“Am I burned out or just lazy and dumb?
I don’t see my other colleagues so disarray!
Maybe it’s just me… I’ve Googled burnout too many times and now it’s my head.
I should stop being lazy and get shit done!”
This was the mental chatter in my brain on repeat in 2016. But I carried on working and then some more. Till I realised that my performance at work was getting affected, and it came down to my disability to take care of myself.
I was this 20-something-year-old Strategy Consultant with one of the biggest Consulting houses, living in London. I was travelling Monday-Thursday and even on the train or flight I would just be glued to my laptop or phone, not realising how badly all of this was affecting me, my firm and my client. It all came down to my inability of taking care of myself.
So last week I sat down with Isabelle Havers, who very much like me had been completely burned out not once, but twice in her Financial Controlling career for top corporate houses.
If you want to listen to the podcast, it’s here:
But I know many of you are readers like me. So here’s the gist of the interview.
Isabelle's story of a career crisis
Isabelle studied International Business Management Studies and then jumped into the corporate world right away, in the automotive industry.
She was two years into her job when she was sent home by her colleagues one day because she was not myself anymore- she was sitting in front of the computer but was not able to work anymore. She felt incapable of doing the things that she had done for so many months and years before, something she was truly an expert at.
Was it burnout?
What had happened is Isabelle actually had neglected the bodily symptoms that were showing her that she needed to rest. That she needed to stop working so many hours and take care of herself. And that got me right into burnout.
What is burnout?
WHO says burnout is an occupational phenomenon. The ICD-11 says:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Watch the video instead?
Isabelle, however, feels that burnout is a spiritual crisis of when the feminine and masculine energies are imbalanced.
Masculine energy means the logical, rational, focussed attitude. And the feminine energy is more of the flow, the intuition, a trust that you set into yourself, that you set into the universe, or God or whatever you call that higher power.
And for her, when she was burned out, she was only in that masculine energy. And that's why she got herself worn out, and was exhausted. Because she would never look into that softness, into that flow, into that intuition. She was using only her rational brain.
She was working a lot with numbers and figures, which she says is masculine energy in itself, but she never balanced that through tuning into herself, through meditation, through dancing, through listening to music... all the things that really make you soft, that make you relaxed and calm down.
“Because when you're hustling all the time, when you are “go go go” all the time, that's you being in your masculine energy. And there's nothing wrong with that. We have to have that energy to get things done. If we are always flowing, and everything's so good, we don't get shit done. But there needs to be a balance between these two.”
Isabelle calls them masculine and feminine energies, but I call it the balance of hormones- the masculine testosterone vs the feminine hormones. As we know, we have both hormones present in our bodies, and both male and female hormones are present in both men and women. And in more cases, than I can count on my fingers, I’ve seen that burnout is almost always related to a hormonal imbalance, especially in women.
But whether you are a man or a woman, you need to have the balance of the two faculties right in your life- whether you call it hormones or energy, or simply left and right brain. We can keep pretending with our biology books that our nervous system is different from our endocrine system which is different from our cardiovascular system. And they are- only in textbooks! Your body doesn’t know that the books have 15 systems. For your body, there’s only one system- you. And that’s why imbalances manifest in your body in ways that you would never realise are related to burnout, exactly how Isabelle didn’t.
How to spot if you are burned out?
If you are asking yourself “Am I burned out” you probably are!
Usually, when in life you are not aware of where you're going where you're headed, that’s a dangerous zone to be in because you don’t have any intrinsic meaning that you have attached to success. Your self-worth comes from external validation and your ability to do and get things done.
You might feel constant fatigue
Headaches don’t leave you.
You are chronically exhausted.
Your breath becomes shallower.
Your hormones are out of sync.
But for Isabelle, she did not link that to the fact of her being burned out. It was only after her colleagues that sent her home that she realised how bad it had gotten. And it took her three months to recover properly and go back to work again.
Did she go back to the same company? Same job? Same role?
Nope! She took charge of herself and moved companies, and cities. The only thing she kept at was her role of being in Financial Control.
She loved her new company and her colleagues. She had an amazing apartment, fabulous friends, a nice car and what not! Yet, in four years, the same symptoms started returning.
She was anxious and angry. Restless, frustrated. Headaches. Hormones out of balance.
She was burned out! AGAIN!
It was a wake-up call for her to take chargeback and in a much bigger way. By saying no and setting boundaries.
There is a fine line between having boundaries and taking responsibility
Most of us are guilty of taking on too much responsibility, not realising that it is also our responsibility to set boundaries.
“There's a need for you to say no, for yourself and also for others because it's not fair to your company if you don't tell them that you are overworked. That will not lead to anything, nobody wins from you taking on too much. Self Care is like that- if you don't take care of yourself, you will not be able to perform at your rest, there is only that much amount of energy that we have for a day for a week for a month. And then at one point that's gone.”
Saying yes to everything means that you are saying no somewhere else. And often it's to yourself. But that often also reflects in that that you are not being able to really do the job at its best, you are half-heartedly doing the job. And that's not good for you. That's not good for your employer. That's not something that anyone gains from.
So what did Isabelle do?
She started a morning routine that works for her.
It has helped her with tuning into her body by listening more to herself. All this while she had been neglecting these symptoms. She wasn't aware that the headache might be coming from working too many hours. She always found a good excuse that why these headaches were not related to her working too much or listening to myself.
Usually, we are so busy that sleep as long as possible in the morning. For example, if your job starts at nine, you might sleep in until 830. Have a quick breakfast and then you're right at your while desk working from home.
But she suggests taking 10 minutes more, getting up a little bit earlier while not starting your day already stressed out. Tune into yourself. See how you are doing, feel how you are doing? What's going right? What's going wrong? What does feel wrong in your body? What does feel a little off?
