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This Japanese Secret Can Help You Handle Career Burnout

Job burnout is a unique type of stress. It’s a state of exhaustion, either emotional, mental, or physical, coupled with uncertainty about the value and confidence in your work. Two critical components of career burnout are the loss of energy and enthusiasm. Once you’ve identified what’s fueling your feelings of career burnout, you can address […]

Woman feeling stressed and burnt out at work.

Job burnout is a unique type of stress. It’s a state of exhaustion, either emotional, mental, or physical, coupled with uncertainty about the value and confidence in your work. Two critical components of career burnout are the loss of energy and enthusiasm. Once you’ve identified what’s fueling your feelings of career burnout, you can address the issues. Are you experiencing burnout because of a lack of sleep, negative thinking, stressful relationships, overwhelmed at work or career boredom? A 2013 Harvard Medical School study found that if you’re a senior leader, you have a 4% chance of not feeling burned out. Over the years, I’ve noticed those most at risk of occupational burnout also tend to identify with one or more of these statements:

1. Work and your career are the primary sources of happiness and value in your life.

2. You have a phlegmatic personality type and tend to be a people pleaser.

3. Your job is monotonous or chaotic. Being in a stagnant role can also lead to feelings of boredom.

4. You work in, what career theorist John L. Holland calls, a social profession. Jobs such as doctors, human resource professionals, social workers and social advocates all fall into social professions.

5. You feel you have little or no control over your work.

There are several ways we can address career burnout, but an ancient Japanese concept can help. According to the book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, the term is described as one’s reason for being. The four concepts that intersect and form one’s Ikigai are mission, passion, vocation and giving to others.Let’s take a look at how you can gain clarity in each area and avoid burnout.

What Drives You: Mission

Purpose and mission are synonymous. They’re unique ways of defining what you want out of life. If your mission encapsulates the main facets of your life: work, relationships, self and, for some people, spirituality, then you’re less likely to feel the blow if something goes wrong at work or in your career. A mismatch in your and your employer’s values can also take an emotional toll and impact your productivity. Questions to figure out your mission:

• What do you value?

• How do you see the world, and how do you see yourself in it?

• What is the meaning and purpose of life?

• What do you want to give to the world?

The “Workview Reflection” section in Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived And Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, has some useful questions to help figure out how work fits in with your values. Here are a few of them:

• Some people work to keep their brains and bodies healthy; others work for purpose or lifestyle. Why do you work?

• What defines excellent or worthwhile work?

• What does money have to do with work?

•What do experience, growth and fulfillment have to do with work?

You Are Great At It: Passion

I have several passions: early years education, health and wellness, art and design and professional development, but they all lead to my purpose in life, which encompasses my work, relationships and self-care. I fell into the trap of passion when I picked my graduate degree. Later, I realized that passion and work don’t necessarily go hand in hand but can complement each other. The intersection of mission and passion is powerful. Deloitte has found that passionate workers “focus on their own learning and achieving more of their potential rather than on preset metrics or external rewards.” Useful questions to ask yourself to figure out your passion:

• What problems would you like to solve if you were given a three-month sabbatical?

• What do your friends say you do well?

• What tasks, conversations and/or actions make you feel most energized?

The World Needs It: Vocation

Let your mission and passion drive you to innovate and improve your industry. Brigette Hyacinth is an example of this. She’s passionate and on a mission to improve the hiring process. It can be hard to think of ways to improve your work if you feel you have no say at work, control or lack energy. Connecting with individuals and following the work of those sharing a positive voice can be an encouragement. Useful questions to ask yourself to figure out what the world needs:

• What skills does the World Economic Forum say will be in demand by 2030?

• What three things give your industry a bad name?

• What are global research firms, like McKinsey, saying about the future of work?

You Get Paid For It: Profession

Tom Rath’s research shows that the odds of being fully engaged in your job increases by more than 250% if you spend time doing meaningful work. Meaningful work makes us feel energetic, and energy is a defense against burnout. Think about the environments and work conditions that affect your productivity and how you like to get engaged at work. Questions to help reflect on your profession:

• What would help you achieve greater work-life harmony?

• Is there anything you can suggest to make your work less monotonous or chaotic?

• Do you need a fresh understanding of the needs of your manager, director or CEO?

Can you see how discovering and developing your Ikigai can be a starting point in helping you address burnout? I hope so. As the Japanese would say, “sayounara (goodbye).” Until next time.

This article first appeared here on my Forbes column. Work with Rachel Montanez in her burnout coaching or career change coaching program.

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