We had just sat down for our one to one meeting when she burst into tears. “I promised myself that I would not cry, “she reported to me. “I just can’t going on like this. I am so worn out. What do you think is the problem?”
“Burnout,” was my reply.
As H. Eric Davidson, founder and partner, of WaterMark Way wrote in the January/February 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review: “Stress is a fact of professional life, but extreme pressures can lead to burnout, which has three symptoms: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. While the solution may be a job change, you can also take steps toward recovery and prevention: Prioritize your health, determine which aspects of your situation are fixed and which can be changed, reduce exposure to the most stressful activities and relationships, and seek helpful interpersonal connections.”
As he continued, “Preventing and recovering from burnout often require quite different strategies. Prevention involves continually realigning different parts of your life so that they operate synergistically and creating a larger world view rather than a small one. (The latter tends to be the usual approach as we try to focus on the problem and “perfect” a solution.) Recovery requires something very different: A new worldview needs to be adopted (not invented by the sufferer), engaged in, and worked on. It takes time, commitment, and dedication.”
From my vantage point, I think there are two problems. I figured these out after reading the book called Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for A Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist. The first problem is fake rest. We as leaders are setting impossible standards related to performance. All the busyness and the endless pursuit of getting more done is creating numbness to what is most important in life. We try to work even when we should be resting. We work at resting. As David Wilcox reminds us,"We can not trade empty for empty.”
The second problem is that we are feeling so depleted that we have forgotten what wholeness feels like. Many leaders suffer from the “hurry up” sickness. In a digital economy, I think we have lost the cellular memory of what it means to stop, rest and experience wholeness. We define wholeness now by how well connected we are to numerous electronic devices.
From my vantage point, the first step to creating a new world view and new way of living and working is for all of us to relearn how to stop working, and then rest. Personally, I can get caught in “go mode” where everything including relationships is boiled down to just being a project. The idea of stopping, i.e. stop working, equates to turning off everything and then crashing & burning. Rest is more than just sleep or hours of mindless TV.
The solution is for each of us to create stronger boundaries between work and home, to schedule buffer zones for unexpected events, and to spend more time preparing for our day rather than just diving into the day. Because the real question we should be asking ourselves is the following: When do I feel most whole and less scattered? For me, I enjoy breakfast out with my wife, going on vacation, walking in nature or being outside in nature, coffee with a dear older friend, or those deep quiet moments when we hold hands as a family and pray before a meal. In essence, for me wholeness equals connections and feeling centered.
The second thing I think leaders need to do at this time period is to build and rebuild connections within their support system. I have come to the conclusion that what people most want right now is time to be really heard, respected and understood. During these moments of heartfelt connection, we realize “we don’t all love the same things” but we can love the same people. I suggest that we need to visit more in person. We need more face to face time. We need to share our stories, and we need to listen to stories. In short, we need to remember to stand with and for each other.
This week, remember the following old Tibetan saying: “Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” Keep taking care of your home. It is the place from which many important things happen that can impact your whole life.