My life was stable and predictable until I turned eight. Since that time, I’ve experienced major changes in my life that required me to adapt, fit in, and evolve.
As a burnout coach, I often help my clients with these same issues as they pertain to the workplace. They too experience the unexpected – chronic stress, sleepless nights, too many responsibilities that burden them mentally and physically, leaving them feeling wired but tired.
They too have to find a work culture that fits their values where they feel supported and aligned.
When their experiences at work differ from what they expect, desire, or value, they often struggle. It is when that struggle becomes chronic that they get into burnout territory.
In looking into my journey as a child, I share ways that I’ve evolved to think, feel, and behave more resiliently after overcoming adversity. In my story there are lessons to help you be more strategic and intentional at work and just maybe avoid burnout.
Demands & Resources
It was the late ‘70s in Israel. I was eight years old and my parents decided that they wanted a change of scenery. My grandmother happened to be living in the States at that time so they moved us all to Florida and I had to restart my entire life.
Upon arrival, I entered the third grade without speaking a word of English. Prior to the move, my mom tried to get me prepped because she knew that I was going to have to be able to get through the day.
When I’d come home from second grade, she would have me going through various exercises to teach me the ABCs.
By the time we arrived in America, the extent of my English was being able to declare the days of the week and the months of the year. I could not put a sentence together.
I can remember a couple of girls coming up to my desk, wanting to talk to me. I just had no idea what they were saying.
My challenge, at that time, was being unable to participate. Not only could I not engage socially for a big part of that first year, but academically, I could not participate in anything that was going on around me. There weren’t a lot of resources at that time in my school.
People often think that the reason they burn out is due to high demands. Research shows us that sometimes, the answer is not about lowering the demands, but in increasing our resources. Imagine you had the same amount of work to do, but you have more time or more systems in place to get your work done.
The truth is that we don’t want to feel overwhelmed. At the same time, when we are underwhelmed due to work that’s uninspiring or under-challenging, we can burn out from that as well.
What resources are available to you that would help you meet the demands of your work with less stress?
In addition to the social and academic components, one of the hardest things for me about the move to the States was the cultural shift.
I came from quite a different background where I was growing up at the time in Israel. We grew up modestly. I remember going out to eat very sparsely. Mostly, we’d eat meals at home. There was a different kind of mentality then in the ‘80s.
Then I came into a private school in the States where many of the families were financially well-off. In our family, my mom had to work at the school just to subsidize the tuition!
On the weekends, when friends slept over at my house, my parents would take us out to do some fun activity, like roller skating. They felt it was their responsibility to entertain us kids. But when I would go to my friend’s house to sleep over, the friend’s parents would take me shopping with their kid. I would sit there and watch my friend try on shoes.
For all these reasons, I didn’t feel like I fit in.
FIt is important not just socially. It’s important at work. In fact, when you don’t feel like you fit in culturally with your organization, you can burn out.
In their book, The Truth About Burnout, Maslach and Leiter address problematic interactions between employees and the job environment by looking at six contributors, that, if not adequately addressed, can lead to a job-person mismatch. These contributors include:
- Excessive workload
- Low autonomy
- Lack of acknowledgment
- Lack of support
- Poor ethics
- Unfair treatment
– all ways in which your work may not be a fit for you or vice versa.
Here is an excerpt from my book, The 7E Solution to Burnout, that explains about each of these contributing factors:
“When the workload is excessive, and you feel like there is too much to do in the allotted time with the resources available to you, this will initially lead to anxiety and irritability as you struggle to get the job done. Because you are not able to accomplish it during office hours, you are more likely to stay late or take work home to complete. This over-commitment to your job robs you of personal time, and you end up feeling guilty about not spending enough time with your family or having the necessary personal time. Without proper time for recovery, you will inevitably burn out.
You might feel mismatched with your job if you have too little autonomy. This is usually the case when you feel micromanaged by your boss, resulting in a lack of influence and accountability which can leave you feeling powerless and can also lead to burnout over time.
When your efforts are left unacknowledged, you feel devalued. If you are not proud of your work or if you are not gaining a sense of purpose from it, you will place more emphasis on external rewards, including money, prestige, and career advancement. If you feel dissatisfied with these rewards, you are more likely to burn out.
The community aspect of work is often overlooked, but it is a crucial component that can make or break your experience on the job. Humans are wired for connection, so if you feel alienated, if you lack support, or if you are surrounded by constant conflict, you will feel frustrated and on edge. Over time, these feelings can build and push you over the edge to unbearable levels of stress.
If your boss is so focused on results and efficiency that you end up acting unethically, you will lose any sense of meaning you might have otherwise gained from your work which will also lead to burnout.
