Have you ever lost zest for your work but weren’t sure whether it was boredom or burnout?
Before I was a full-on coach and I worked as a therapist. I would see people on a weekly basis. The way I approached my work was with the goal of helping my clients build their toolbox so that they wouldn’t need me anymore. Rather than create a dependence on me and the therapy, I wanted them to feel empowered to use the tools they were learning as they needed them.
At some point during my 20+ years of practice, I experienced the “Check the Box Syndrome.” Every day felt like I was just checking the box. I was showing up and doing a decent job.
Nobody was worse off because they came to see me, but I wasn’t as engaged and enthusiastic about the work. I stopped digging for new tools and that was a change from my norm.
This is one of the warning signs of burnout.
Burnout by Comparison
We often feel tempted to compare ourselves to others to make sense of our experience. I could have compared myself to other therapists after noticing the change in me, but that would not have gotten me far. That’s because my way of engaging at work was quite different from how other therapists were engaging. What was normal for many of them was a change for me.
If you want to better understand what you’re going through and whether it’s related to burnout, remember this: it’s not about the comparison. It’s about comparing your current self to your previous self. How were you prior to this change and how are you showing up now?
What Does Burnout Mean?
At that time, it just so happens that I was doing research on burnout for my book.
I had heard the word before just like a lot of people have heard it, but I didn’t really understand what it meant.
I came to find out after doing this research, as I started talking to my clients about it, that they didn’t know what it meant either.
I would listen to them as they’d share their experience at work, how exhausted they felt, how irritable their mood had become, and how resentful they were and I would say, “It sounds like you’re burning out.”
Suddenly, there was recognition on their face. It made sense to them. They had found the missing puzzle piece.
It all came together where I was getting clarity on what burnout was, seeing my clients connect the dots, and then thinking about my own situation.
In retrospect, I know what I experienced wasn’t hardcore burnout by any stretch, but I saw the warning signs early on and I did something about it before things escalated.
On the Lookout for Burnout
When I was in grad school, I went to a conference where I attended a session by a psychologist in private practice.
One of the things that really stuck with me is when he said that practitioners in private practice tend to burn out quite a bit. That’s when I vowed to myself never to go into private practice. I didn’t want that to be me.
Fast forward, the day arrived when it was time for me to do this. Going in private practice was like the next logical move in my career.
The little voice in my head kept reminding me not to be a burnout statistic. So I wondered, “How do I prevent this from happening?”
It was then and there that I decided to plow ahead but do so strategically.
When it was time to find an office space, I set myself up in an office that was walking distance to the gym. This would allow me to work out in the middle of the day. I spaced out my clients so that I’d have time for breaks throughout the day. Finally, I would do my paperwork while still at the office rather than take work home. This allowed me to engage in self-care before going home and having a separation between work and family life.
I did everything intentionally and yet I still had this experience after a couple of years where all of a sudden I started to feel like I lack pizzazz at work. It was more like, “check, check, check” as I saw client after client.
It was another day, another week, another year.
If you’re getting into the “Check-the-Box” syndrome, it’s time to start paying attention.
Boredom or Burnout?
When we start digging into the different aspects of burnout, one of the things that we look at is engagement. There is the classic version of burnout where you’re overly engaged. That’s you if you’ve got too much going on and you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Then there’s the version of burnout where you’re under-engaged. You no longer feel challenged by your work, or feel bored with what you’re doing. That’s where the work that you do is monotonous, uninteresting, not very exciting.
What determines whether you’re going to burn out? It entirely depends on your specific needs, your personality, and the match between you and your work. These are the factors that will shape your engagement on the job.
What do I mean by needs and personality?
Each of us appreciates a different pace at work. There are tasks that we find stimulating that others would find overwhelming or boring and vice versa. If you are the kind of person, for instance, who thrives on ideas, creativity, and learning, you want to tap into these preferences on the job to stay engaged.
