My heart is racing. My brow is sweating. I am slowing my breathing down, hoping to catch a break.
I’m running, fast and furious. Time is short, and I have to make it count. As soon as I step off the treadmill, there will be text messages waiting, emails to catch up on, children to get ready for school and a shift to get to.
As I log onto my Peloton app and glance up at the leaderboard, I see that I am not alone. There are countless women who balance numerous life roles and proudly display this with their moniker: Momma, doctor, wife, BFF, runner, boss lady … the list goes on.
Being busy and juggling multiple roles is familiar to me. I have been practicing emergency medicine since 2009. The passion and joy I experience in this role are unmatched. In 2013, however, it became very apparent that my husband’s chosen career path as a private practice orthodontist was colliding with my career plans. We realized that small business ownership meant more than showing up with clinical skills and making it through the day. Business ownership requires a joint effort of team investment and management. So, I joined him as a managing partner and thus began an augmented second career. This certainly was not part of my “10 Easy Steps to Becoming a Physician” plan that I had been working on since childhood. But the joy of relationships and the satisfaction of serving others grew exponentially from this melding of careers.
But in 2015, shortly after the birth of our second child, I began to feel the weight of everything; the scale began to tip into unmanageable territory.
I wonder how many of you have experienced a pivotal life moment like this, big or small. How many read, “My heart is racing. My brow is sweating,” and imagined your own panic? You are not alone. Maybe you feel a slow fizzle, a general ache or a loss of joy in the work that you are doing. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming, crushing weight or even an explosion. No matter how you experience it, most of us have lived this and it has a name: Burnout.
What is burnout syndrome?
Burnout syndrome, according to a standardized and commonly accepted scale, manifests with three features:
- A low sense of personal accomplishment
- Loss of enthusiasm
These apply to the work you are doing and possibly life in general. Burnout syndrome is a widespread threat within professional fields and is becoming increasingly prevalent.
If burnout is such a universal threat, why is it so difficult to address?
- We have to be vulnerable to admit that we feel burned out. We worry about other people’s perceptions of our abilities and the stigma of admitting that we need help.
- Addressing burnout involves relatively “soft skills” such as practicing empathy and boundary-setting — and these are not easily measurable.
- Many of us have been living at breakneck speed for years. We don’t really know how to do it differently.
You don’t have to live life in a constantly burned-out state. In fact, the burnout I experienced after the birth of my second kid was the catalyst of change and growth that ultimately has allowed me and my spouse to professionally flourish.
To build empathy for yourself and decrease burnout, it’s important to:
- Keep your eyes fixed on your purpose. To summarize authors, speakers and leaders Craig Groeschel and Simon Sinek: The foundation of building your personal and professional culture is to know your “why.” To sort through your never-ending to-do list, you must first identify your purpose — personally and professionally — and then filter your decisions through this. This will move you away from transactional decision-making (for example, considering what needs to be done to finish this project, complete this work certification or apply to a new job) and toward the pursuit of goals that are meaningful to you.
I often ask myself, “Will this decision help me be emotionally present in my relationships and will it allow me to make a difference in the lives of others?”
- Close the door on comparison and set your own goals. As a business owner, a brief glimpse at the social media world is enough to make me sweat and wonder how well we are “keeping up.” Social media is powerful and eye-opening but also a continuous reminder of more or missed opportunities. I can’t count the times I have been both encouraged by the creativity of others on social media but paralyzed in finding my own specific direction.
Committing to specific goals will remind you of your purpose and will refocus you when comparison becomes overwhelming.
- Surround yourself with helpers and wise counsel. It’s important to cast off the belief that you can go it alone. The perception of loneliness leads to greater burnout, and overall poorer mental and physical health.
Consider building up a professional team to share delegated tasks. Try to cultivate meaningful relationships with wise friends who can speak into your life with prudent direction. My own work with a coach allowed me to identify healthy boundaries and hone in on the advice of wise counsel.
- Focus on one thing at a time. It is often said that no one truly multitasks; some simply “task-switch” faster than others. While many of us carry multitasking as a badge of honor, we must consider whether we are task-switching through the important periods of life and missing out on mental and emotional presence.
Though it can be difficult to change longstanding habits and a culture that values busyness, it is possible to identify and cultivate purpose and goals that allow you to live a meaningful and engaged life.
I now ask myself “Why am I choosing this?” So often the answer is that busyness and task completion are easy to measure and celebrate — but both these things pale in comparison to presence.