A few weeks ago I was on a call with one of my coaching clients – a leading academic – who was clearly unwell. Yet against the pressures of work responsibilities, demands of his team and colleagues, my suggestion that he considers taking a few days to recover was met with shock and horror. When we probed into this, we surfaced major fear connected with having to “catch up on work”. To soldier on whilst being ill seemed the lesser of these two evils. While I understood my client’s predicament, I also know how perilous such decisions can be when it comes to burnout, increased chances of chronic fatigue disease and other major life losses.
According to Times Higher Education Magazine, January 17 issue news article, the practice of working while being unwell is endemic to academia so my client is certainly not alone.
10 Reasons why it is easy to burn out in an academic job
- Academia encourages the compulsion to prove oneself.
- Working harder seems a logical way to go about this even if in reality this is not often true.
- To balance the equation of long work hours necessitates deprioritizing competing needs such as having a life outside of work.
- Feeling off without a specific cause is difficult but talking about in a culture where everyone else seems to be doing okay or has no time to stop, talk and listen is even worst.
- Having no support makes it easier to revise what matters so that working harder can be justified with statements such as: “this is just what it takes to succeed!”, “this is only a temporary crunch!”, “I will change how I do things once I get my promotion” or “if others do it, so can I.”
- Continuous strain and pressure, however, are hard to bear and sooner or later tiredness increases, as does frustration, and self-belief plummets.
- The emotional toll taken by the above steps now erodes motivation, muddles clarity, creativity, and resilience and creates a vicious circle of working ever harder for little or no result.
- As with all repeated cycles, the toxic loop will no doubt continue until it grinds the person down or is interrupted by that occasional burst of “success”!
- Without successes, the individual is likely to withdraw from others to preserve energy or hide away helpless. In their mind, this nasty dynamic is only happening to them. Even with a string of successes, many people will be caught in a toxic loop of needing to get more and more results.
- Left unaddressed and resolved in a healthy way, burnout is a slow crawl towards poor performance, emotional stress, physical isolation, event a total breakdown.
As developing awareness is the first step towards avoiding the black hole I invite you to consider where you currently find yourself in the above process?
I am no stranger to burnout. Having worked at the top end of academic institutions and reared to incredibly high expectations by my family, it has taken years of self-work to come out at the other end healthier and more whole. The emotional and physical cost of this, however, has been high and so I’m keen to support others with making wiser choices.
Five questions to help you decide if you’re doing things right.
Are you possibly working towards someone else’s version of success!
- Am I having fun and enjoying what I do?
- Does the work build me or erode me on a daily basis?
- How am I actually feeling?
- Am I suffering or risking my health and wellbeing?
- What would a wise person do in my shoes?
Choose to talk to someone and get help!
Over the years I have developed many tools and support structures to help others establish a far healthier relationship with their work and career, and in the process with their families and friends also. If reading this blog resonates with you, I highly recommend that you check out my Get Productive Grid book. It describes a simple and proven 3-month method to help you be on your way to a more balanced and healthy way of working and living.
Time is a thief if we let it be.
Whatever you do, spare yourself the burnout, isolation, and sadness from letting your mind and ego drive you towards extrinsic goals that will never deliver the satisfaction they promise.
Dare to thrive not just survive.
By reconnecting with who you really are and what matters to you and learning few critical skills, you can still climb your chosen mountain and the view on the way up and at the top will be a whole lot sweeter.
Recommended books to explore further
- Leadership and self-deception by the Arbinger Institute – for anyone who wants to become free from stress and toxic relationships
- Fried: Why you burn out and how to revive by Joan Borysenko – for those ready to take power back who like to read books