Burnout Recovery

Last week, I was let go in a re-organization. It was a pretty great ride, and the people I have met during my tenure there have been remarkable partners and coworkers. No hard feelings.

The reality is that I’ve been dealing with pretty significant burnout for about… 9 months, maybe longer. Eventually, I would read articles like this one, identifying the 5 stages of burnout and I couldn’t deny seeing myself in the later stages, 4, teetering on 5.

While I have grappled with the realities of significant burnout for a while, I have struggled with the idea of addressing it. That’s the funny thing about burnout, it is inherently slow-moving, creeping, cunning. And all the while, while parenting in a pandemic, you’re also telling yourself “this is just a 1-time problem” or “it will change” or “I should be able to deal with this.”

The most significant hurdle is that I have a family to support and that comes with responsibilities that I can’t ignore. In other words, I always knew that a departure from work would be necessary for healing, but I couldn’t just quit and figure it out later. That’s part of the reason I’m actually so grateful that I was laid off, as though fate made a choice that I couldn’t bring myself to make. The most important thing now is to make the most of it, both in recovery and in the next opportunity.

I’m still putting the pieces together, but a plan is starting to take shape, based on a framework in this article. I’m still refining it with more insight. For instance, this is framed for someone who is working, and they need to recover from burnout while still working and then figure out how to make a change and leave their job. Lucky break for your boy here, that part took care of itself. So here’s where I am at the moment

Stage 1: Admitting there’s a problem

Gotcha. Next.

Stage 2: Distancing from work

Hey, guess what? Next.

Stage 3: Restoring health

OK, here’s where I’m already in motion. At time of writing, I’m 25 days into a plan to drop weight, get stronger, and meditate often.

Here’s a screenshot of the Google sheet I use to keep myself honest.

Meditation has been the hardest to start and maintain. Meditation is also proven as a burnout remedy, so I’ll be working to dial this up. I’m also pro-actively trying to sleep better + more. This one may take a while.

Stage 4: Questioning values

Up next, digging back into assessments from business school that outline what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, what you value in your professional life. Time to get dialed in to all of these things.

One assessment, Knowdell Career Values report, outlined the values I look for in work to be, in order of importance:

  • Advancement: Be able to get ahead rapidly, gaining opportunities for growth and seniority from work well-done.
  • Environment: Work on tasks that have a positive effect on the natural environment.
  • Challenging problems: Engage continually with complex questions, demanding tasks, trouble-shooting and problem-solving as a core part of my job.
  • Influence people: Be in a position to change attitudes or opinions of others.
  • Time Freedom: Have responsibilities at which I can work according to my time schedule; no specific working hours required.

… along with a few others. Interesting!

I’m digging into other assessments like the Kolb Experiential Learning Profile, Emotional Intelligence test, 360 feedback, and Conflict Intelligence tests.

Also interesting: my perspective on the role of Design in an organization has been evolving due in large part to my experience in school, studying organizational development, operational performance, and risk management. and I’m probably going to write about that soon. This may be an important value to pursue.

Stage 5: Exploring work possibilities

At this point, this one comes with a mixed bag.

On the up side, I was flooded with well-wishes and interest when I announced that I was laid off. Additionally, the job market is white hot right now.

On the down side, no matter how hot the job market, design leadership positions are rare and competitive. Now, with top-tier companies offering strong salaries to combat inflation and stave off competition from other companies, the positions are less rare but seemingly more competitive. So the environment is objectively better than it was a few years ago because there are more positions, but qualitatively, this might be a tough ride.

Either way, I still have to ramp up a more recent portfolio, reframe it around my more current experience and perspective. I have a lot to say about design and business these days, thanks to ongoing lessons through my MBA.

I think this article from HBR also makes a good point, that in a work context you have to make an assessment what you can change and what is fixed. In a life context, nearly everything can be changed on a long enough time horizon, so the considerations may vary.

I’m also giving a lot of thought to some points later in the same HBR article regarding relationships, and how important they are to dodging burnout. I’m actually flashing back to my old agency days, where we worked insane hours under unpredictable conditions, but we were thrilled to do it because a group of us were so tightly knit that we would do it together. It kept the burnout at bay. My life overall was very different back then, though, so the pieces may not fit together the way they once did.

Stage 6: Making a break, making a change

Already broke from the old company. The next step will be the next thing to figure out, is what direction matches the values above.

There is much to do to make this a legitimate plan, so I’m working through that, in between sessions working on my portfolio and homework for my integrated risk management class. But plans, for me, are good. I’m a a planner. Even if they change–it helps me put a frame around the unknown in ways that make them real.

Now to decide what’s real…