In hindsight, I knew exactly when it was coming.
I knew exactly when I’d gone just too far.
It was when my ears started ringing.
It was when my mind couldn’t stop racing.
It was when I couldn’t sleep anymore, even though I was exhausted.
It was when I couldn’t seem to relax anymore.
It was when I quietly refrained from going to any kind of social event. It was when I could feel people becoming ‘careful around Marijke’.
And – I was an EXPERT at hiding it.
Even for myself. Especially for myself.
Boy am I happy to finally be able to write about my series of burnouts, in past tense. As a chapter in my past. A chapter that has taught me many lessons, and has finally put me on my true life’s path. The only thing I regret, is making the same mistake over, and over and over.
We can have it all, without burning ourselves out.
We all experience stress. Working in a demanding profession such as law, some stress is inevitable. But stress should not be something we fear. It’s here to aid and push us in those moments of all-or-nothing. In those moments of pitching to a client. Or when your kid has to get to the hospital, fast. Or when you are being interviewed for that dream promotion. Stress is meant to be our ally.
The problem with stress starts, when it lasts. Our bodies are simply not designed to be in a constant state of fight or flight. As the World Health Organization has now officially recognized burnout as a clinical medical condition (2019) and Gallup has found that 23% of employees feel burnt out very often or always, with an additional 44% that feel burnt out some of the time (2018) – I think it’s safe to say we are facing a corporate health crisis.
And if I know anything by now, it’s that it does NOT have to be this way. We can have it all, without burning ourselves out.
Like me – most of us KNOW that we have gone over. That inner voice has told us many times, that it really isn’t normal that we have no more energy to brush our teeth at night, or that it’s really been too many weeks we’ve opened our laptop first thing when we get home. We’ve all read the 10 things to do about burnout by now. We know we should delegate, meditate and say no more often.
And the reason is deceitfully simple. It is because we as human beings, are driven by our beliefs. What we do is driven by what we believe to be true about reality.
Our subconscious minds hold thousands of beliefs. Some empowering (“I am smart”, “I am a talented lawyer”), others are neutral (“I am tall”). But we also have beliefs, that are detrimental to our (work) life, without us even knowing it, like: “I am not good enough” “I am an impostor” or “making money is hard work”.
Ultimately – our burnouts are a result of our actions (working too hard, ignoring signs from our bodies etc.), which are created by our thoughts and feelings, which are, in turn, created by our beliefs.
If, for example, I subconsciously believe that “to receive love I need to work hard and please others”, it will feel very uncomfortable to not be working or allowing myself to relax. I will feel uneasy, guilty or stressed without really understanding why. My thoughts will be racing all over the place and tell me things like: “Who am I to be resting?”, “I am so lazy”,”I am wasting my time” or; “My boss is working weekends, so so should I”. Which will drive my actions: I will start to work – which will result more stress or fatigue. Lastly, I likely will get praise for working hard, which in turn reaffirms my belief that to be worthy…I need to work hard.
Are you getting the picture here?
My belief is not only creating a result I do not want (ie. working all of the time and being unable to rest without feeling guilty) – but it is making itself stronger. And until and unless you look at the belief that is creating your behavior, you will keep hitting a brick wall.
It might be a bit of a tough pill to swallow – that the deeper reason for our stress is not our work, but us. Yet – the good news is: this puts us in control. This means we can actually do something about it, rather than waiting for our conditions or our boss to change.
Some steps to get you started:
Begin to notice which beliefs are driving your unhealthy work habits. Two key questions that can help you uncover them:
After each answer, ask – and then what will happen? and then what? Until you hit the point where it hurts. For example, you might hit the belief that tells you “I have to do everything myself” or “If I fall apart, everything will fall apart” or “No matter what I do, it’s never good enough”. Keep a list of all that you find.
Several techniques can help you to clear these beliefs and the memories connected to them. Neuro Linguistic Programming, Belief Clearing and Emotional Freedom Technique are among the ones that I’ve found the most powerful. Getting support from a certified coach or psychologist in the process is always a wise call. Below are some things you can do yourself to get started.
For your list from step one, start to create replacement beliefs. Next to each belief you noted, write down the belief you would like to instill in yourself. For example:
“No matter what I do, it’s never good enough” could become “I am capable and perfect, exactly as I am.”
Now you have the beliefs that you want to build your (work) life on. It’s key to start affirming them daily. So repeat these beliefs to yourself on a daily basis – whilst you are evoking good feelings. This can be while you are looking in the mirror, on your way to work, before you go to sleep, or – better yet – all of the above.
It may feel silly or ridiculous at first, but trust me, if you do it right, things will start to change. The ringing in your ears will get less. The relaxation will become easier. And believe me, the quality of your work will still be good (if not better).
It’s time to break through that brick wall once and for all.
It’s time to create a work life, that works for you.