If we force ourselves at work, it is not the right job
Forcing ourselves at work leads to exhaustion and burnout
Why is it a problem to force ourselves at work? It seems widely accepted that work is a synonym to effort, sometimes discomfort and suffering. We accept all this as being normal. And one day, burnout comes, and we fall into a deep state of physical and mental distress. Why do we find ourselves in such a situation? How to avoid burnout. This is what we will see in this article. First, here is an example of daily life that illustrates very well that if we force ourselves at work, it is not the right one!
When the shoes hurt the feet, it is not the right size or design
Your shoes are beautiful. They make your feet look gorgeous and the high heels make your friends completely jealous (that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it ?). Yet, what nobody sees, is that your shoes are KILLING YOUR FEET. It is a total war zone down there! Now imagine another situation. Any resemblance to real and actual people is purely coincidental.
When work creates suffering, it is not the right setting or job
You have a great job in a good company. Probably head or manager of very important activity in a stock listed company. Something that gives you a good social status in your social network. Yet, what nobody sees, is that every day, when the alarm clock rings, you feel exhausted, stressed out by the idea of going to work. You experience a recurring heavyweight in your stomach that does not go away.
Do you see the similarities between the shoes’ story and the work one ?
When we have to force to fit a pair of shoes, it means it is not the right size or design. When we have to force ourselves at work, it means it is not the right job or work environment.
Why is burnout an issue ?
Burnout exhausts our physical and mental resources
Let’s imagine having to wear our uncomfortable shoes every day of the year, while the cuts and blisters of the previous day are still fresh and unhealed. We would face a substantial risk of amputating our 2 feet, which in itself would solve the shoes’ issue. Such a situation would also be mentally painful because of the negatives feelings and thoughts associated with it.
In the professional world, it is the same. Repeating the same intense effort, in the long run, generates destructing symptoms for the body and the mind: lack of motivation, sleeping problems, chronic tiredness, irritability, sadness, social withdrawal, weight loss or gain, muscle tensions, aggressivity, self-devaluation, focusing difficulties, etc. These are the exact symptoms of burnout!
We forget about our inner skills and talents !
The energy we use to perform activities that are not natural to us is huge! It is as much energy that we cannot use to accomplish tasks that are natural to us and for which we have talent. We even forget that we are all naturally gifted at something! The example taken by Albert Einstein is a perfect illustration for it :
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. »
There are people who are naturally comfortable and have fun in their work environment and in their job, like fish in water.And there are other people. These ones are not necessarily bad at what they do, it could actually be the opposite. But they burn huge quantities of energy in a role that does not suit them. We all have in our friend or family circle someone who is gifted. An incredible skill at public speaking, for example, this ability to bullshit sell anything to anyone and attract sympathy from all. As far as I am concerned, whatever the amount of energy I would dedicate to my learning curve, I would never reach such a level.And that’s because it is not my inner talent.
Why do we burn out ?
Why do we exhaust ourselves climbing trees instead of peacefully chilling in the water like Albert’s fish? Because we do not know ourselves well, especially our strengths and everything that makes us talented people in a specific field. We often act based on what society or our parents expect from us.Sometimes, we make decisions based on what we would like to be but that we actually are not (buying the same dress like Kate Middleton and looking like a potato bag in it).
Several times, as part of recruitment processes, I had to take personality tests. I would answer the questions based on what the employer expected from me, instead of who I really was. I was recruited and I was happy about it, at least for a short period of time… It is exhausting to spend a lifetime hiding and shaping our personality to fit into a role that is not ours!
How to avoid burnout ?
Let’s try a 5 steps methodology
List all the recurring work activities on a sheet of paper. The one-off activities do not count as they seldom cause burnout on the long run.
For each one of the activities, give a score of 1 to 10 for the mental and physical level of effort made. It is a subjective score that takes into account the feeling during and after the task is performed. The highest mark corresponds to an intense effort with negative feelings : physical and mental exhaustion, tensions in the body, irritability, sadness, anger, defenestration attempt (that is an example, please do not do it), etc.
Circle in green the activities that require the least amount of effort (score between 0 and 4) and in red those that require the highest amount of effort (score of 6 to 10).
Observe the results, and try to identify solutions to optimize the number and frequency of activities circled in green and lower/ delegate/ replace activities in red (if ever that is possible given the nature of your work).
Try to deep dive into the reasons why red activities are red and green activities are green. See my personal example below.
This is a good starting point to reflect on the next potential job or company or even a potential career change. Not to mention that it is the best way to avoid burnout!
When I applied the methodology to myself
In my case, as a former internal auditor, data analysis and report writing activities are rather green as I like to work alone, deep dive on a topic to extract its highlights, and formalize them in a report. I am not saying that it is a highly thrilling activity (no kidding…) but I am comfortable with it.
However, I would put in red all activities related to management meetings as I have no interest in politics (although I am usually the first one to inquire about the latest gossip) and group discussions exhaust me both physically and mentally (unless they take place during Happy Hour and with the right people). That is already a good start to reflect on the future of my professional career.
Do we also burn out with a high salary ?
The concept of ‘reward’ alters a bit the perception we have about the efforts made. We are usually more inclined to make recurring and intense efforts if the reward is high: salary, recognition, freedom, favorable work environment, etc. Nevertheless, I have my personal opinion on this topic: even when the reward (e.g. a high salary) seems worth the intense efforts made, the situation cannot last in the long run.
More specifically, I think that we accept to make such efforts only when we have a deadline in mind. For example: « I know this job will be tough but I will save a lot of money during 2 years. Then I will do something else! » And if you like another personal opinion: two years is a long time!
This is usually when people give up everything to go on a world tour, launch a goat farm in the far end of the French countryside, or become yoga teachers in an exotic country… However, they will NEVER tell you that they burned out! 😉
Let’s stop exhausting ourselves in activities that do not suit us !
It is normal to make efforts in life: to cook, wash the dishes, shave our legs every other month, etc. Sometimes we make the decision to learn to play the piano even if we have no inner talent for it. We simply feel like it and enjoy it. However, when it is about work, I do not think it is sustainable to make a constant effort. We spend the major part of our lives at work. So let’s not burn our body and mind in activities that do not suit us.
Identifying our talents and strengths creates an incredible sense of freedom. It opens our horizons; the good news being that lots of jobs require the same kind of talents that we have! That’s how I redeployed my (very modest) audit report writing skills into blog article writing. And all this without having to talk to anybody (except during Happy Hour with selected people obviously)! 😉