For many of us, there comes a point in your career when you’ve over-given. For one reason or another, you realize that for some time now you have been putting more into your work than you’ve been getting out of it. You’ve become depleted and you are not doing your best work. You’ve somewhere on the lonely lane to burnout.
Naming this is a great first step. The bad news is that naming it doesn’t actually fix the problem. The good news is that there are a number of ways to begin to heal and reclaim yourself after you realize you’ve given your all and have nothing left to give. This post sketches out a few options from smallest to largest:
- Take a break
- Keep going
- Build your support network
- Ask for help
- A little re-start
- A big re-start
Take a Break
Often the quickest thing you can do when you realize you’ve given to the point of diminished returns is to simply take a break. If you catch yourself early enough, and if you have time-off available, sometimes a well-planned break can get you back on the right track.
When you’ve given too much of yourself to work, simply taking a vacation doesn’t fill you up in the way you need. Take care to plan your time off to be a time that isn’t only a break from work, but that it is also something that fills you up and feeds you.
You may want to use this time to dive deep into a hobby or passion you have. Several times in my life, I’ve invested in workshop time learning fabric collage from Deborah Boschert and have always come back with more energy, centeredness, passion and boundaries. Invest in something you love in order to fill up your reserve and recalibrate how much of yourself you give to your job, family and self.
Another great option for time off is to take a retreat. There are many types of retreats. Whether or not you have any spiritual leanings, there are retreats that could be meaningful to you. Some are individual and others involve group work. Some have religious components, others do not. Some invite creativity or balance or physical work. They all are more than vacations. Retreats are a fabulous way to re-center and re-charge. Read more about them here.
Keep going: Minimal Level
If you don’t have the ability to take meaningful time off, then your best option might be to keep going at a minimal level as you more slowly try to regain balance in your life.
Review your contract or letter of agreement to clarify how many hours you are expected to do your job. Commit to yourself to work the minimum hours required for three months, and to use the time you gain in ways that fill you up, doing things that enrich your life. Then review how you are feeling and decide how to move forward.
Another interesting point is that when you become exhausted by work, you may actually think you are working more hours than you are, and/or you may be using your time at work inefficiently. Laura Vanderkam’s excellent book “I Know How She Does It” shares research about how successful executive women balance their time so that they include time for work, time for rest, and time for their own pursuits. Whatever gender identity you may be, and whether or not you are an executive, this book offers some good resources for re-examine how you spend your day.
Build Your Support Network
Never underestimate the power of friendship. Take a look around you. Who’s got your back? Who makes you laugh? Who can console you? Who helps you be your best self?
Increasing your connection with these supporters can do wonders for your ability to re-balance your life. If you’ve already got these people in your life, make a deliberate effort to double your time spent with them in the coming months. Go ahead and reconnect with some great people you have lost touch with. Reach out to old friends and colleagues whose company you enjoy.
If you don’t yet have this group of supporters, spend a few of your “work hours” building up this important network. Invite an interesting colleague for coffee or lunch (or a socially distanced walk in pandemic days). Join a professional society and attend their events (virtual or IRL). Invite interesting people to join you in a book group.
Watch for more information about building your support network in my upcoming post Your Personal Board of Directors.
Ask For Help
This one is not easy. But it could be exactly what needs to happen.
If you used to enjoy your job, and if you see a future at your current place of employment, then invite your boss into your dilemma to help solve your problem.
It is quite likely that your employer can work with you to get you to a better, more effective place at work. It is expensive to replace an employee, so wise employers will work to keep current employees and to help them become more effective in their work.
Three reasonable asks of your boss include:
- Time Off
Of course, I believe coaching is a great solution. But so do many larger corporations, and even some smaller businesses and nonprofits. If you’re not sure why your boss would want to pay for your coaching sessions, check this out.
You may also want to approach your boss about a raise and/or extra time off. It may feel counterintuitive to ask for a raise when you aren’t working at your peak. But adequate compensation often fosters better work. If you are being underpaid (and if you’re a woman or BIPOC, it’s quite likely you are), this could be a major contributing factor to your burnout. Now clearly you don’t want to go into your boss to say, “I’m doing a terrible job, but I’m confident that if you pay me more, I’ll do better.” Take some time to get some comps. Review the tasks you are actually doing, and their worth to the company. Give your boss reasons to say yes.
And have a back-up. If your company is not able to give you the raise that would be appropriate for the work you are now doing, consider asking for extra time off instead.
This worked well for me at a previous position. I wasn’t burned out, but I was definitely underpaid and my employer and I both knew it. They were not in a position to increase my salary, but they fairly happily re-negotiated my contract to add in two more weeks of paid vacation. That extra time off was a boon to my soul, and a great investment too. I happily stayed for several more years, with the extra time off a factor in my happiness and performance.
A Little Restart
Maybe it’s just time to go. If you enjoy the type of work you do, but have over-given at your current gig, then start looking for new similar jobs. Either a lateral move or a step-up are both reasonable moves at this point. You may just need a new company in which to reassert your work boundaries and reinvest your gifts at a new place. You have given all that you can in your current work environment, and are ready to look for similar work in a similar job in a new company.
A Big Restart
If all of this leaves you as depressed or stressed as ever, it may be that you’re ready for a career change. Prepare yourself for a few months to a few years to get set to make your change. Set up your current life so that you are able to devote chunks of time to your future life. Don’t work overtime so that you can spend those hours researching and skill building. Tighten your budget and start saving money in case you have to go back to school or decrease salary with a career change. And read more about how to reimagine your next steps.
Realizing you’ve given all you’ve got is a crummy place to be. Thankfully, there are a variety of ways to deal with it. How about you? Have you been on the brink of burnout? What changes did you make? Let me know in the comments below or through my contact link.