As I see it, burnout comes from being disconnected, for too long, from your true self and from the unique nutrients that sustain your true self.
As you read between the lines of my client Lila’s story below, you’ll see three all-too-common mindsets that set her up for profound personal crisis and burnout — and some small, simple antidotes as well.
Since she was about 4 years old, Lila heard over and over again that she was too loud and too big. She was average weight but became obsessed with being thinner and better-looking. Throughout her marriage, she would binge on junky foods and hide the evidence from her husband under the other food scraps at the bottom of the trash can.
During her workweek as a financial adviser, she didn’t feel she could be herself and “phoned it in.” Then, on weekends she went out drinking with friends to let her hair down. That is, until she got pulled over for driving drunk and realized she could’ve just killed herself — and others.
In that rock-bottom time in her life, feeling cut off from herself, she realized that the way she was living her life was completely out of alignment and unsustainable from what she really wanted and what truly mattered to her.
Burnout mode might look like going through the motions but your heart isn’t in it, or it might mean you are in such a bad way that you can’t even get out of bed to go through the motions. Some cousins (and signs) of burnout are depression, anxiety, chronic pain (physical and emotional), sluggishness, self-loathing, and simply wondering where your passion has run off to.
As I write this, Lila is wonderfully vibrant. She traded corporate for consulting, guides her business choices just as much from her intuition as her formal training, and still makes just about the same income as when she was in burnout mode. She focuses on her well-being and is very much in touch with herself and her true desires.
But these are some of her past mindsets that led her smack into burnout.
“I’m too much.”
Honestly, I’ve never met a woman who didn’t believe that she was “too much” of something or other — too sensitive, too emotional, too pushy, too smart, too stupid, too sexy, too boring, too weak — and in Lila’s case, too loud and too big.
We buy the myth that we are not valuable as we are, and we jump on the hamster wheel of over-compensating through achievement, looking good, and helping others. We stay glued to that wheel until we look up, see the madness for what it is, and step off — or burn out.
“I can’t trust myself.”
If you reach for a hot stove and get burned, you learn it’s painful and to not do that again. Unfortunately, this likely happened with what you want, feel, need, and care about, as well. So now, you reach for what is calling to you, and your family or culture or religion tells you it’s a hot stove and slaps your hand away.
You decide that what you want is probably bad for you. You mistrust your body’s signals, emotions, and intuition, often questioning if you even know what is real. The result is often a profound disconnection from your true self — and burnout.
“Show a brave face to the world, even when I’m down.”
You feel bowled over by grief but pretend to be fine. You are in physical pain (again) but tell no one. You are foggy headed but get your fourth latte of the day to help you get through. You say yes to the thing (that you think you should do but don’t really want to do), even though you are already running on fumes. You pretend to be up when you’re down.
We all live in a world that gives out gold stars for pushing past our limits or pretending we don’t even have limits. We learn that “feeling down” — feeling sad, angry, depressed, panicked, or going through a hard time — is a sign we are inferior or broken in some way.
But really, fluctuating emotions and energy levels are actually signs you are a fully functioning human. Most of us just don’t have much of an idea of how to work with our fluctuating emotions and energy levels, especially as women.
I often say women are like circles living in a square world. The world is built more with squares in mind, and so we as women — with bodies, minds, and souls which are just as valuable as men’s, but that function differently and require different nutrients — are often headed for burnout.
The antidote to burnout is learning to be a champion for what I call your “feminine genius” — the parts of you (that have likely been marginalized by dominant culture) that feel (not just think), that go up and down (not just in straight lines), that want and need (not just give), that intuit (not just reason), that connect (not just compete), and that are true (not just productive).
So, start small: go with what you feel, want, need, and intuit.
The next time you feel like staying in and taking a bath rather than going out to the company shindig, go with it. The next time you get an intuitive nudge to decline to volunteer, go with it. The next time you feel like saying, “I’m having a hard time, truth be told,” instead of “I’m fine,” go with it.
It’s not going to be like this forever. You didn’t just lose your edge. You will again be ready to rock it out and shine like a star.
Trust that what goes down must come up, especially you. Trust that not pushing through the down will actually (ironically) allow you to move quicker through the down — and to come up more triumphantly.
Going with it, even in the smallest of ways, helps you tune in to your signals, what your body is really asking for, and the nutrients your soul really needs. Which in turn helps you trust yourself, show your true face (not just your brave face) to the world, and, ultimately, feel not “too much” but just right.