When I talk to clients and they tell me they are working 50, 60, 70 hours per week I start to feel a tightness in my chest. My immediate thought, that I lock into my mind and don’t let seep through my lips, is “You need to stop that NOW. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.”
But I remember my 60-70 hour weeks and I would have responded to such a directive with:
- “You don’t understand, no one else can do what I can.”
- “It is just for now, once X, Y, and Z happens, then I can cut back.”
- “I love my work…really…I want to be here.”
or, if burnout has already set in:
- “I wish I could stop, but everything will fall apart if I do.”
- “I can’t find anyone else that is competent or can get things done around here.”
- “I know I need to stop, but I can’t figure out how!”
If We Could Just Listen to Others, The Pain We Could Avoid
There are many things, from childhood throughout life, that others try to lovingly warn us about. They don’t want us to experience the pain that they did. Or, they just can see it coming.
For me, that was burnout. If you are reading this, for you, it may be that you also ignored loving friends putting their 2 cents in where you didn’t think it belonged.
It’s a painful lesson to learn the hard way, but sometimes it is the only way to learn.
So, after about 10 years of straight 60-70 hour work weeks, simultaneously earning an MBA and giving birth to three children (two of which are twins), my battery ran out. Actually, I think it just exploded.
I was officially burned out. And although if you read my post Warning: Burnout Ahead, you know I don’t believe that our rechargeable battery ever completely recharges after we have let it run completely out, I do believe we can come back to life.
It took time, it took rest, it took realignment.
Here is my summary of what worked the best. These were my steps to burnout recovery:
- Leave the all consuming job or make a fundamental, radical, and immediate change to reduce the stress and/or hours. You see, burnout isn’t about just working too many hours. It is a combination of sustaining negative stress for a really long time. When we have work that keeps us going for a decade of hours upon hours, and we add on to it the stress of natural business cycles, plus the stress of personal seasons, it can result in too much stress for too long (aka burnout!).
The only way to start the burnout recovery process is to stop the erosion of the life being literally sucked from you. (I know I am a bit dramatic about this topic!)
In hindsight, the job that no one but me could do, the projects that were hanging in the balance, the people who I was leading, all survived without me. Imagine that.
- Let yourself sleep/rest. Personally, I don’t think there is any way around it. Once you stop. Once your body that is purely running on momentum and adrenaline, stops the all consuming stress or work, it is depleted.
I slept away almost 52 weekends.
Literally, every weekend after I stopped the stress, I just wanted to sleep. I thought I was depressed. I thought I was sick. Anemic or something.
I was tired.
Slowly I started wanting to do things on the weekend again. But, it took more time than, at the time, I could have imagined.
- Re-assess and re-align your values. For me, becoming a Christian pushed for significant changes in my life. Some of you may already be Christians. Looking back, work had become an idol in my life. My identity came from my career and accomplishments.
At this point I had an ever patient husband and three less patient small children. Not that family should be idols either, but they should be up near the top of the list.
I had to look at my relationship with God. I had to realign my relationships with my family.
Once I did a detailed inventory of my values and assessed my life in accordance with these values, big changes were ahead.
But, I have been thoroughly shown and now have hindsight, that once we align our values with God’s view, our stress is significantly reduced and we begin to rejuvenate in spirit and body
- Pray. In all honestly, it comes down to the fact that we truly need God to recharge our batteries. For some of us hardheaded ones, we have to totally deplete our natural resources before we acknowledge our dependence on God as the one and only energy source!
At times I was on my knees in prayer.
I prayed about my values. I asked God if I would ever have the energy to be of any use to Him and His Kingdom.
I didn’t want to work a million hours anymore!
I wasn’t passionate about my job (it wasn’t 60-70 hours a week, but it wasn’t where God wanted me either.)
I prayed for passion….
God didn’t want me to replace Him with another idol.
I stayed in prayer (and slept) for that entire year.
- Seek God. I was praying, but I was praying from my bed. It wasn’t until I started combining my prayer with the study of scripture, sought a church community, and offered my time and attention to serving, that I began to have energy again. I put God first in everything. The background on my phone at the time was Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
I wanted to go back to school and become a Christian counselor, a 180 degree change from workaholic business person. To some that may seem like another exhausting, stressful journey. But, to me, it was aligned with my values, I prayed about it for two years, and God started to open doors. A calling was born!
It has actually been about 10 years since this burnout RECOVERY began. I still don’t let myself work as a counselor and coach full-time (Yay!) but I am getting close. My kids are teenagers and that season is changing. I have more time and God is leading me with projects and purpose.
Our Perception of Recovery May Take a Little Longer
But, even as recently as last year, I would make comments that I still only have about 50% of my old stamina and effectiveness. That may be my warped perception though.
Others in my life see me as full throttle. I have my practice, I spend much time with my family, and have been very intwined in serving, hosting and participating in events, small groups, and bible study in our community.
Too me it only feels like half time because doing life the way God calls us individually isn’t heavy, exhausting or stressful. (as stressful!)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
If like me, you feel burned-out and finished, turn to our God of restoration and life.
A Personal Journey of Burnout Recovery
This is not a clinical process for the recovery from burnout, it is just my experience. One I want to share, in case you were like me and didn’t heed the warning signs and loving voices who tried to catch you before you fell into the fullness of complete burnout.
Please share with us your experience.
This is the third post in a series on burnout. I think it is a really important issue with small business owners. I hope you will also check out the rest of the series:
Hopefully, you can start here, and catch burn-out before it begins!