The Many Faces of Burnout

As a coach, I’ve seen my clients ‘quit’ in a variety of ways.

Some get outright mad and yell at me demanding their money back.
Some just stop showing up with anything to talk about.
Some have great insights in their sessions but then do nothing with them.

All of these are forms of quitting.

Burnout is also a form of quitting.

When a light bulb burns out, it quits working. The integrity of the filament just isn’t enough to carry the current through it anymore.

If you develop a stronger filament you can carry more current, but you can’t do that while the light is burning. It has to be turned off, redesigned, and then turned back on again.

In the start-up world, leaders rarely get a chance to turn off, redesign, and strengthen their capacity to carry the “current” of challenge, uncertainty, internal and external criticism, and a high level of ambition.

So leaders burn out in 3 pretty common ways:

1. They flame out – these are the obvious ones. Walls are punched, things are yelled, people may be fired, relationships might be ruined. This is often followed by a sabbatical or ‘time off’. Rarely enough to make a difference. But enough to return to the previous state of dysfunction.

2. They suffer brownouts – These are periods of time where they sort of check out, mentally or emotionally. Their performance drops, they become engaged in unhealthy behaviors like drinking, playing excessive video games, and maybe even online shopping.

3. They suffer displacement burnout – This is when the burnout doesn’t happen at work but happens in their personal lives. Their relationships fail, they suffer health crises, or something else explodes. I can’t even list all the personal mishaps leaders I work with find themselves in.

No matter how it happens, it happens because a leader is simply running too much current through their system.

So what’s the solution?

It’s two-fold:

1. Turn off the light – Step out of leadership, take time off, be in nature, pray, meditate. Find a place away from leadership that you can go to. The big challenge here is that most leaders don’t do this. They dim the lights and somewhat step away, but this isn’t the same. The bulb is still warm, the current is still flowing, and so you can’t repair or strengthen it.

2. Upgrade your capacity – This ISN’T the same as upgrading your knowledge or being more efficient. To upgrade your capacity you have to upgrade a few things at once. You need to upgrade the load your nervous system can take. You can do this by using meditation and exercise. Next you need to upgrade your humility and ability to learn. You can do this by hiring a coach and listening to feedback with an open mind. Finally, you need to upgrade your capacity for love. So often leaders are driven by fear, but most great things aren’t created by fear, they are created by love.

If you can align with your commitment to love, you are less likely to burn out. You are also more likely to love what you do.

People who run for love, run forever. Because when something comes from love, it creates its own reason to keep going.

If you don’t want to quit, if you want to thrive, and function better. Stop running from your fears. Stop trying to run faster from them. Take a break. And then come back from love. You may be surprised by how easy and joyful your work becomes.

If you are ready to come from love, contact me to schedule a call.