This is the kind of work where you don’t have a life outside of work. We’re talking 12 to 16 hour days six to seven days a week. God help you if you are traveling and working like this. Staying sane is a literal challenge – this isn’t figurative. You probably think “That’s a young person’s game.” The ones who burn out aren’t tied down, or don’t have any commitments. Statistically, you may be right; however, I don’t know them. I know the kind who are married, with families, with responsibilities outside of work as well. and for either one, the dangers and lingering effects are equally damaging.
The Comparison Trap
So I wanted to share one example (because it’s pertinent) and a bit of the conversation as it occurred. Then, I’ll share what some of the experts say about detecting and avoiding burnout. I’d like to think that if we pay attention to the warning signs, we can avoid the very real and devastating consequences of pushing ourselves too hard for too long. I’m not going to name names, but you all know the big ones who tend to glamorize the “hustle.” You’ll feel pretty silly if you listen to them for very long and likely feel ashamed of your effort based on what you are hearing.
If only I could function on four hours of sleep – then I could KILL IT! More likely, at best, you’ll kill your productivity or efficiency, and at worst, bring the very real possibility of physical harm or death. It’s not as glamorous and it sure doesn’t sell a lot of books, but there are plenty of successful businesswomen and men who don’t work ridiculous hours or schedules. This isn’t an argument against doing what needs to be done. You will have to sacrifice things that are important to you for periods of time to get results. I’m warning you against a lifestyle choice.
There are obvious physiological and genetic differences that allow some people to function at a much higher level for a longer period of time and seemingly without doing ill harm to themselves. They are the exception. Enough scientific study and evidence confirm that the majority of humanity does not function this way. I want to kill the stigma that connects weakness or a lack of mental toughness to acknowledging that you need rest and recovery.
Every person is different and the key here is not how others work, but how you work. Maybe your neighbor never seems to need sleep and you aren’t functional without nine hours. It would be foolish for you to actively work against your physiological makeup and lessen your sleep because your neighbor doesn’t need that much. Here’s the point of our discussion today: assess where you are at and take care of YOU!
A Recent Example
So when my friend put a name to what he was dealing with, he concluded it was burnout. And guess what? It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t like he woke up and said, “Hmmm, you know what? I’m burned out.” It was much more subtle than that. It happened over a period of 20-30 years. And it’s scary because it wasn’t obvious. He very well may have been one of those with the physiological or genetic ability to handle it for a longer period of time; however, even those types can push over the edge.
His experience is dreadful. Hindsight is 20/20 and there were indicators along the way. As you can imagine, getting older complicates our ability to discern whether the issues are the result of aging or attributable to other factors. Here is a short list of some of what he experienced:
- no time to exercise
- both spouses worked and had obligations outside of work which made healthy eating a serious challenge
- increased blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels that pushed dangerously close to a diabetic condition, and a serious risk of heart attack
- forgetfulness – initially a struggle to remember a word or phrase, but got worse as time progressed
- lack of clarity
- inability to handle multiple things at once
- irritability that was damaging the relationships with family
This isn’t a comprehensive list. Rather, it’s a microcosm or a small example of big problems.
Forcing Others To Suffer With You
He came to realize that his family was suffering because he was suffering. The cost was real to them. In many ways, he unintentionally forced them to participate in his dysfunction. That had the very real effect of making them dysfunctional as well.
My personal experience in this area is a reflection on the number of times I’ve modeled a dysfunctional work ethic to my family and team. Working unreasonable hours when no one else is often referred to as “superhero” behavior. Your the only one who can do this. In case you didn’t know it, superheroes are not exceptional leaders. Your team doesn’t need a superhero. They need a healthy and efficient you – a great leader who is ready to utilize all the resources available to her and create an outcome through the best use of those resources!
I don’t really ever remember working 40 hour weeks. In my 30 years of work experience, I know exactly two gentlemen who controlled their work schedule. They worked exactly eight hours each day. And I mean exactly eight. If a meeting started 30 mins before their start time, they would be unapologetically late. If it ran past 5P, they left. Middle of a meeting? Didn’t matter. Key to the meeting? Didn’t care. They were done and left unapologetically.
Training Others In Your Work Style
After I was done being angry about it, I had to admit that I was a little jealous. There were times when they were definitely in the wrong for not prioritizing what was happening at the moment. But that was the exception. I imagine that 90% of the time, it created no challenge. This was the schedule and they trained you with their behavior. If you needed them, you worked around their schedule. One of them was extremely talented. I never saw him waste a single second. He was 100% on from the time he walked through the door until the moment he left at night – he literally gave you his very best for those eight hours. When you have identified the value you bring, you get to set the rules.
I felt like when Friday night hit, I was completely spent. Nothing left. And for more than 20 years, I’m sorry to say that my family got leftovers. They got what little I could muster. I love my wife and sons. They have always been precious to me. But I realized over Thanksgiving how this massive drain impacted my recovery. It’s not like after Saturday and Sunday I was recharged and ready to hit it again. I probably needed more than those two days to truly get back to a place where I could do another 60 or 70 hour week.
Missing What Matters
I was active with our boys. As such, I was a parent who participated as much as I could. I was generally able to attend their events and was physically present quite a bit. My wife, Ginger, would tell you that even though I was physically present (both with the boys and with her), a consequence of allowing the ridiculous work schedule was that I was always ‘on’ and often, a million miles away.
I had a realization that hit me like a ton of bricks over Thanksgiving. Ginger’s Dad has a computer hooked up to their TV and when they aren’t watching it, he has pictures running as a continuous slide show. These pictures go clear back to early family photos all the way to events that happened earlier this year.
So during our time at her folks, I saw this picture of our oldest son Nehemiah, when he was probably 12 or so and he’s in this inflatable boat on a small pond in Gillette, WY. He loved that little boat. And this thought struck me: of all the times I was home on the weekend, I could not think of one time where I went out to the garage and threw that boat in the truck. Then went in the house and told Nehemiah, “come on, let’s go to the lake and use your boat.”
It would have thrilled his heart and I completely missed it. I wasn’t gone but I wasn’t making time for the thing that was important to him rather than whatever was important to me. It was the consequence of allowing myself to be overworked. I was not able to think or see clearly something that right now is WAY too obvious. This is what I want you to avoid: don’t be so busy that you miss what matters. I’m not saying don’t work a lot. I’m saying don’t let work overtake you and cause you to miss things that you will look back on one day and wish you had prioritized.
Are You In A Fog
So my friend described his experience like this: he felt like he was in a fog. He felt like he missed much of what mattered. He realizes it now but you don’t snap your fingers and recover. It will take years to undo what has been done. If you focus too much on recovery, you will take on the same obsessive behavior in trying to recover that put you in that condition in the first place. It’s ironic but necessary to recognize this. Once you are here, there is no fast track to repair. People aren’t going to understand who haven’t dealt with this.
It’s like running your car out of oil. Once the engine seizes, you don’t just add oil and wallah! Everything is good again. Start the car and head on down the road. No sir. You are in for a tow and some time serious time and money in the shop. You aren’t going to be better in six months. When you spend 30 years creating a mess, you don’t fix it in a few days. It will take more than a couple of visits to the therapist or reading a few self-help books. It’s a process to recover. this is why it’s WAY better to prevent the damage than trying to repair it once it’s done.
DO NOT MISS NEXT WEEK! I’ll share some common indicators that you are approaching burnout and how to stop it before it overtakes you.
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