Part 2 – Arising from the Ashes of Professional Burnout

 (This is the second half of an article that originally appeared in Veterinary Economics Magazine. If you missed the first installment, you can find it online here:

A quick review from last week: Professional burnout is a sinister epidemic running rampant in our society and a growing concern in the business world. It is a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual shut down and exhaustion usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. There are four inter-related facets of burnout: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
You can think of each of these four facets of burnout as a different colored string, with the four strands wound together in a tangled gnarl.  The question is where do you start to un-raffle the knot of professional burnout.  Last week we looked at the tool of STOP (stepping back, thinking – meditative contemplation, organizing your thoughts and insights, and proceeding.)

Today we look at additional ways to avoid and/or recover from this sinister disease.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Perhaps the title of the popular book by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. says it best:  "Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff And It’s All Small Stuff." Keeping our lives and work in perspective is a wonderful strategy for our mental and emotional wellness. Once again, this strategy works synergistically with scheduling in STOP time.  These are times that you can step away from all the daily activities and get a better perspective on what’s happening.  You may also find that a lot of stress is because you’re doing someone else’s job.

Since many professional people aren’t naturally skilled at delegating, they end up trying to do everything, including a lot of the details like paper work, scheduling, payroll, etc.  Much of this work is detail-oriented and while it’s work that needs to be done, it can often be done better by someone else that both enjoys this type of work and is therefore better equipped to do it.

To put this strategy in action, make a list of the detail work that you find unpleasant, and then either delegate it to one of your employees or hire a new person to take it over.  Business coach, Chris Barrow of the Dental Business School, points out that many professionals would be far more productive and less stressed if they hired a full or part time personal assistant to handle much of these details.

Ignite Your Passion Through Purpose
Perhaps one of the most leveraged strategies for preventing or overcoming burnout is to re-ignite your passion for work and life through purpose.  According to Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz of LGE Performance Systems:

“The quantity of energy we have to spend at any given moment is a reflection of our physical capacity.”  However, they go on to point out that, “Our motivation to spend what we have is largely a spiritual issue. 

"Fundamentally, spiritual energy is a unique force for action in all dimensions of our lives.  It is the most powerful source of our motivation, perseverance and direction. Anything that ignites the human spirit serves to drive full engagement and to maximize performance in whatever mission we are on.”

They define this spiritual energy source as being “the connection to a deeply held set of values and to a PURPOSE beyond our self-interest.” In other words a sense of purpose is key to avoiding and/or recovering from burnout.

As you can imagine, these strategies are most powerful in combination. Scheduling periodic STOPs is key to carving out the time to get back in touch with your purpose in life and at work.  Delegating the ‘smaller stuff’ at work will make such STOPs easier to schedule. 

The good news is that once you start this process, it becomes easier to slowly increase the amount of time you take to restore yourself, but you’ve got to start, even if it’s only with 15 to 20 minutes a the beginning of your day, where you sit quietly and reflect upon your life.

Seek Assistance and Support
Depending on the degree of burnout you’re experiencing, it may be necessary to seek assistance and support from others to turn your life and work around. Don’t try to be ‘Macho Man’ or “Super Woman.”  Reach out for support either in the form of a trusted friend, personal coach, therapist, or some combination.  Burn out is not something to take lightly.  It can be a killer. 

Treat it with the respect it deserves by seeking assistance when needed. Incorporating these strategies into your life will allow you to be like the mythological phoenix that arises from its own ashes to be more powerful and passionate about life.