Lessons from my own mistakes.
In 2008 I wrote a series here on Think Splendid called "Lessons in Burnout" with insights gleaned from a previous work experience of not just burning out, but burning to an unrecognizable crisp. It is still – 11 years later – one of the most popular topics I've ever covered.
Working in a high-touch, highly personalized industry like weddings — where purchase decisions are driven more by emotion than in any other field — makes a person more susceptible to burnout. Burnout is a slippery slope and one we often don't see coming until it's too late.
Working to make the world a better place through change or celebration is admirable, but a savior complex is not. You can’t do everything and you aren’t meant to (that cheesy line, "We're meant to be human beings, not human doings" is true). Neglecting your own family in order to help other families isn't something to brag about and it usually means you’re halfway down the slippery slope to burnout, if not engulfed in flames already.
I certainly don't have everything figured out, but here are some things I've learned as someone who has personally been through burnout before and who has worked hard to avoid it ever since. None of these insights are earth shattering, but there may be one or two you're currently avoiding that can help make your current life better:
1. Take care of your brain. Your brain is in your body. Take care of your body.
2. Eat breakfast. Drink water. Take vitamins.
3. Eat well. I tend to follow Michael Pollan’s three rules: eat real food (aka pronounceable ingredients your great grandmother would recognize), mostly plants, not too much. At the same time, there is no "organic Oreo" that tastes as good as the real thing in all its processed chemical glory. For some people, "all or nothing" works well. For others, being stringent and then having a cheat day works. For me, a loose 80/20 rule of moderation is what works best.
4. Exercise. I typically do a mix of pilates, spin, hiking, and yoga when I'm home, but prefer the Ballet Beautiful workouts while traveling because they can be accessed from any device and easily done in a hotel room.
5. Live beyond the end of your driveway. Give to charities that are tackling issues you’re passionate about, not necessarily the ones that will bring you the best PR. Create a Kiva account for each of your kids and let them choose who should receive the investment and reinvestments each time. Get involved in something bigger than yourself.
6. Plan your days, but hold those plans loosely. Productivity is great, turning productivity into an idol is not. There’s a quote by Alain de Botton that I love because it is true, true, true: “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” Set goals and make plans, but don’t delude yourself into thinking a fancy day planner or high-tech app will control all the curveballs life throws your way.
7. Start liking Mondays. Mondays represent a clean slate and fresh start. We all have days we dislike our jobs, but for many people what we do is a dream job. If you dread going to work each week, consider what needs to happen in order to transition to something else and start working toward that.
8. If you're considering hiring a life coach, spend the money on a licensed therapist instead. Don't just google one — get recommendations for a reputable professional who is committed to your wholeness, not to having you in therapy forever. (A side note: we all have issues — some we don't even know exist — and there is no shame in a commitment to living as a whole person. If this is a concept you're still wrapping your head around, start out with Brené Brown's books, The Gifts of Imperfection or Daring Greatly, which are both based on scientific research and not sketchy pop psychology.)
9. Keep a gratitude journal. Paper or phone app, or even Instagram, it doesn’t matter. If you’re glad for something, write it down or snap a photo, no matter how small or dumb it seems. I literally have “glitter” as an entry in mine because glitter is fun and cheerful so, yes, I am thankful for it.
10. Listen as if you’re wrong. This doesn’t mean compromising your values. It means leaning into the mystery of life and operating from a core belief that you may not have everything 100% figured out and that everyone you meet knows something you don't.
11. Use social media to expand your point of view, not to keep up with the Joneses (my friend Marcy Blum refers to the latter as "compare and despair"). Twitter has exploded over the past few years with people who use it to share thought leadership rather than for self-promotion. Not coincidently, it is the number one social media platform that CEOs and business executives use. This means that there's plenty of people to learn from in whatever subject outside of weddings you're interested in. Your brain processes social media as an in-person interaction, so if it's constantly draining you, change who you follow.
12. Take a real vacation. This one is easier said than done. Destination weddings and business FAM trips or conferences are not vacations, even if they’re in exotic locations and fun (work is supposed to be fun). You still have to be "on" for them. A self-described workaholic friend of mine in his 50s once told me that he and his wife never once regretted taking a vacation but there were several over the years that they regretted not taking. Give yourself a break and unplug.