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Struggling with Career Fatigue? 5 Tips to Help you Rise Without Burning Out or Selling Out

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

Get your motivation back and learn how to keep rising in your career, without compromising everything else, with the tips and tools that helped me excel as a corporate executive.

Burnt-out girl with smeared eyeliner and mascara from crying holds a piece of paper with a smiley face drawn to convey fake sense of happiness.
Source: Unsplash

Burnout is becoming a serious problem, you guys. So much so that even the World Health Organization officially classified it as a disease in January 2022. Defined as a form of exhaustion from constantly feeling swamped at work, this no-end-in-sight, doom-and-gloom feeling of emotional, physical, and mental anguish feels like it is affecting all of us to some degree, especially after the last few years we’ve had. Other workplace burnout symptoms might include:

  • Energy depletion

  • Mental exhaustion

  • Inability to relax

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Body aches

  • Getting sick more frequently

  • Lack of motivation

Does burnout play a part in the unprecedented amount of resignations taking place every day in corporate America? The answer is likely a resounding yes.

If you find yourself suffering through burnout and aren’t in the position of the millions who up and decided to walk away from their companies, there are steps you can take to overcome burnout that is crippling you professionally and personally.

Here’s what worked for me....

How to Rise Above Without Burning Out or Selling Out: My Story

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was working from home. I was in that glide-into-the-weekend mode, decidedly not working on anything that would hurt my brain too much, when my boss texted me: “Can we talk?”

[inhale … exhale]

Then he called. “This is pretty heavy for a Friday, but I’ve decided to leave the company. I want to know if it’s okay for me to recommend you as our next COO.”

I paused. “Uh, no thank you.”

While I always had ambition, this role felt like the tipping point — it would tip my career-life teeter-totter in the wrong direction. I quickly whipped out my Compromise Calculator and thought, nope. If I go for this bigger job, I’ll have to compromise my family, my health, maybe even my soul. That’s the way it’s always been. I’m good where I’m at.

But it was Friday, and although I did say no, I asked to think about it over the weekend. I sought friends and family members’ feedback, which overall was mixed.

But I distinctly recall telling the dad of one of my daughter’s friends about it when he brought his daughter over for a playdate. “Oh, yeah, you’d have to give up so much time with your family. It’d be a lot of stress…blah blah blah…” Not one hint of, “You should go for it.”

I gave myself time to sit with my own thoughts. After talking to a bazillion people for their opinions, I realized no one had the answer but me.

Here’s what hit me: I realized my hesitation wasn’t tied to the typical things most women are coached to overcome - imposter syndrome, confidence, work-life balance.

Instead, I was worried about becoming the executives who came before me. I was worried I’d have to enter this sort of club, and in this club…

…my ego would grow.

…my calendar would overflow. homelife would become a shit show.

…and my personality might even start to blow.

And I didn’t want that. But then it hit me like a freight-train to my oversized forehead: You shouldn’t not do something because you hate the way it was done before.

On Monday I said “yes” to the job. But now I had to figure out just how to avoid the “club” and do the job my own way.

5 Ways I Avoided the Burnout (And How You Can Too)

1. I fiercely protected my time.

One of the scariest parts of the “club” for me, and for many women, was the concern that I would have to travel nonstop. And no, my biggest fear wasn’t being away from my kids too much; my biggest fear was the pressure it might cause between my husband and me. People talk often about working moms and then tension between juggling our motherly duties and our work duties. The truth is that many of us have a greater fear: we might end up divorced if our work creates too much of a strain between us and our partner – even those of us with supportive husbands.

As I stepped up the corporate ladder, I decided I didn’t have to also step up the airline rewards ladder. Although I traveled to see employees at our other offices and visited customers (including those dreaded mea culpa trips), I was very picky about my travel and ultimately, my time. I would space visits out so that I wasn’t on the road too much in one month. I also had a few people on my leadership team that didn’t mind being road warriors. I often sent them out, when others would have expected the CEO to be the one to handle. Oftentimes, this strategy also helped them grow in their career as well.

What you can do: Burnout strikes when color blocks on the calendar overlap and form new colors, leaving no time for you or your own priority list.

Nowhere in your employee handbook does it say 95% of your day must be occupied with video calls. Prioritize your mental health and your schedule by throwing time up on your calendar for – gasp – you.

Pro tip: in addition to setting aside specific time for exercise or eating, on Wednesday each week, take a look at your schedule for the following week. Anywhere there is an open slot, close it in with a hold. Anything that comes up after that that’s not hair-on-fire urgent, can wait till the following week.

Also, be sure to use the “out-of-office” color (vs. the “I’m-just-kinda-booked” color) for anything critical. Now you’ll have the time to soak up the morning sunshine and get a brisk walk in, or accomplish those deadline-driven tasks you keep pushing off because you can’t find the time.

2. I wrote my own emails.

This was a pet peeve I had of the “club”, likely dating back to my intern days. We would get so many emails, but most of them all had the same business buzzwords, all nestled under a picture of the big-wig sending it (we knew what they looked like - they were the big-wig!). The emails made the executive seem less approachable and always left me feeling like not only must they have the personality of a wet mop, but they likely haven’t got a clue about the day-to-day struggles of their employees.

Instead, I saw the emails I sent, not as a check-the-box exercise or a place where I would start my descent into the club and ultimately selling out, but as an opportunity to inspire my team and show that I’m a real human being! I often wrote a story in my emails (my kids were probably in half of them) and resolved to leaving out the buzzword BS – instead communicating authentically and for impact; not for “looking” like a big-wig!

What you can do: Burnout is a spectrum of exhaustion, and many of us are flat-out exhausted by all the corporate buzzword bingo and BS! What does it take to get people to act like real humans around here?!

Be a rebel and revel in your authenticity! Write emails that show the recipient you’re an actual human being. You can even start by crafting a professional but refreshingly honest out-of-office message that will inspire your network to embrace their own humanity. It might put a smile on someone’s face (who is also white-knuckling through their own burnout) to see, “I’m sorry I missed your email, but I’m not sorry for sitting on the beach with a cold drink in my hand. Getting away from the craziness for a while, but will respond as soon as I return.”

PS - If you actually put up a creative out-of-office away message, comment below or shoot me a message! I’d love to see it and feature it in an upcoming post!

3. My version of work/life balance meant including my children in my work.

Ok, yes, I admit that these little people mattered a lot too. I’m the mother of two, and when I was CEO of my former company, they were in elementary school. And while we talk a lot about work-life balance in terms of things like setting boundaries and managing our time, I took the path less traveled – totally integrating the two – and am so glad I did.

I decided early on that me becoming the CEO of a legit company was an opportunity to inspire and include my children - not put them on the back burner. You might call it work-life integration, but I simply saw it as bringing them onto the team whenever possible. Sometimes that was literal. I brought them into the office on occasion (my son still can’t believe I retired from there because in his words, “The salad bar was SO good.”).

I also brought my daughter to the last evening of our client conference because it was her 10th birthday and the scheduling conflict slipped my mind (whoops). Annual client event or daughter’s birthday celebration? Well, both! What started as creative problem solving (fulfilling my commitment while making sure my daughter felt celebrated on her big day) ended with a surge of inspiration for many of the women in attendance to find creative ways to balance the many hats they wear. To this day, I include my children in my work as often as possible. Not only do each of them get to attend one conference I speak at each year, I pull them into my office on the regular to provide feedback, feature them in a video I’m doing, or just give them an exciting update on a business win.