How burnout turned into a powerful experience of my life.

Writing this blog felt very raw. Burnout isn’t a topic people bring up during Monday morning small talk.  Being grateful for experiencing my burnout may sound strange, I know!

And before you roll your eyes over and judge me for being a workaholic, I invite you to read my blog with compassion and an open mind. You just never know if reading my confession today may help you spot the emerging burnout symptoms in your life or at your workplace.  So here is why I am grateful for this experience.

#1: It navigated me on the right career path  

I didn’t recognise my burnout as it started. It kind of happened. I wasn’t able to spot the symptoms early on. I justified my loss of motivation and sense of failure as a temporary phase. I started to get colds and flu more often but I didn’t associated it with work. 

I grew into a managerial role and worked for a well-established company. The environment was good, job interesting and the work and life balance was also good initially. And as I settled in more in the role, I was expecting to feel better but I didn’t. I started to feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied but thought it will pass. A few more months passed by but it didn’t. The work started to pile up and I wanted to push through it harder. I started to work longer hours. Initially only here and then, but I developed a “habit”.

Noone expected me to stay long after my working hours but me!

You may think “What a workaholic” … fair enough! But you see when you care about what you do, it just felt natural I wanted to manage. That was my trap. I felt I needed a break and booked a vacation. After returning from a two- and half-weeks travelling abroad, I couldn’t carry on with my pace of working. It was then when I realised things had to change.  Within a few months I resigned thinking management is not meant for me.

You see initially I thought I had to work harder. But what I really ought to do was to stop being harsh on myself and break a habit I thought was helping.  I took a step back, found a new less demanding role working only 4 days a week to have less stress and more time to discover what’s next. But within a few months I got promoted and  became a manager (again). That made me really question… What was my lesson? Is management perhaps the way to go? I decided to give it a try but this time with proper self-care and manageable working pace of life.  

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#2: It helped me discover my talents and strengths 

When it comes to experiencing burnout, not many managers think it may be related to change of day-to-day duties and playing to your talents. 

When I was figuring out what’s next for me, I got to know a strengths-based coach who worked with Cliftons Strengths. I learnt about my talents and realised I was no longer playing to them daily. It became clear why my performance got worse, why my backlog of emails grew and why I lost passion for what I did.  

I felt like an elephant who had to fly.  

Once the processes and department were stabilised and growing, the focus of my work changed more into execution, which was out of my alignment.  That’s why I felt like an elephant – exhausted from all those attemts to jum up high and fly! What an eye opener. I discovered that leadership actually was a good path, but I thrive more in environment where I can use my strong talent domain in strategic thinking

Looking back, I am thankful for this. If I didn’t go through my burnout, who knows … I may end up in role feeling unfulfilled and experiencing the recuring work fatigue, lack of energy and disengagement for a lot longer. Now, when I notice that my alignment is off, my talents act as a “first aid” kit I return to to re-design more role.

#3: It helped me grow into a more compassionate leader

Compassion is most likely the last thing you’d be looking for in high-performing deadline driven environments.  

If it wasn’t for my mum, I wouldn’t have realised. Most likely everyone else around me noticed, but me! I overslept for agreed child-minding with my friends, I no longer laughed from my heart, I used to spend weekends indoors and socialised less, I had less energy left for things I used to enjoy before … the list goes on.   

I was afraid to be seen as weak and incompetent if I shared what was going on.

Feeling overworked and less focused on work it’s not something I wanted to share with my manager either. When I didn’t finish my work, I had a tendency to take it home with me. I closed the door, turned the laptop on and got carried away working late to make sure things were done.  It’s not something I am proud of but it’s a lesson I am grateful for.
I’ve learnt is one of the powerful catalysts to spark engagement and increase performance. Having experienced my burnout, I know it’s not a topic people would bring up during Monday morning small talk. Most likely you’ll notice the tendency to hide it as people may not even recognise they are going through it, just as I didn’t.  Working parents juggling many demands, singles living on their own with extra time for their careers or leaders facing the pressures, we all can be at risk of burning out without proper self-care. I feel that that a leader is my duty to care.
It helped me realise early on, as a leader it’s important to not only focus on measuring the performance but also take interest in how those results are being produced. Our desire to excel at work  shouldn’t come at the expense of our health, wellbeing or relationships. Life is simply too short for that. 

I’d love to finish this blog with a small reality check.

 If you have a tendency to push harder or have high expectations on yourself to be better, observe what impact it has on your: 

  • Physical, emotional and mental health? 
  • Relationship with your partner, your friends or on your parenting? 
  • Day to day functioning and ability to enjoy your life? 

Is there something you can do differently to feel less stressed and enjoy your life more? 

I’d love to hear about your experience with burnout – either lived or observed … 

Author: AdriAna Kosovska

Certified coach & founder of ZERO TO DREAM JOB

Helping unfulfilled professionals and freelancers in 30s & 40s create a rewarding career

Dream job & Career Development  |  Stress management|  Talents development