Confidence

Back from the brink – lessons I learnt from burnout and the path to ‘better’

on


The balance between work and the rest of our lives has come into focus as we navigate the impact of COVID-19. We’ve juggled remote work from home, online learning for kids and restrictions on our movements and routines previously taken for granted. As the line between our work and life blur, setting boundaries and limits are essential to restoring our wellbeing and maintaining our resilience. They are essential to avoiding burnout, which unfortunately, is an experience I’m all too familiar with.

In 2015, I’d worked in the health and social sectors doing ‘good work’ as a consultant and leader for over 20 years. I experienced burnout as a long slow decline which is how it commonly presents. I had, as it turns out, sustained myself despite running on empty for around a decade. I wasn’t looking after myself, over time I was withdrawing and disconnecting and I was oh, oh, so tired. Each time a crisis at work or in my personal life hit, I had no reserves left to sustain me and I would hit the deck. And each time I would have to take some time out, lick my wounds, dust myself off and then I’d get right back on that hamster wheel and keep peddling. I can see now that it was only a matter of time before the full force of burnout would take its toll. And that’s exactly what happened. After another prolonged period of stress and conflict I found myself face down. This time, there was no bouncing back.

That passionate sense of purpose, dedication and drive that guided my career choices, the frenetic pace I maintained for many years and the way I turned up in service for others was my Achille’s heel and it became my undoing. When I reflect back on that time now, I realise just how much was at stake – my capacity to sustain my self and to care and provide for my family was fundamentally compromised. Everything was compromised.

Face down – the fears and the insights

When I was face down I was scared, confused and utterly depleted. I was desperately sad, I was out of confidence and I was out of ideas. I had to face into the truth of my life and chart a new path ahead. This path needed to serve me better than those I had chosen to walk before. It needed to be a path I could explore, grow in and sustain myself on. A path that would ensure I never reached a state of burnout again.

The process of my recovery saw me literally rebuild my self and my life in a way that is far more fulfilling and sustainable than those prior choices. I realised along the way that the difference I can make through my work will be far greater if I can help people to reject burnout as inevitable, to take control of what they can, prioritise and restore their wellbeing and, in so doing, optimise and sustain the impact they make through their work and in their lives.

My experience of burnout has fundamentally challenged my core beliefs about hard work, sacrifice and selflessness. I had previously worn these beliefs as a badge of honour and, without question, they contributed to a lack of self compassion and, ultimately, ensured my decline. I learnt that I could simply choose to adopt new beliefs that would serve me better and chart a different, easier and more joyful path. The most fundamental shift was adopting a new belief that putting myself first and tending to my wellbeing was, in fact, the only way I could be of service to others in an optimal and sustainable way. Unfortunately I had to end up face down before I reached that realisation. I’d love others to make that choice while they are well and use it to maintain and build their resilience so that they avoid burnout and the many tolls it can take.

A choice to chart a choice to ‘better’

You matter, your life matters and your matters too. You can choose to chart a course that is better for you. To put your energy and wellbeing on the top of your list. To recognise that as a service to yourself and to all that you care about and want to achieve in life.

These days I am doing my best work and living my best life, uncompromised. It’s wonderful to be writing this article today and reflecting on how far I have come. I hope that you choose to reject burnout and chart your own unique course to better.

About Alison Coughlan

alisonco@thebusinesswomanmedia.com'

Alison Coughlan is the author of The Health Hazard: Take control, restore wellbeing and optimise impact. It draws on her own experience of and recovery from burnout and provides simple, practical and powerful tools to chart a path to doing our best work and living our best life. Find out more at www.alisoncoughlan.com

Recommended for you