When we first enter the world of leadership, we have it all planned out in our heads. We’ve got our set of goals, and we’ve got strategies mapped out achieve each and every one of them.
We’re certain of ourselves, and we’re ready to tackle any opportunity or threat coming our way.
Then come the inevitable – note, inevitable – phases that threaten to take us out. The road ahead seems nearly impossible to navigate. At times, it even feels as though the journey is no longer worthwhile.
If you haven’t reached that point yet, I can tell you that it’s coming; it comes for us all.
Interestingly, for most of us, it shows up as a form of burnout.
Almost every leader experiences burnout at least once. That’s probably one of the reasons why it’s so hard for us to recognize when we reach this point ourselves.
In fact, you may be going through it right now without realising it.
Does This Describe You?
You can still function, so you continue to do so, but you don’t know how long you can keep it up.
But you feel drained of energy, enthusiasm and enjoy. You don’t have fun anymore, anywhere. You feel as though your heart and soul are wilting.
Your hope starts leaving you. Your productivity diminishes, your work speed slows down. Motivation and passion start to evaporate.
Know the most likely outcome of a burnout? You’ll want to give up on yourself.
You feel as though you’ll give up any day – you long for the relief of just throwing your hands in the air and letting go the burdens weighing down on you.
Burnout isn’t easy to diagnose. It’s a very disorienting state of mind. Often, it takes a long time to just understand that something inside us has broken, and we don’t know how to fix it.
Some leaders never make it back from burnout. For many, going down this road means their leadership is done. As tragic as it is, there are some leaders who never go back to being the same person they were before.
But the truth is, life after burnout exists.
In fact, the best years of your life and leadership are possible after burnout.
If you feel like giving up lately, you may be on the verge of burnout, or perhaps you’re already in it. Keep on reading to understand the symptoms of burnout and ask yourself…
Does This Sound Familiar?
I’ve worked with many leaders while they were in their burnout stage and ready to throw in the towel. One of the reasons I was able to recognize it in them was because I’ve gone through burnout myself.
The following are symptoms I personally experienced as I burned out, and I’ve noted the same patterns in the leaders I coach.
1. Where Did the Passion Go?
Passion fades from time to time for all of us. But during burnout, there is a sustained loss of motivation and you can’t seem to do anything about it.
It will feel like the passion that got you into leadership, the passion that made both life and leadership great, is now fading day by day.
2. Numb Has Become the Norm
One of the first danger signs of burnout for me was that it numbed my heart.
During burnout, we cease to experience the highs and lows of emotion. You don’t feel happy when good things happen anymore. You’re also unable to process feelings like sadness the way you used to.
3. Hello, Irrational Anger
Despite feeling numb most of the time, you will note that one emotion you don’t have any trouble bringing out of you is anger – that too in disproportionate amounts.
When you are going through burnout, little things will start to set you off. You will perceive minor problems as major issues.
4. Can’t Get No Satisfaction
One of the most troublesome aspects of burnout is that nothing seems to satisfy you anymore, least of all your work.
A good night’s sleep, your favourite meals, spending time with your friends, going on vacation…none of these things will make you feel better the way they once did.
5. Where Is My Mind?
If you’re burning out, it will definitely impede your ability to think straight.
A lot of negative thoughts will begin to infiltrate your mind and alter your judgement, often causing you to make stupid, poorly thought-out decisions.
6. Productivity Will Suffer
Does your mind feel cloudy every time you sit down to work these days? Does it take you an hour to write a simple email? Do you work all day but still produce little of value by the end of it?
Burnout causes productivity levels to fall drastically, even in the most energetic and hardworking of leaders.
7. Nothing Refuels You
You might have first started to worry when you noticed that even a full night’s worth of sleep makes no difference to your failing energy levels.
Perhaps you’ve already tried to take a week or two off work to recharge and found yourself feeling just as low and empty at the end of your break.
One of the undeniable signs of burnout is that sleep and time off no longer refuel you.
Are You Burning Out?
If you can relate to half of these signs, you may be on the brink of a burnout.
If you can relate to most or all of them, then it’s possible that your burnout has already begun, and this is why your internal siren keeps asking you to give up.
Leaders who are currently experiencing burnout, I encourage you to seek immediate professional help from a psychiatric specialist and a trained coach or counsellor. I would also urge you to talk to your close friends and family members.
Check in next week when I’ll discuss how to overcome professional burnout in leadership and become your most energized, productive and optimistic self again.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions when it comes to fatigue and burnout.
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