Be very intentional at a basic level — this is my way of making sure that Maslow’s hierarchy should be a habit for me. I don’t always get it right but it’s always the goal and I’ve wrestled over time with the sense that this as a goal is inherently selfish; in fact, it’s taken me many years to understand that it’s actually the only way I can serve others well.
Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout.”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clark Twiddy.
Clark is the President of Twiddy & Company, a hospitality and asset management firm celebrating more than forty years in business along North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Clark also serves on the boards of several public, non-profit, and public sector organizations as well, all in an effort to get a little better every day and serve others well in doing so. A proud father of two daughters, he has also recently published a book on the Outer Banks available on Amazon.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was very fortunate to grow up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a younger brother and younger sister during a time in the area before it became nationally famous for vacation homes. It was a small town in the sense that everywhere you went, you’d know most of the people there and to this day I’ll frequently introduce myself as “Doug and Sharon’s son.”
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’ve had a few different chapters in my professional career and across them all I’ve been again fortunate to have seen some very talented and capable people work hard to do the right thing. From that perspective, I’ve just had a great string of strong role models — up, down, and across organizations — to draw from and model my own style — on my best day, in my interactions I’m a hybrid of all those great role models.
For a quick yet enduring example, I once served, more than 20 years ago, with a senior Navy officer who when we traveled together always made sure that I was taken care of despite my very junior status. I asked him why he did that when he clearly didn’t have to; he responded with an answer I still think about to this day — he said “young man, a big part of my job is trying to inspire you to be me one day and when you get here I want you to know how to act.” That’s real leadership.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Time and time again in my career I’ve noticed that my failures were usually the result of me working alone while most of my successes have been the result of a strong team dynamic. In terms of helping me along the way, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have built some genuine friendships over time with people much older than me and further along in their journey — they’ll all tell me the truth, help me stay grounded while at the same time being supportive and encouraging. I’ve met several of those people through service on various boards over the years and I’ll always say that a great reason to serve on a board of any kind is to build relationships with the other board members. Hands down though, as a practical example,, the handful of people who have influenced me the most were the ones who encouraged me to think big. Sometimes, it just takes the slightest push to make a big leap and for that encouragement I am forever grateful.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Highlighting the many lessons from my many mistakes over the years would need a much more indulgent audience so I’ll focus on one for the moment. I’ve learned over the years that the timing of a great idea is just as important as the idea itself; one of my mistakes was in opening a new office in a new market that, in hindsight, was just too far ahead of its time — it was an expensive thing to get out of but a contemporary of mine framed it not as a mistake but as tuition in my learning journey. That was a great way to take the sting out of it and I’ve used that phrase quite a few times over the years.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Serve others first. I think that’s such a powerful concept as we think, from a business standpoint, about the creation of value and our impact on those around us as we do so. So many times I think we all see business decisions that actually are the opposite of that idea and to me, in trying to consistently do things differently in a competitive market, the idea that value creation for others comes before any for ourselves is an incredibly powerful way to build trust, transparency, and credibility over the long-term.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
The things we are working on now are what I’ll describe as pivotal capacities as we try to move from an industry rapidly commoditizing to a much more value-added client relationship model. In our specific industry, for example, we were for decades culturally rooted in personal interactions and yet with the pandemic we’ve worked to quickly digitize hospitality both at scale and scope in a way that our customers value. It’s exciting to think what we’ll look like in five or ten years in terms of what we do digitally and how we’ll get there while still having a foundation of personal trust with each of our clients.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think resilience has certainly been key, as each new day seems to bring some challenge or setback that simply has to be overcome. I also think your reputation precedes you; in my postage-stamp size experience, it’s been critical to maintain the confidence of our own team and our investors and to do that you simply have to be credible — as we’ve navigated the proverbial steel curtain of travel in the tourism world, the covenant we’ve had with our team at each step has been very simple — we’ll do the right thing, we’ll do the best we can, and we won’t surprise you. If we’re credible in doing that, that inspires confidence during a time when trust was in many ways all we had. Lastly, I think it’s valuable to have a sense of humor — it can be tempting, when you are betting the farm, to get serious about everything but it is possible to take the role seriously without taking yourself too seriously.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
If you’re reading this, you know that most professionals right now are going through significant stages of burnout as the world literally changes under their feet and that change — if nothing else the sheer rapidity of it — has placed demands on working professionals that we probably still don’t fully appreciate. Most of us internalize that pressure, as we see it as some kind of weakness, only to see it pop up in our lives in other ways that we don’t expect and that’s exactly where anger and resentment begin to flourish. In my own journey, we’ve seen in our industry a rocky road of bust-and-boom uncertainty that has kept us all “redlined” in terms of energy management. Our resilience as an organization through this sustained burnout trend has only been the result of a very intentional way of candidly acknowledging what we’re capable of, making the wellness of our team our top priority, and becoming acutely aware of and self-reflective about how we’re perceived.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
