Burnout and Boundaries
It's been just over a year that I shared with a few people that I was feeling burnt out. This post will be an honest look at what led to the burnout and hopefully help so you can recognize it and try to prevent it.
New: Listen to the podcast I did with my good friend here all about this subject, too.
In my ripe old age, I *may* have felt burnout in my personal life. With the past few years, who wouldn't?! The personal challenges I've had never affected my professional work in the past, or if it got to be a lot (like planning for our first to go to college) I would just take off a few days to catch my breath.
When life comes at you fast and you can't control it, but gotta “power through” it's exhausting. For the most part, it was temporary so there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
WHAT BURNOUT LOOKS LIKE (FOR ME)
For anyone new here, I've created multiple brands since starting this work online in 2008. That takes a LOT of hours to learn it all, build it and then scale it to achieve your goals. I'm multi-passionate so it's always been energizing to me to learn all the different things. Then get to do it all well enough to make it a career, well, I feel blessed.
None of the long hours over the years have EVER caused burnout. The work was and IS fun (thankfully, it's becoming fun again). I talked to a friend (my therapist – HA) about how I was feeling (or lack of feeling anything…) when they mentioned burnout.
I didn't know what burnout looked like. I guess you never would unless you're being tasked to study it OR it knocks you on your arse and leaves you feeling apathetic. In fact, that's how I KNEW it was burnout.
What should have been the closure of a year filled with achieving goals beyond my wildest dreams left me feeling apathetic. But I loved my job didn't I? YES, but something was off and I needed to take time to process what was happening.
I didn't have time for this!! But I couldn't ignore it since it was manifesting into physical health issues. No one has time for this, but when it happens you have no choice but to stop and deal with it.
What caused it? For me, it was definitely overworking. I felt like a machine that was expected to produce unrealistic results. It's my own fault since I allowed it to happen. This feeling is similar to what many have in their corporate jobs. Aren't we supposed to work for ourselves to avoid that?!
I talked to my therapist a lot about how I was feeling, mostly to ensure I wasn't going insane. For those reading this that think therapy a bunch of hooey, I felt the same way at one time. Therapy became a version of self care. Unknowing to me, it's the first step I took several years ago that was putting myself first.
BURNOUT RECOVERY & BOUNDARIES
Here is what I did to stop my burnout from getting worse, in an attempt to completely reverse course.
As I said, I enjoy work, and when I see success happening it's exciting. Unfortunately, that passion (and scope creep) had me working twice the amount of hours. I had to scale back to my original commitment for myself and others I was working with. My core skillsets helped to ensure targets were still being met.
I stopped being the fire extinguisher. You know, when there's a fire and you're proficient and can put it out faster and better than anyone else. Flexibility is expected, but planning and processes MUST be respected too. Timely communication is also crucial when scaling any business. Simply put: the lack of planning stopped becoming *my* emergency.
I also had to remove personal attachment. In actuality, this was something I did before the burnout set in. While the businesses I work with weren't *mine* I still treated them as if they were. I forced myself to accept peace rather than staying up awake at night worrying about other people's businesses. I couldn't control the uncontrollables nor could I control someone else's emotions or erratic behavior. So I stopped trying and found peace.
I stopped allowing random ideas to disrupt things and create more work. The work was usually loaded on the high performers, which is what usually happens in any organization. I have always been proud to advocate for any team I work with, and this was no different. Proper planning ensures that some wiggle room is available to shift, but when things are already overloaded, that becomes near impossible to do.
I pushed for more staffing. Growth causes constant evaluation of responsibilities. What can start as a 1-person job easily morphs into 5 different jobs. If staffing isn't reviewed regularly, that will burnout people quickly. And, again, it's usually going to hit your high performers because it's easy to load them up with more work than than address deficiencies in staffing and staff development.
The final thing I attempted, wasn't a boundary, but a schedule change. I'm lucky to have lots of flexibility with this job, it's also a downside sometimes since we can work from anywhere at any time. I know tons of entrepreneurs who have worked at hospitals and recovering from major procedures or through grief like I have done. We will all fully admit that it's not healthy and we need help! But I *tried* to take action with this and change my schedule. I let my clients and my team know that I would be off on Friday's at least through the summer. It didn't work (more on that in a second).
PERSONAL ANGST WITH MY BOUNDARIES
While I'm not one to shy away from conflict, these boundaries weren't easy for me to establish or implement! Mainly because it was *me* waving my white flag to SOS. It was me being vulnerable saying that I couldn't physically do something and that is painful for an Enneagram 8 (with a side of recovering co-dependence).
These boundaries felt wrong at first, like a foreign concept I hadn't touched before. I'm sure my newly established boundaries seemed like I cared less, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I LOVE helping people, to my own detriment. My loyalty had me resisting and in denial for a while. I was gaslighting myself – HA! I got over that when my boundaries were not respected with the same things happening over and over and over…
Through this, I finally recognized that *I* mattered too. It took my own burnout to realize that no one was going to advocate for me except me. It took establishing boundaries for me to realize that. It was 100% MY FAULT.
As a side note, I've since learned that high achieving women are wired for burnout which makes complete sense. My theory is that we have to work harder to get similar respect as our male counterparts. I'm an equal opportunity gal and will say that I think entrepreneurs, male or female, are wired for burnout. It's the drive for success and desire to share that product or idea with the world. I think my burnout could have been prevented if I had these boundaries in place.
QUITTING MAY BE THE SOLUTION
Some burnout “experts” will tell you that quitting doesn't solve the problem (seriously who are these experts?!). I'm here to tell you that it definitely helped my burnout.
That Friday off in the Summer didn't work because of me: I chose to hop on “for a quick second” which turned into the entire day. And if I'm being honest, I felt resentment from others because not everyone could commit to the time off for themselves. I've been in therapy for years to learn how to accept that making myself a priority isn't a bad thing; trying to help others see that perspective just adds to the burnout.
So with that, it was just easiest for me to scale back my workload completely. We are in a good financial position that I didn't have to “power through” and make things worse. That's happened to my husband so I knew what would be waiting for me on the other side if I did that. Looking back, I am amazed at *how* I kept doing it ALL as well as I did for as long as I did.
I am glad to be on this side of things and that that I finally gave myself the long overdue grace that I needed (from myself). It's also shown me what type of leader I strive to be. I hope that I can continue to be that for those that I work with only without ignoring my own needs.
HOW I'M FEELING TODAY
Today there's not a lot of hard and fast timelines; I do whatever feels right when I want. I know that I'm good at the work that I do (I can finally say that again a year later!). I know that my talent has the ability to be life-changing for business owners. When/If I do work with other business owners, I will be holding myself accountable for maintaining boundaries (and asking friends to hold me to it).
Giving myself permission to just “be” has gotten my creative juices overflowing. I've been losing myself in work again. Other high achievers who have felt this will agree – this burnout recovery isn't fast enough! Can't I just write some code or run an ad to make it happen faster?!
Thankfully, my sense of humor wasn't lost completely so that's helping in this process! Although I still have limited patience with some things. Just ask my husband. He and a few close friends have been my encouragement behind the scenes. Can't do life without 'em!
If you are facing burnout from work (or life in general, we've all been there), I want to encourage you that it's temporary. Talk to someone – a therapist, your group of friends, heck you can email me! This won't last forever if you commit to doing the work to get past it. The most important thing to remember is that you need to give yourself the grace that you freely offer to others. You're worth it!