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The Not-so-Corporate way of treating a Consulting Burnout

I spent the majority of my 20s dealing with corporate burnout- specifically, consulting burnout? And it is something so normalised in the industry, even after WHO recognised burnout as a non-made up concept, that we learned to live with the idea rhetorically ask, “Is it even possible to not burn out in management consulting?”

Was I lazy or burned out?

Before you judge me or think I was one of the weak links in the team, let me tell you that I in fact was one of the very few people on most of my teams who didn’t take a mental health break. And I have worked in multiple consulting firms, and with multiple teams. So no, I wasn’t weak. And no, I don’t hate consulting even though it landed me in depression land for what felt like forever. In fact, I believe that consulting is perhaps one of the most rewarding careers out there. Alongside my burnout, I also got to work with the best colleagues, the best managers, had the best experiences and now have a network of high achieving friends on speed dial for life.

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But first, let me tell you the story about my consulting burnout and how I found my way back to sanity. I was working crazy hours, there was a point when I was working from 7 am in the morning to past midnight, and it wasn't sustainable anymore. I was getting recognition, I was getting the badges of honours, I was making a difference in my clients' lives.

I was never one of those consultants who said that I don't make a difference in my client's life. Because I was cognizant that I was even then I burned myself out. Well, I had my fair share of good managers. But I also had my fair share of questionable managers. And there were days when I was working absolutely crazy hours. And when I say days, I mean- days after days, after days- sometimes months at a stretch. I was just going on making what appeared to me meaningless slides and excel spreadsheets after spreadsheets after spreadsheets. These no doubt made my Excel skills and PowerPoint skills stellar and I was the hot stuff in the job market, but I was lacking meaning and purpose.

Of course, I didn't have any time to find meaning and purpose because I was working crazy hours. And that was the end of it. There were times while I was on holiday. Sometimes I would have a weird Director chip in his toxicity about how amazing it makes him feel when junior people are stressed out. Apparently, some senior consulting folks are really weird... They are so used to the adrenaline that they don’t even understand that being that dressed out at work is neither normal nor healthy. In short, it was terrible.

I didn’t want to travel Monday to Thursday anymore. I didn’t consider getting promoted in Consulting as a token of how good I was. And I stopped buying the BS around “I think. Therefore I am.” Because frankly, I was tired of thinking, processing and problem solving 24*7. There were days I would sleep off on the couch working on an excel spreadsheet, only to dream (read have nightmares) about it all night. Only to wake up on a Saturday morning, to get some Chai and work on more excel! Urrrghh.. The chemistry of my body changes even thinking about this!

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What to do if you are burned out

By now you probably already realised that I was a tough nut to crack. While my friends and colleagues were going through mental health sabbaticals, I refused to give up. “I am lazy”, I thought.

But there was an invisible hand guiding me through all of this. And that invisible hand ultimately led me to launch The Abundance Psyche. But for then I was a frequent visitor to the therapists’ clinics, all of whom assured me that I wasn’t broken. So the hand led me to a phenomenal meditation teacher in London. I wasn’t a woo woo person back, but I went to an open mind, not skepticism that most ultra logical folks carry with them. I remember coming out of the first session, completely buzzing with energy. “I need more of this!” I thought to myself, and it’s been 5 years since and my top advice to anyone going through a burnout would be, learn to stop and still your mind. Clarity comes from stillness, not doing.

The moment of enlightenment

And this clarity made me realise that consulting is what you will make of it. Pretty much like life is what you make of it. And consulting is one of those amazing career paths where if you are a self aware person, and if you want to make a difference in this world, it's one of the best careers that you could get into. Very few brands have the brand power and influence that the bigger consulting brands have. And when you have a brand like the consulting brands behind you, doing good work actually becomes so much easier.

But then the question is, what is good work?

And how do you get to good work? Good work is- basically going back a couple of blogs earlier, something that you are clear on. You want to be intentionally focusing on one thing you want to be doing and your have massive clarity about. And if that's your focus, that's your purpose, I can guarantee you almost all the consulting firms, the bigger ones, anyway, have a system in place for you to help you to serve that purpose.

While I was in PwC, I did one of the most amazing pieces of work, which I'm personally and professionally proud of. It was around AI governance standards and ethics. And I was consulting the ISO and the BSI. I can talk about this openly, it's not a trade secret because they were looking for experts from every field and I happened to be one of the experts in AI and I happened to be on that committee. And that is one of the most impactful pieces of professional work that I have ever done. If you’ve watched Coded Bias on Netflix, you’ll know what I mean. And I did this piece of work in 2017- pre-Cambridge Analytica, much before anyone was even talking about it. And I could only do that because I had the PwC brand behind me, celebrating Tech for Good. Here’s one of the blogs that we published on the topic.

I've done a couple of more pieces of work in Deloitte that I actually can't really go too much into detail about because of NDA clauses, but they were really sharp and very impactful and changed banking scenarios in some economies.