Burnout to me would be a creeping inability to be both self-aware and self-reflective in the way we manage our energy that, in effect, erodes our intentionality around priorities. In practice, I think we see this surface most often in our time-horizons — when we find ourselves just trying to get through the day, as opposed to spending at least some time focusing on longer-term outcomes, that’s a great signal that we’re burning out.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
To me, to be resilient in the face of burnout — to triumph in the face of it, said differently — is to be intentional in wellness, disciplined in the habits of Maslow’s hierarchy, and consistently well-grounded in our personal relationships.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some sceptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
I think a silver lining in this pandemic is that COVID itself has been a great teacher and we’ve made great progress as professionals in normalizing the importance of wellness as an antidote to fatigue. I think, generationally, we’ve inherited to a degree this stoic endurance in the face of adversity and while I greatly admire our previous generations I also think we’ve learned a great deal as well in terms of the impacts of fatigue over time. I think we’ve all seen that sustained fatigue affects all of us in both direct and indirect ways. The direct ways we’re familiar with — bad health, bad relationships, or substance abuse — but the indirect ways to me are equally as telling as we see large labor force impacts that drain both local and national economies, health care challenges that eat up wage increases or quality of life, and a deterioration of our participation in government because we just don’t have the bandwidth to serve. Long-term, these obstacles will become our undoing as an economy unless we get really and professionally good at recognizing and healing burnout.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
I think first and foremost burnout arrives, quietly, at the intersection of a lack of perceived progress and a lack of perceived control. For example, take instances in our lives right now where we are happiest and it’s likely that we have intentionally done things that either help us make progress toward something or where we’ve exercised freely a sense of choice. In the absence of that, we see burnout.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
My Five Things
- Be very intentional at a basic level — this is my way of making sure that Maslow’s hierarchy should be a habit for me. I don’t always get it right but it’s always the goal and I’ve wrestled over time with the sense that this as a goal is inherently selfish; in fact, it’s taken me many years to understand that it’s actually the only way I can serve others well.
- It’s key for me to have relationships in place that will help me maintain my self-awareness; when my perceptions of myself get out of alignment with the perceptions of those around me, that’s a burnout sign.
- It is simply not enough to talk about burnout — diagnosis is nothing without treatment — as action must be the focus. This has been a hard lesson for me and one I struggle with in managing my time. For example, if I find myself justifying, consistently, bad habits around Maslow’s hierarchy, that’s a sign to me that I’m out of a healthy routine. Philosophically for me, the solution cannot be to conveniently blame something external — the solution must be from within through my own choice.
- It can be daunting for me to wrestle with big ideas around burnout, so my approach has been based on small habits. For example, I try to eat a good breakfast every day. I also spend five minutes writing out an index card of my priorities for the day. Each of those things seem small and they are but it’s the behavior of success in small things that helps drive me in a positive way each morning.
- Moderation is fine, excess is bad — I try to have the discipline to stay moderate in my habits. For example, we’re all aware of the dangers of substance abuse and yet we see it in every direction because it is so easily accessible and the cause-and-effect relationship is so readily at hand. I guard against the temptation of excess as a habit.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
We can help normalize through conversation our awareness of burnout and, in turn, reinforce progress through constant praise. This very day, cheer someone who is working to overcome burnout. That small cheer will probably encourage them to do it again the next day.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
I think we have to walk the walk in terms of making wellness a priority — again, it is simply not enough to talk about it or learn about it although that’s entirely necessary. We’ll have to encourage action — time off, healthy choices, candid conversations — and lead by example. We’ll also have to be self-aware enough to spot when we’re out of alignment. For example, to talk during the day about wellness and then in the evening to bombard staff with immediate action texts is a great example of cognitive dissonance and we’ve got a responsibility when we see that kind of thing to stomp it out. Lastly, I think it’s important as an organization to have a system in place that finds areas that are out of alignment and addresses them quickly.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Model it as a leader, reinforce it at the supervisor level, and celebrate the action that triumphs over burnout. Do each of these consistently.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
Like a New Year’s resolution, most of our failures are failures in that the action is short-lived. I think, to make something a habit, we have to start very small and then build on it rather than start big.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The surest investment we can make as a people is in the education of our children; I’d love to inspire others to get involved in education in action. There are a myriad of ways to support our educational system and I’d love to see folks get off their smartphones — that’s not advocacy, by the way — and volunteer for a day instead of surfing the web. We’ll call it the One Day campaign — just imagine if 50% of Americans volunteered for one day in support of education. If 150 million people did just one day, that’s the equivalent of 410,000 years. Imagine what we could get done in that time.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I think what Jeff Bezos has done in a relatively short period of time is simply world-changing. Hey Jeff, how about a cup of coffee the next time you’re in DC…I’d love to see Amazon get into the vacation rental marketplace and I have a great idea how they could change the world that way as well.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I am humbled to think your readers would do so; our team works at www.twiddy.com and I’m on LinkedIn as well.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!