As with any relationship, you want to be treated fairly. If, however, you get blamed for aspects of the job outside of your responsibility, get unequal pay, or see others in your company getting ahead by cheating, you will feel disrespected. This negativity will gnaw at you and can eventually lead to burnout.”
How well do you fit in with your work environment?
Even though my new reality was quite different from what I knew, I still had to make friends. I needed to figure out who was, what my American identity was.
I guess you can say I was a little resistant to going with the flow. Even though I was learning the language and living an American life, there was a piece of me that held onto my past.
The experiences of being an immigrant, being of a different social class, being just different shaped me to be the kind of person who has to take a step back, look at the big picture, think strategically about things and not just look to fit in.
That came from just years of not fitting in, where I was on the sidelines and feeling like I don’t belong. “These are not my people.” “These are not my values.” It was like being an actor in somebody else’s play. When you are clear about why something doesn’t work, you gain clarity about what does work. I became clear early on.
As a coach, I sometimes hear clients share how they ended up in careers they aren’t passionate about because they made their decision based on someone else’s dream or based on a need to compensate for a financial lack in childhood.
The reason, it seems, they burn out is because they aren’t in alignment with their career. There’s too much friction between what they really think and feel and what they are doing.
Sometimes they don’t know what else to do but I find that with some exploration, the answer shows up. I believe that when you get still and tune into yourself, you find your truth. It’s then up to you to listen and take appropriate action.
I was being raised in the American suburbs where I was dependent on my parents for everything. They had to know what we were doing all the time. As kids, we needed them to take us and bring us wherever we were going.
Over the summer, we would visit family in Israel and I would see just how different things were there for the kids. There was public transportation and kids had freedom in getting around.
When I was 16, we finally moved back to Israel, but at first, my parents carried the same mentality they operated under in the States into our new situation.
I’d ask my parents, “Can I take the bus to meet my friend?” and they’d say, “No, no buses. We’re going to drive you.”
About six months into that first year, I’d ask, “Hey mom, can you drive me to my friend’s?” Her response: “Take the bus!”
It’s funny how it takes us time to acclimate. But once we do, there’s no going back.
Your early life experiences have surely shaped who you are. In what ways are you stuck in old patterns of thinking or behaving?
The Shaping of a Person
Sometimes things are hard, but it doesn’t mean that’s bad. I feel like my adverse childhood experiences have shaped who I’ve become.
It’s shaped how I show up now as an adult in so many ways because it forced me to have thicker skin, to be able to think for myself, to feel confident in who I am, and not try to be something somebody else wants me to be. I learned that lesson so early on.
One of the things that I find with so many of my clients is that they really struggle with self esteem. They might be amazing in their career and they might be fantastic parents and great friends and spouses. And yet, they feel less than. No matter how much they do, they’re always still trying to figure out how to please and how to fit in.
I’m so grateful that I don’t have that struggle today. It’s almost like I’ve paid my dues. Now I get to help other people change how they experience the world. Instead of being reactive, we focus on being intentional and strategic. Instead of trying to fit in, we focus on being authentic and finding your tribe. And instead of going at it alone, we do it together.
What’s On the Other Side for You
If currently you feel guilty and ashamed about how you show up, I want you to know that you can show up strong. If you feel like you have to be everything to everybody, know that you don’t have to be anything to anyone.
You can show up as yourself. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s totally fine. Not everyone is going to be your cup of tea either.
I teach my clients not to take things personally. That’s one of the biggest traps that I see as a coach: everybody’s getting injured. We’re always personalizing what others say and do and making it mean something about us.
I always tell my clients: 99% of the time, it’s not about you. It’s just the other person focusing on themselves and projecting their stuff onto you. Having this self-awareness is an important piece of one of the biggest tools for success, Emotional Intelligence.
We have to understand who we are. We have to feel comfortable in our own skin. And there’s so much inner work that has to happen for people to feel comfortable and relaxed. Because nobody teaches us to do this, because we don’t learn this in school, the onus is really on us to learn and implement this life skill.
We live in a culture where we are constantly being pushed to do more, typically without adequate resources. Our personality and preferences may not be well matched with our work environment. We sometimes lack clarity about what’s truly important to us and get swept up in the hype either at work or in society at large. This can lead us down some pretty stressful paths that get us out of alignment.
Is it any wonder that people are burning out left and right?
As a child, my parents made decisions on my behalf. Today, I believe that as adults life doesn’t have to be so hard. We get to make decisions for ourselves. We get to choose what’s right for us. Just when you think you’re stuck, recognize that you have options available to you. If all you need is clarity, there’s a coach out there to shine a light on your blindspots and help you get back on track.
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.