing more easily — it was no longer forced. People often told Mary she was glowing. She said to me, “I just feel lighter, more relaxed. I have this unwavering clarity. I’m simply grateful to you.” The tears she had in her eyes as she said this were tears of joy and relief.
Are you experiencing any of the following? Irritability — like snapping at your mother when she asks you to pick up groceries on the way home after she’s been home all day taking care of your kids. Exhaustion — It’s so far beyond tired that when you lay down in your bed you can’t sleep because your body has been flooded with adrenaline all day and the electric current running through your system keeps you awake. Low self-worth. Lack of focus. Decimated personal and professional relationships. Marriage on the rocks. Pending demotion. And you notice your kids are starting to hate you.
Imagine what your life would be like when you promoted into a role that fits you perfectly? Imagine what life would be like when we eliminate the overwhelm, the fatigue, the stress, the burnout? How would your relationships change for the better? How would you feel emotionally? How would you feel mentally? What would your body feel like? What positive outcomes or experiences are you able to enjoy that you couldn’t experience before? Close your eyes and see it in your mind’s eye. Really connect with that mental image and feel it experientially.
The first step on the road to recovering from burnout is empowering yourself to make a positive change, today. If you’re simply sick and tired of feeling sick and tired all the time; if Mary’s story resonated with you on a deep level and you know you have to make a change now. Let’s schedule a call to diagnose what’s going on in your life, in business, and start you on your journey to transformation.