Career Fortitude



Welcome to part 1 in a series on burnout.  Let’s look at what burnout is and where it comes from, and then dig deeper to address burnout avoidance, management, and recovery.  If you can relate to this topic, I hope you find a path towards recovery.  You have the ability and strength, but it often takes support and guidance to get yourself through such an emotional situation.  Don’t be afraid to seek out that support.  It’s not easy but there’s no shame in prioritizing your health and well-being.

What does burnout feel like?

Exhaustion, mental fatigue, depersonalization, apathy, failure, unhappiness.  These are common feelings for those suffering from burnout.  Sounds like a place no one wants to be, but statistically there’s a chance you’ve been in that place at some point in your life or are there now.  When it comes to our careers and the stress in the workplace, burnout can overwhelm us and strongly influence how we interact with colleagues, friends, and family.  It influences who we are as a person.  This sounds scary, and it is.  But, the more we are in tune with our mental and physical health, the more equipped we are to navigate the emotional minefield and ensure we’re living into our values.

Burnout can be addressed and corrected, but in cases where the individual cannot overcome the dark and powerful forces, it can lead to a serious mental health condition.  Burnout syndrome has been described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon, resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.  For some, the emotional minefield is thick with scenarios that can quickly wreck our confidence and send us down a negative spiral into a chronic condition.

Where does burnout come from?

When I think of burnout, I automatically think of denial and fear.  Denial is a sneaky little demon that has the power to blind us and question our resiliency.  It can prevent us from challenging ourselves when we sink into a comfortable space.  Sometimes that comfortable space is not a warm and hopeful place, but a dark space that manifests anxiety and depression.  Apathy and despair can be very inviting and lead us astray.  For me, the fear of failure can be the most powerful motivator that has a tendency to push me towards emotionally charged decisions rather than logical ones.  With so much raw emotion driving the decision-making, it’s obvious to draw the connection to the damaging impact on mental health and other aspects of our lives that burnout creates.

Why burnout happens

There are many different stressors at work that we experience on a regular basis.  Workplace stressors can come from both internal and external sources.  Long hours, heavy workload, job insecurity, lack of support, and conflicts with a boss or coworkers are a few common causes of stress at work.  But there are so many more stress-inducing micro-behaviors that can go unnoticed or overlooked as we go about our workday.  In some cases, we skip the opportunity to reflect on our current satisfaction level at work and avoid addressing the parts of work that slowly compound and make us unhappy.

Although coming to terms with the fact that we’re suffering from burnout along with potential additional mental health issues is the best-case scenario, the evidence can be hidden from us.  Denial… it’s an extremely powerful demon that blinds the evidence or validates it so we identify warning signs as normal behavior.  It leads to further anguish and disengagement.  Our mind’s instinct towards thoughts of feeling “behind” at work or feeling overworked is to work harder.  We work longer work days, take fewer breaks, sacrifice social connection and activities that recharge us, validate anxiety, and let fear of failure take the wheel.  It’s easy to put our heads down and grind away rather than step back and give ourselves the space and care to recover as needed.  Work is supposed to be challenging and tough, right?  But what happens when instead of being challenged, you’re overwhelmed?  Instead of navigating tough situations, you’re now feeling mentally unable to complete tasks.  Although you might feel like you’re being more productive than ever while grinding through burnout symptoms, you’re often less productive, prone to mistakes, and struggle to manage time accordingly.  What happens when you assume it’s your own inabilities that are causing the burnout symptoms?  Losing confidence and self-compassion will quickly drag you down the shame spiral, further deepening the overwhelming feelings.

It’s important to identify the symptoms of burnout.  It’s critical to accept working longer hours is not the solution.  It’s imperative to be self-compassionate.  In order to recover, you must allow yourself to accept defeat and forgive yourself for the impact burnout has caused.

Some common signs of burnout include:

  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Apathy
  • Decreased productivity
  • Cynicism
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Disengagement
  • Headaches
  • Thoughts of quitting
  • Anxiety
  • Dysthymia

There are more signs that can be associated with burnout and it can look different for all of us, but how successful we are at identifying the signs and implementing coping mechanisms are critical.  Identifying and then correcting behavior can be the difference between temporary discomfort and falling into full-blown burnout syndrome.

The more you reflect on your values, work-life balance, and self-preservation, the more confidence you’ll have in protecting yourself and taking action to ensure you avoid burnout.  These self-awareness practices can help in identifying the stressors at work that present a risk to your values.  Poor organizational culture, toxic co-workers, and lack of support from leaders are negative experiences that further cause disengagement and discomfort at work.  Sometimes they can be obvious, but in some cases, those experiences can be small, and only over time do they have a negative impact.

Internal stressors have the ability to be even more powerful and toxic than external stressors.  The expectations we set for what the workplace should be or the expectations for our own performance can be unobtainable and set us up to fail.  The sneaky demons within thrive when we allow them through unhealthy habits and succumb to the weaknesses created by burnout.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to burnout.  This occupational phenomenon is very real and impacts so many people that can greatly benefit from identifying and addressing the sources of burnout.  I have more blog posts on the subject of burnout to help you discover how you can better manage burnout before or after it sets in.  You deserve to be your authentic self at work while being productive and satisfied, without sacrificing your values or mental and physical well-being.  There’s support available, and I can help you on your journey to career satisfaction.

Link to my FREE Career Satisfaction Worksheet

Philip Hilt – Leadership & Career Coach



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