Recently, I spent a nail-biting 55 minutes watching my younger daughter attack ice-skating like Bambi in a ring with Rocky Balboa.
Zipped-up and buttoned-in to her ski-gear, she launched herself onto freshly-smoothed ice, unaware of the severe walloping that lay ahead for her.
She managed 6.5 seconds of upright bambi-skating before the first of...22 face-plants! Undaunted, she laughed and stood up to re-launch after 21 of her 22 falls.
The 22nd fall took her down...and out.
She slunk to on the ice, head hung low. Another uncontrolled novice then skidded into her back and left a mark that the safety police counted as her knock-out blow. Bambi exited the rink.
I breathed an exhausted sigh of relief. She was a little broken and a lot annoyed (sadly, she hasn’t avoided her feisty Irish genes!) that she’d been benched and missed the last minutes of play.
So what has this got to do with happier careers?
I noticed myself feeling all puffed up and proud of her attitude and tenacity. But that pride made me stop to ponder...
How often do we push ourselves beyond sensible boundaries, whether it’s feels right or not?
How often to we applaud the tenacity in the face of adversity when a retreat might make more sense for our own physical safety and mental sanity?
And why the heck do so many of us wait for that knock-out blow to force us to stop taking the beatings our work seems to keep handing out.
Over the last few years, I’ve been inadvertently researching STRESS AND BURNOUT as they come up a great deal in my interviews with happy career changers (and clients) as the triggers for change. (Read this article - the tipping point to help you decide if you are ready for career change yet.)
True stories of stress-related burnout
Karen Walker had to retire to her bed for six weeks and be cared for my her lovely husband after a promotion found her working outside her Superpowers for too long. She has since co-founded her company Now’t Poncy with Julian her husband and makes sure she uses her Superpowers every day.
These two anonymous guest posts Re-claiming Middle-aged Me and What if your first career is the wrong on? show the devastating effects of burnout. Both are in much better places now and I feel honoured that they were happy to share their stories with me.
In an ideal world, we’d exit our work ice-rinks, or our boxing rings WAY before it gets bloody. But there are many obstacles that get in the way of us making change and keep us stuck doing the same things as we’ve always done.
From my on-going research, some of these might be surprising to you as contributing factors to stress-related burnout.
Top 10 reasons for LONG-TERM STRESS & BURNOUT
(given by successful career changers)
1. A role that doesn’t play to our unique SPECIFIC STRENGTHS (I call these your “Superpowers”);
2. Promotion into a role that EXPOSES YOUR SUPER WEAKNESSES (I call these your “Kryponite”) so often that we have to work ridiculously hard to make sure no-one notices;
3. PERFECTIONISM – us, our boss, our culture or our industry;
4. An UNSUPPORTIVE CULTURE or one that CLASHES WITH OUR VALUES – for too long;
5. Relentless UNREALISTIC TIME FRAMES;
6. A RADICAL CHANGE IN CULTURE MATCH following a take-over/buy-out/new owners/new boss;
7. AMBIGUITY around what success looks like;
8. Insufficient personal CONTROL OVER WORK demands, for too long;
9. Doing WORK THAT DOESN’T MATTER TO US, for too long;
10. UNCLEAR LIFE PRIORITIES (allowing others to choose them for us).
Work life is never perfect and stress is normal for short periods.
But long-term stress brought about by any combination of these factors over long periods can be debilitating. An in certain circumstances can lead to burnout.
Ideally, we’d make decisions on what needs to be changed before it becomes long-term stress and/or burnout. But lots of us don’t PAUSE long enough for a re-think and instead wait until the time when one little straw can break the camel’s back.
There is another way.
THE PAUSE EXERCISE
I know you are too busy for this. I know you haven’t got time for this but you will not regret it, I promise you. Set a timer for 10 minutes.
GRAB A PEN.
Split a blank page into 4 sections with the below titles in each section. Quickly, write the first things that come into your head.
The elements of work that I want less of in my future.
What I want instead.
The activities at work that I enjoy doing.
The activities that I want to do more of in my future work.
Be specific. Be very specific.
At the end of 10 minutes you have the bare bones of a career overhaul starter pack which will give you:
A hint of what your better future could look like; and
A short-list of the priority areas you need to begin to get a grip on before any of them come close to being your knock-out blow.
Sometimes this PAUSE exercise can be enough of a jolt to prompt action. I hope it is for you.
If you’d like help and a scientifically tested methodology on figuring out your next steps, it might be time to have another look at The Big Re-think or The Discover my Superpowers programmes. Both offer you an experienced guide to make sense of why you are where you are and a partner-in-crime to help you get out of your own way on your journey to doing happier work.