The service that I was providing as a therapist was exactly that for me. I took it upon myself to research into every corner of the globe to find tools for my clients. It’s what excited me about the work.
People often ask, “How could you listen to people’s problems all day? Doesn’t that just exhaust you? Don’t you burn out doing that?” The truth is – no. That’s because I approach the work as a problem solver. I get to play detective and try to find a solution to the problem. Because I’m someone who enjoys knowledge and learning, I see it as a challenge. It’s exciting.
How to Regain the Joy in Your Work
Maybe you’ve lost your zest for work because work just doesn’t ever seem to end. You like what you do, but you’ve been working too much for too long. Most days, you work straight through with no breaks and have little to no time for yourself. It’s the grind that’s led you to feel depleted, resentful, and checked out.
How can you turn this stressful day around and regain the joy in your work?
Believe it or not, one of the biggest shifts you can make starts with your mindset. Too often, people don’t live their life intentionally. They let external circumstances take over their calendar. As one of my clients described it, “You’re letting the calendar control you rather than the other way around.”
You’re putting yourself last and then think to yourself, “If there’s time, then I’ll work out. Then I’ll meditate. Then I’ll breathe. Then I’ll stretch.” This thinking is like giving away the farm and saying, “If there are any crumbs left over, then I get to keep them.” I’m here to tell you, that doesn’t work!
Start by considering what you would like to get done in your day. Do you want time to exercise? When will you take your breaks? What else do you need time for and when? By being intentional, you can plug your self-care into your schedule before you plop down on your chair to start working. This principle is along the lines of what we are told to do in case of an emergency on an airplane. You put your oxygen mask on first, then help others. Remember, you are responsible for your time.
Now you might be wondering, “What if I don’t have control over my schedule? What if it’s my job that’s me for booking back-to-back meetings or even double booking my calls?”
Too often we confuse requests with demands. We believe that we have to jump through all the hoops and make everything happen even if it’s completely unreasonable.
I think it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself, “What would make this actually work for both of us?” If you’re going to be in this long-term, this model is never going to work. It might work if you’re in a crunch and you’ve got to get through a deadline. It just can’t be the norm.
That’s why we’re seeing so many people burn out because these expectations aren’t realistic. Sometimes your job’s not going to know that what it’s asking is unreasonable. It’s up to you to take responsibility for yourself, know what you can and cannot do, and set boundaries.
Address the need for break in between meetings, the need for adequate time to work on reports, and anything else that leaves you feeling resentful. This might mean prioritizing what you work on in the time that you have rather than taking on more than you can handle.
Would You Rather Check the Box of Check Yourself?
When people aren’t setting the boundary, it’s because they don’t believe that their needs are important. They don’t believe that they deserve to be treated well. Even if that belief is just a part of you, it can create internal conflict. That’s why it’s hard for you to stand up for yourself.
What I encourage you to do is to recognize that resentment is a sign that there are boundaries missing. Rather than wishing for your circumstances to change, take control of your life.
Let’s diagnose the problem.
The underlying reason why it’s so challenging for you to set boundaries is because you don’t believe in your work. You believe you have to prove yourself by being productive. You might have bought into the idea that you have to do all this work to get a promotion.
The truth here is that you are setting yourself up for burnout.
Recently, my husband told me about a friend, who feels miserable in his job.The company he works for is now getting bought out. They are expanding and promoting him to this next level which means he’ll have to travel for work more and do all these things that will absolutely burn him out even more. Saying “yes” to that kind of promotion when you’re already miserable comes solely from the compulsion to prove yourself and the need for external validation.
It’s what leads people to work without boundaries. This is why they end up feeling depleted, exhausted, and resentful.
If that’s you, I invite you to do a deep dive into your values and belief system.
What would you want your ideal situation to look like? Give yourself permission to dream. Whether you believe it or not, you deserve better.
That’s where the deep inside out work comes in.
If you’re burning out, download the Burnout Checklist to see which stage you are in and what you need to focus on to recover.