That’s how she uses the morning routine.
Wait, what?! Aren’t morning routines supposed to be these 10 things to do when you get up?
Get up at 5 am
Go for a run, come back
Have a shower, in cold water
Listen to a podcast
Have your 30 grams of protein
Isabelle says, that’s too much!!
“Well, that's already exhausting me talking about it. Too much. People think that they have to do all these things in the morning to have a productive day. It's not like that. For me, a morning routine is about setting the level of energy for your day in a specific positive way, so that you don't feel stressed out already in the morning.
So that you can face your day more resilient, more relaxed, and calmer. And that is what I use a morning routine for. Not to have another thing on my to-do list because I always say that a morning routine should serve you and not master you. So start your day in a way that makes you feel really amazing.”
Okay, so what do you do in those 10 minutes of a morning routine?
“Think about one thing, one thing that you really enjoy doing, and that could be listening to your favorite song. Put your favorite music on in the morning. And maybe you dance a little while you're preparing the breakfast. Music does so much to ourselves does so much with our feelings with our emotions, and the music alone can set the tone for your day.
So think about one thing that you really enjoy doing and do that and start with five minutes. If you feel like that's already too much of your time, or you are too busy to do five minutes of that. That's okay. Start with less.
When I started with meditation, all I could do at the beginning because I thought you know, I thought I really sucked at meditation. I started with 20 seconds, and it was more or less just watching my breath. That was all I could do at that point. And that's what I did. It's not about forcing yourself to do it.
It's more like waking up and asking yourself,
“How do I feel today? Do I feel like meditation?” No? I don't think so.
Okay, what else do I enjoy in the morning?
Yes, I love music.”
So that's why I put on my favorite music. It is something that you can implement for yourself. Really easy. There's no such thing as I'm too busy to listen to that music, you know, you can run around, do your things and still listen to that music.
That will make an impact. It will change your level of energy, it will change your mood.
And if you have kids, mornings can be pretty busy but after they're in school and kindergarten, maybe that's the time where you find five minutes for yourself. Or a minute or even 30 seconds. Sit down properly. Take a deep belly breath.
When you're turning on your computer, that takes a while for the computer to start- t takes about 30 seconds. Use that time and focus on yourself all these tiny little things that could lead you to a morning routine already.”
And if you are saying that you don't have 30 seconds in the day to look after yourself, you have a bigger problem.
Music as a part of the morning routine and why it works
I also really found the music bit interesting because in the podcast with Monique, we were talking about music a lot.
So, what we do in Money 20/20 is when we are in show mode, and days can be as long as 16 to 18 hours, we will try and set ourselves into the mood for the day using Monique's song of the day. And every so she says that every time you feel really upset or tired, just tune into the song, listen to it, it's setting the mood for your day. It'll typically be quite an upbeat and energizing song. So I really love that about the music.
And music does such great things for us, because of a lot of things- music has emotions, it has sounds, it has, sometimes depending on the words you're using, it can have a taste, it can have a smell. And it's about integrating all of those sensory factors into your body. And then that has an effect on your entire physiology.
I have to say though, that I don’t leave my meditation practice up to my mood because a missed meditation affects my mood. I have a quite regular meditation routine. I do not meditate in the morning, but I find myself around 45 minutes to an hour in the evening to meditate. Because I feel like that's important for me. And the days I don't meditate, I significantly notice a difference. Yeah, like it's not something that you always have to cramp into your morning either.
So was a morning routine the only thing that changed everything for Isabelle?
Isabelle also finally quit her 10-year-old corporate career to become a self-care and intuition coach for burned-out women.
How did she know that she had to quit corporate life?
Did she know that you wanted to get out of corporate already when you were feeling burnt out? How did she discover that that is what she needed to do?
She started with listening to podcasts, reading different books, and talking to people with different perspectives on things. And that's when her mindset also shifted. And I got myself into a health coaching programme.
“I actually wanted to do that for myself. I actually wanted to learn more about nutrition, what it can do to your body, and being in that programme really changed my life because even though I started it for myself, and to learn more about what I can do for myself, it was at one point, so eye-opening for me that I was like, “Well, if coaching is a profession, maybe that's my path” because I really enjoyed talking to people. I really enjoyed helping people out with their struggles and back then I was also still coaching a lot on nutrition- about the right food or the food to eat that fuels your body, that changed a little bit.
And ever since I got myself into that training, I didn't stop with training- I did my NLP training, I did a meditation trainer under the stress management train, and all these little steps, all these training basically add up to the idea of me being a coach.
But then I made that decision, I want to leave corporate, and it took me another two years to get up and quit my job to end leaving that bubble was really scary.”
What is hard when transitioning careers after a burnout?
The secure environment that she was leaving was hard to let go of. It was secure in terms of money and as a self-employed person, the income stream looks a little different than the one coming from corporate.
She also was in that job for six years. So she knew the ins and outs of the job. She knew what she was getting herself into every day, she knew her colleagues, and she knew the content that I was dealing with. So leaving that known environment was really scary.
“When you get yourself another job, that's a new environment- you have new people around you, you have a new task, you have a new job, you have new responsibilities, you have a new boss, and you have a new culture. And that obviously also changed for me. And it was scary to think- I don't have a team like that anymore. I don't have a company culture anymore. So what does that mean for my work now?
I got to find out my own values now and the values that I want to implement in my company, in my work. And there are so many things that you have to think about when you start your own business. That can be overwhelming at times as well, but then, it just felt scary to leave that comfort zone that I was in for six and a half years.”
So what’s next for you?
Wondering how to find a different career even if you have no idea what it is yet?