Burnout is a signal: How will you respond?

It started with a three-year business-building sprint, followed by the onset of a global pandemic, into 18 months of quarantine. The conditions of lockdown made it socially acceptable to work even more than I had been during those first few years. Then, there’s just normal 2021 stuff like daily heartache over the news and unrelenting anxiety about the future. 

Lately, I’ve been burned the f* out. 

If you know me, you know I’m a growth mindset enthusiast. I fail forward! I’m agile! I iterate from critical feedback all day every day and I’ve been called resilient my fair share of times. But I’ve been running on fumes, all out of motivation, and my perspective has been sorta screwed up. In my world, burnout feels like an existential crisis punctuated by a lack of joy where I normally find it. 

This isn’t just me oversharing about my feelings, it’s a business conversation; because stress-induced burnout will influence the lens through which you consider huge business decisions that ultimately impact your life. We spend a lot of time hearing about how to protect our growth mindset and develop strong habits, but I don’t see much about how to recover from burnout. We all know that entrepreneurship is a long game, but most people end up quitting. I think this is why. 

It’s completely possible to feel burned out from something you love and ultimately want to continue doing. 

One day I loved my job and the next day, I was questioning everything. I started wondering: Does this actually matter? Have my values completely changed? What difference does this really make?

Maybe you can relate. 

Burnout occurs after prolonged periods of intensity or stress when your own boundaries with self have disappeared and you lose sight of what you need to regulate your nervous system and be well. One symptom of burnout is feeling completely overwhelmed and like you don’t have any way out of the current situation that you find yourself in. In consequence, you start to look externally for the answers, which is dangerous because a) you’re the only one that can help yourself and b) you’re not thinking straight. 

Another symptom of burnout is detachment from all of the things you once cared so deeply about, which results in thinking your entire life needs to pivot. 

Alternatively, we can read it as a sign to make meaningful adjustments that will lead to a version of the dream that’s more beautiful than we ever imagined in the first place. 

Of course we’re feeling this way.

It’s not just me that’s been feeling this way. I’ve seen it in my entire team over the past few months. It’s different than just moments of stress. These are prolonged periods of apathy and exhaustion.

Real talk: The pandemic persists, polarization is at an all-time high, human rights tragedy abounds, the climate is f*cked, and our future is hanging in the balance. Work from home has its perks, but the intensity of spending a full work week straight through on your laptop versus built-in breaks and breathers throughout a day at the office just hits different. Everyone is processing their own trauma from the past year. My team and I are still reeling from saving our jobs and launching a second business. 

It’s a lot, and your lizard brains want to make sense out of it you’re seeking concrete actions that will help you solve it, such as completely overhauling your life. Can you give yourself a break?

Do not make long-term decisions from this place.

We’ve been working as a collective to address burnout which has given me an interesting vantage point from which to view this topic: The patterns of how it shows up and therefore how you can spot it. 

First of all, trust yourself. If you’re not feeling like yourself and you’re seeing apathetic shifts where you were once lit up, give yourself the grace of naming it: You’re burnt out. By claiming it, you will remind yourself not to make long-term decisions from this place. Then ease up and give yourself some space. 

We need to figure out which one of these two things you really need: a massive lifestyle shift or revisions to your day-to-day. 

Start with rest, a better vacation practice, greater boundaries, and increased balance. Give yourself room to live so that you can gain back your perspective. I think that’s been the trickiest part for a lot of people over the past year due to the pandemic. 

It might take longer than you want it to. PLAY as much as possible.

We’ve been working all year to think about how our schedules can be more manageable (re: sustainable) next year, but we aren’t there yet. I’m unable to take an entire week off right now so I’ve been stringing together flex Fridays and shorter weeks over the past couple of months and true, full weekends off. I’m adopting a child’s mindset at every opportunity, flexing my imagination, laying in the sunshine because it feels good, and swimming like there’s no such thing as too much. 

It’s taken longer than I expected for me to unwind, but I know that finding the words for this piece is one sign that my perspective is falling back into place. 

The revisions I’m making.

The first problem I had to solve in my business was stable, sustainable revenue. It doesn’t always feel like we’ve gotten there from down in the dregs of the day-to-day, but when I look at my last 18 months’ P&L, it speaks clearly. In so many ways it’s a moment I’ve been looking forward to, and it’s up to me to shape what’s next. In recent weeks I’ve realized that thinking about our organization from angles other than revenue is what lights me up.

  • As we look at next year, we’ll revise our offers and adjust our organizational structure in order to narrow each teammate’s scope and choose focus and depth over breadth and versatility. For my Strong Brand Social Club family, we’ll keep you posted and invite your input along the way. 
  • Internally, we’re discussing making a four-day workweek the new standard and beginning to align on what that would mean and how we’d make it happen. To me, this feels critical, especially as all of us are enduring and processing ongoing trauma with the state of the climate, pandemic, and social justice issues. By empowering ourselves with one more day to LIVE life, we can work to counterbalance burnout that’s hitting us from all angles, and better position ourselves to be a force for positive change.  
  • Next year, we know we’ll implement a scholarship program to support underrepresented communities in entrepreneurship and we’re actively scheming about how to use our platform to further propel the change we wish to see in the world. By implementing organizational shifts, we’ll be able to allocate dedicated resources towards more values-backed initiatives that we haven’t been able to so far.

As for me personally, after getting myself to a place that feels relatively recovered, I’m starting to think ahead. The primary thought is meaningful breaks on a quarterly basis that get me out of my day-to-day environment with room to play and relax. I’m realizing that while I love spontaneity, the demands of my work schedule make that aspect of my personality almost impossible to flex. If I want a week off from my normal routine, I need to get that on the calendar more than two months in advance to ensure we aren’t launching offers or services that require my attention at that time. I see where I’ll do things differently moving forward. 

Every crisis and wake-up call is an invitation to reimagine a more enlightened version of the dream you’re building. I’ve found my silver lining, and I know I’d rather stick around to find out what happens if I keep practicing and revising. 

I hope you find some value here for whenever you need it. I’m so grateful to have you here.

In your corner,

Katie

KW Content is a global content and social media marketing agency that develops and launches content and social media programs for purpose-driven brands. Strong Brand Social is our favorite place to hang out! That’s where we provide the absolute best (and most accessible) social media marketing education that empowers small brands to develop their own high-performing marketing programs that are guaranteed to drive growth. Teaching from our proven agency methodologies, we simplify the process and demystify the art of social media marketing to offer focus, efficiency, and measurable results to small business owners, brand directors, and social media marketers. [Learn more.]

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