Don't get burnt (out)
Practical strategies to avoid burnout
👋Hello, my 922 friends. I’ve got a lot to share with you this week so let’s get to it.
Here’s what’s coming your way:
The latest episode of the Intentional Wisdom podcast
A story about the time my body said ‘no’
Three additions to your content diet (including an interview with yours truly)
Let’s do it!
Ep.6 – Nathalie Rachel Sinyard – 4 Ways to Avoid Burnout
As a behavioral economist, entrepreneur and consultant to corporate executives, Nathalie Rachel Sinyard specializes in the mind-body loop and how stress impacts our cognitive ability and decision-making.
I had heard Nathalie on a few other podcasts, including The James Altucher Show and wanted to get her on Intentional Wisdom to talk about burnout—a phenomenon that borders on epidemic status. In fact, in a recent Deloitte study of 1000 executives, a staggering 77% said they had experienced burnout in their current jobs.
Yeah, it’s a problem.
My hope for the conversation was to arm listeners with a few different strategies to avoid burnout, as once you get there the effects can be pretty devastating for our careers, our relationships and our physical and mental health. Specifically, we discussed four areas to focus on to avoid spiraling toward burnout:
1. Inspiration – Why it is so critical to work on or toward something that is bigger than us, and how having an overarching purpose can help us tackle the daily stressors we face.
2. Connection – How deep, trusted relationships are as important to our mental and physical health as sleep and nutrition.
3. Deep work – How periods of intense focus on one task can help us to both do amazing work and give us a break from the constant bombardment of notifications and news flow.
4. Nature – The incredibly powerful impact of spending more time outdoors and how it can improve our psyche and physical state.
Finally, we spoke in detail about the impact that distressing geopolitical events can have on our minds and bodies if we are stuck in a loop of consuming non-stop news. We talked about some healthy strategies for staying up-to-date while also taking care of ourselves physically and mentally.
I’m excited about this episode. I think it’s really going to help some people. Maybe one of them is you. Please share it anyone who you think might possibly benefit.
And make sure to follow Nathalie on Twitter @NathalieRach and check out her website: NoMoreBurnout.org
When my body said ‘no’
I remember feeling like I was falling apart. Maybe even dying. I’d never had a migraine before in my life. Now, they were suddenly frequent visitors. And debilitating ones at that. The symptoms would appear in my vision first, then came the headaches, and finally, the nausea. I’d have to leave work, stop whatever I was doing and just get in bed in a dark room and close my eyes. I saw neurologists. Had MRI’s. Even got on medication. But there was no clear culprit. It was strange. And frustrating.
Then came the back pain. I first started noticing a random but annoying pain radiating down my left leg. Then a similar sensation going down my left arm. Then quick shots of pain out of nowhere down to my toes. “What the hell is this?” I wondered. “Do I have a freaking brain tumor or something?” I saw doctors and physical therapists and acupuncturists. They said it was a herniated disc. It might require surgery. Awesome.
And finally, the real kicker, I started having bouts of sharp pain in my chest. They would come at any time. At work, in bed, in the shower. There was no noticeable pattern. The only constant was that they scared the hell out of me. I earnestly wondered if I was having a heart attack on more than one occasion. More doctors’ offices. Cardiologists, this time. And running on treadmills with 17,000 wires hooked up to me. Not fun.
You might expect to see these types of symptoms in an 82-year-old. I was 32. And supposedly healthy. So what gives?
Well, it turns out that what gave—or more accurately what gave out—was my body after I failed to give myself the breaks I so desperately needed.
You see this was right smack in the middle of my epic journey to pass the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) exams, which I’ve written about in this newsletter before. To say these tests dominated my life is an understatement. For 5+ years, I dedicated all of my nights and weekends to them in six-month stretches. That meant that for six months, my schedule looked something like this:
Weekdays – Work at a stressful investment-banking job from 6am – 6pm;
Study from 7pm – 10pm
Weekends – Study both days for 10-12 hours
In other words, almost no time off at all for very long (six-month) stretches.
Eventually, my body just said… “No.”
It revolted. And for me, that looked like migraines. That looked like backpain. That looked like chest pain.
I believe this was my own personal version of burnout. I pushed and pushed and pushed and eventually something had to give.
I was fortunate. I ended up finishing the exams and leaving my job around the same time.
And while stress was not gone from my life, the constant unrelenting pressure I had been putting myself under did subside. And along with it, the symptoms described above.
Every one of them either completely disappeared (the back & chest pain) or became much less frequent (the migraines) once the constant stress was removed.
It turns out I wasn’t dying after all. I was just doing a terrible job of managing stress.
My story is not unique, and not particularly notable in terms of its severity. Many people experience much worse. In the podcast conversation referenced above, Nathalie tells her own story of losing her eyesight after battling through a PhD program that she did not want to be in. Her body said ‘no’ in a more extreme way than mine.
Burnout is no joke. It is a condition that accumulates over time as we pile on more stress without giving ourselves a chance to rejuvenate.
And it is not just endless piles of work that cause burnout, it can also arise from things like:
Toxic relationships – which can eat away at our psyche and leave us feeling like we are under constant attack, or even…
A lack of inspiration – when we feel disconnected from the purpose or point of what we have to do every day and lack opportunities to achieve or to be recognized.
Burnout is a slippery slope. As Nathalie describes it, we often get there by “borrowing energy from tomorrow to do what we need to do today.” Obviously, this is not sustainable, physically or mentally.
So we need to take it seriously. And this article is as much a reminder to myself as anything else to do exactly this.
That’s (almost) it for this week. Special thanks to my two assistants (pictured below). They really helped me get this article finished up on a tight deadline.
And before you go… here are a few pieces of content that just might inspire you this week…
🎙️My Charter Story featuring Greg Campion (hey, that’s me).
It’s funny. I wrote a book ten years ago about my experience with the CFA exams. It was a brutally honest take on the process and a story of lots and lots of failure (of mine) before ultimate success. I thought they might strip me of my charter after I published that book. Instead, they just interviewed me for their podcast. If you’d like to hear my story, check it out.
📗Die with Zero by Bill Perkins
I’m a little hesitant to even include this one as I’ve just started reading it but I have heard amazing things about it and am incredibly intrigued. The idea of this book is counterintuitive: We’re all so worried about our future that we’re forgetting to enjoy our present. Instead of delaying experiences to some theoretical future that may never come, we need to be much more intentional about living our lives today. I’m looking forward to diving further into this one.
🧵A Twitter thread on Formula 1 from Nathan Baugh
I met Nathan in person this week. What a seriously great guy who is building an incredible business for himself by telling amazing sports-related stories like the one below. It’s only been liked 60,000 times!!! The internet is incredible.
That’s it! See you in two weeks!