I actually think burnout is the wrong description of it. I think it’s ‘burn up.’ Physiologically, that is what you are doing because of the chronic stress being placed on your body. – Richard Boyatzis
How I went from burnout to feeling loved, heard, and supported
I am a recovering perfectionist. I used to say that with an heir of pride, as if overworking and overstressing to appear as though I had it all together on the outside was a badge of honor; as though I had reached unreachable standards and that made me a better or more lovable version of myself.
I know for sure that I am not alone in this line of thinking. There are many of us that feel the need to overextend ourselves, to continually go ‘above and beyond’, and to measure our worth by how much others ‘need’ us, and depend upon us. And believe me, there is no shortage of external validation to be had in this world; it’s a race that those of us short on self-worth can continue to run for the whole of our lives if we choose; filling ourselves with busyness to distract from the painful beliefs buried deep within, that we are too afraid to address head on.
And then sometimes, life hands us a pause button; a shift or change that wasn’t in our own expertly controlled plan. In other words, we are woken up, finally fully aware of the whole of our life’s present experience; for better or worse. Though it often presents as an obstacle or a struggle, it is usually an opportunity to realign with our true path if we are willing to surrender, open, and listen.
A little over one year ago, I made the decision to leave my corporate career. The intention behind my decision was eerily similar to a place I had been two years prior when I made the choice to forgo pursuing my Ph.D. in Psychology; my intuition told me to ‘slow down’, to show compassion toward my body, mind, and spirit.
How I Recovered From Burnout
I heard this calling regularly, especially when I was at the lowest of burnout and exhaustion, or following meditation or Savasana when I was especially open. My response for a very long time was to ignore it, push it down, and push through. If you’ve been here before, you know what happens next: while you may continue on ‘normally’ for a while, that voice becomes louder and often finds creative and more active ways to re-emerge in your life. It’s as though the Universe offers us the path of least resistance first, but the discomfort that comes with it is too subtle, so we ego-override it, waiting, almost asking, for a bigger sign.
That has been my experience, and my first ‘bigger sign’ came in the form of a realization following the defense of my Master’s thesis. In a hurry to ‘become someone’ and to ‘contribute in a big way’, I had completely neglected to ask myself, “Is this what I want?”
I began to listen to and understand who I was.
Shocked and terrified, I realized I had no idea! Not only was I unsure of my career path, but just about every aspect of my life. Stripped of my ego-controlled plan, raw and vulnerable, I surrendered and trusted. Approximately three months later, I had left a long-term relationship, moved to a new state, and had started my new and exciting corporate job. While the job lasted only two years, being in that place at that time felt right in every aspect of my being: I met amazing friends, found a community that I enjoyed and fell in love with my now fiancé.
Most importantly, I began to listen to and understand who I was. Ironically it was this understanding that gave me the peace in leaving the job, knowing that while helping people and begin part of a team made my heart soar, the constant travel and pouring out of energy left me depleted.
Exhausted and unsure once again, I chose what I had convinced myself was a slower-paced life. I traded in the travel for health coaching and teaching yoga, and at first, I was on fire! There were so many opportunities to be seen and heard, to feel important, and to fulfill others’ hopes and expectations for me. Had I been grounded in strong boundaries and a solid sense of self-worth from the start, these opportunities to serve may have been very life affirming for me. I continued to meet and work with amazing people, and while the work often felt fulfilling, that same sense of depletion crept its way back in. I convinced myself that ‘everyone else was doing it’ and so feeling this way must be ‘normal’; and while this feeling is all too common, I don’t believe in my heart that it is the way we are meant to feel if we are on the path uniquely carved out for us in this life. I began to get ill more often, and finally, my higher wisdom ripped the wheel from my ego’s hands and took over.
How to Bounce Back from Burnout
I remember feeling unwell as I got ready to teach my yoga class that morning, which progressed to feeling as though I was about to vomit and pass out while teaching. A bit shocked, I decided I’d skip the errands I was going to run after class, and lay down on the couch. I didn’t get up for four days. Literally. My body ached all over; my stomach felt like a pit; my ears rang; my head pounded; my throat burned, and I was unbelievably weak and fatigued. I had had the flu before, but this felt different, more severe. When I got up to walk and was 100% unsure of whether I would collapse, I realized my body meant serious business.
I knew that I was going to have to make some big changes to the way I was living.
I knew that I was going to have to make some big changes to the way I was living, but rather than the normal mind-racing, fear-based impulses to put on a good face, I felt at peace, ease, and resoluteness. What I had feared most, not being able to ‘do it all’, had finally come to fruition. I was going to have to say no and back out of commitments, and somehow, I was incredibly okay with that.
Of course the worst-case scenario thoughts ran through my mind: “my colleagues won’t respect me anymore”; “my clients will think I was a fluke”; “my family will think I am weak or overreacting”. But rather than cower away from it and put on a good face, I faced fear and finally, stepped into my body, my voice, and my truth. I had a feeling that this was the end of my misaligned path, and it was time to get back on track to becoming who I was meant to be (not who I thought I should be). That meant stripping away the ego accomplishments, and coming back to surrendering, opening, and listening. The message (slow down) wasn’t new, but its priority in my life now is.
So far, I have phased out my coaching business and put it on pause; I’ve let go of a yoga class; and most importantly I’ve been honest about the uncertainty of where I am at; how I am feeling; and if or when I will return to those commitments in the future. While I had set my expectations for receiving massive disappointment and disapproval from those I had to share this with, I didn’t try to run away, downplay how I was feeling, or put the responsibility on anyone else.
Here is what life presented me with as a result of standing in my truth: a shockwave of love and support that I am still trying to comprehend. Co-workers told me to take all the time I needed and offered their services; clients offered support and well-wishes; friends and friends of friends reached out to share their similar experiences and advice; I even got a job offer out of leaving my job (no, I didn’t take it).
While I am nowhere near fully healed, or completely clear on what’s to come, I do know this: when you take even ONE step toward what life is offering you, no matter how uncertain or small, it will provide all the support and encouragement you need to take the next step. I believe that can continue, exponentially, if we let it. But we have to take that first step.
When you get perfectly still, in your moments of frailty and surrender, what is the voice from within asking for? Can you listen fully without rushing to future consequences? Can you set fear aside and honor it? It is my hope that you will and that you will open yourself to the great gifts life has waited for you, on the other side.