All right, here goes. The subject most people ask me about when it comes up: what my burnout was like and how I “got out” of it. If you are wondering whether you are close to experiencing a burnout, check out this article where I list some of the “warning signs” I should have listened to…
The key question when you experience a burnout is: have you completely accepted it, i.e. have you accepted your own vulnerability? Have you given yourself permission to breathe, to be imperfect and to have boundaries? Because that is the only road towards recovery.
Today, when the subject comes up and people look at me with a mix of compassion, pain and pity, I smile and say: “Oh no, don’t get me wrong: it was a true blessing and one of the greatest experiences I have ever been through!” I have never learned as much about myself, my thought mechanisms, my triggers, my fears and my beliefs as I have in those 9 months on sabbatical (I refused to be on “sick leave” because I wanted to be free as a bird and travel if I wanted to – as opposed to staying home for the work inspector to come and check whether I was faking it).
First of all, my burnout taught me it was not about the job. Changing jobs would not have changed anything. It was about my self-talk and the way my mind controlled my life in a destructive way. Here are some examples of thoughts I have worked on since but which used to direct all my decisions:
- “I am not as (smart, outgoing, courageous, capable, beautiful, confident…) as…”
- “I am not good enough / I don’t deserve (… whatever good things were happening in my life at that time)”
- “Dreams are for children. Once you are an adult, you need to get real and get your sh** together”
- “Life is not meant to be easy. I need to work harder. Be stronger. Earn more money. Have an even fancier title, a bigger house, a nicer car.”
- “Life is not about having fun and doing what you love – that’s what you see in movies. It is about working hard and advancing your goals, earning money to save money – because… well, you never know.”
- “I cannot quit my job – it is everything I have ever worked towards, it is the outcome of many years of forceful studies I put myself through, countless internships followed by fancy job titles. I cannot just throw all those years of hard work away!”
In short, I was a highly ambitious person who climbed the career ladder very successfully, but who felt empty inside because of her negative self-talk, lack of self-love and self-esteem. I was competitive, constantly comparing myself to others and talking myself down (everyone else was always better than me), and no achievement ever made me feel like I was good enough. THAT, my friends, it the perfect recipe to burn out and destroy your self-esteem.
Here are some of the things I did that helped me heal and get back on the path towards finding myself:
- Learn what it meant to “feel”, manage my emotions as they surfaced, get out of my “robot-mode” (after years of suppressing my emotions, this was definitely my greatest challenge)
- Get back in touch with my inner child, with my wildest dreams, with all the wonderful things I wanted to experience in this life (I’ll write another article on the importance of building a dream board)
- Communicate more openly, express my feelings, set boundaries (say “no” to people), and know my limits (I stopped pushing myself beyond reason)
- Love and accept myself, just the way I am – with all my faults and imperfections. Look in the mirror and tell myself “You are enough, you are good enough”
- Take life less seriously, get back in touch with the joking, laughing and fun-lowing Ana I used to be before the whole “career-hustle” took over
- Take breaks, take care of my body, mind and soul by doing things I love
All I can say is: embrace vulnerability. It is your greatest power. Know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and share your real YOU with the world. It will liberate you and others in the process, because they in turn, will have the courage to step into their power, leave their comfort zone, make some changes and close the gap between who they are today and who they are meant to be tomorrow. We all have a role to play down here; we are all unique, beautiful individuals – a gigantic puzzle, where each piece has its own position and cannot be replaced.
So go out there, dare to be YOU, and make this world a better place!