When Getting Burned Out Is a Good Thing

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As strong, driven women who are bold enough to step into leadership roles, we work our butts off to succeed. But as time goes by, we often fear that if we pause, we’ll fall asleep at the wheel. Unfortunately, this attitude can cause you to miss out on the opportunity to live a truly incredible life. Rather than running from feelings of burnout, you should follow them.

colorful fire

Credit Image: Jason O'Halloran on Flickr

Burnout Is an Opportunity

When I started my company, I was eager to prove that my ideas could succeed. We grew quickly, but after reaching a certain level of success, the thrill was over. I was exhausted. I hadn’t allowed myself to enjoy the process of growth; more importantly, I wasn’t fueled by a larger vision for my life. 

That burnout was exactly what I needed to make a change; I took a step back and pursued other endeavors. In doing so, I gained intense clarity on what I wanted. I’m now living a life that energizes me, rather than one that drags me down, and my first company is still thriving. Without the burnout, I might have settled for a life I didn’t want.   

Testing Your Burnout

Before you decide to throw in the towel at work, make sure your burnout isn’t simple fatigue. These three habits can deliver dramatic improvements: 

1. Get enough sleep. This is one of the first things we sacrifice to a busy schedule, but a good night’s sleep is vital to clear thinking and sound decision-making.

2. Get enough exercise. I recommend joining a community like CrossFit, where you can connect with people outside work, celebrate goals together, and broaden your horizons.

3. Center yourself before diving in each day. Block out at least 30 minutes to journal, meditate, or connect with your intuition or the divine. This will give you reprieve from the chaos and support you throughout the day.

If you’re doing these things and still feeling burned out, it’s time to delve deeper.

Let Your Feelings of Burnout Guide You

Exercising your thoughts will help you understand what needs to change. Here are four strategies to assess your circumstances. 

1. Do Some Deep Thinking 

Identify a clear thought, such as, “I’m sick and tired of working my butt off at my job without seeing real results.” Write it down, and examine each part, starting at the end. Explore what results you want to see, write down things you like and dislike about your job (e.g., I like finding solutions, and I dislike working with boring people), and discover what specifically is draining you. 

Sit on a thought for a day, week, or month. Take however long you need to zero in on your problems and determine what needs to change.

2. Follow a Powerful Practice

Byron Katie has a powerful body of work called  “The Work.” It involves identifying a thought (e.g., my job makes me miserable), and then asking four questions about that thought. 

  • Is this true? (If not, go to question three.)
  • Can you prove that it’s true?
  • How do you react when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without that thought?

After you’ve written down your answers, you might see that the stress or anxiety you’re feeling exists only in your mind or only in the way you frame your thoughts. Once you’ve worked through these four questions in detail, you can do what she calls the “turnaround.” Take the opposite thought (e.g. my job makes me happy) and look for examples of where or how that could be true today.

3. Look for the Good

Cultivate a practice of gratitude. You should already be devoting 30 minutes a day to centering yourself; use some of that time to focus on things you’re thankful for. The more you focus on the good, the more good you will see.

4. Write It Out

I recommend buying a pretty, inspiring journal that’s appealing to you and keeping it with a nice pen in a drawer by your bed. I’ve learned a three-step process for journaling:  

1)    Release: List any negative or anxious thoughts to release them.

2)    Love: Write down five things you currently love in your life.

3)    Intend: Write at least one thing you intend to experience today: This could include something simple, like a cup of tea, or a feeling you want to have, like connection with your family.

You can try one or all of these strategies, but take your time. Little shifts make huge differences. If you use them to your advantage, your feelings of burnout will lead to a better life. You can do anything you want; you simply have to decide what you want and go for it. 

Sumi Krishnan started K4 Solutions in 2001 at age 19. K4 Solutions offers information technology and management services to the federal government. K4 Solutions has worked with agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.  Since its inception, K4 Solutions has grown into a thriving $20M enterprise with over 200 employees. Sumi is in the process of launching a new coaching program that spreads the message of authenticity, joy, and purpose in our work. She has been named to The Washingtonian’s list of “Women to Watch,” as well as Inc.’s “30 Under 30.” 


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