Have you ever felt like you were stuck between a rock and a hard place? Do you think about your life choices in black and white terms where either you do something you don’t want to do and feel miserable or you don’t do it and feel guilty?
Your decisions don’t have to be complicated. Your thinking doesn’t have to be extreme. Your results don’t have to suck.
What if there was a way to create a win-win scenario?
The Reason You’re Stuck
Dr. Jackie is an early career physician who, after medical school, got burned out at her job. She was so devastated after losing a patient that she left her job, at least temporarily. She wanted to be able to continue, but experienced paralyzing anxiety.
The tape running through her head was, “I’m a fraud. I don’t know what I’m doing.” She started feeling very dark and thinking irrationally. She’d wake up in a ball of anxiety, scared to go to work because she couldn’t predict what would come through the door.
The trouble was that Dr. Jackie derived all her sense of purpose from her job. While it’s wonderful to be doing meaningful work, having your self-worth wrapped up in what you do is a slippery slope. When you are constantly struggling to prove to yourself and others that you belong by working hard, you’re at risk for burnout.
Jackie wanted to reenter the workforce, but worried she wouldn’t be able to handle it. While she sat on the sidelines contemplating her choices, she experienced a lot of guilt for not doing the work. She kept thinking of all the patients who need her and aren’t getting the help due to her absence. She wanted to rebuild her confidence and she needed to get her priorities straight.
Give Yourself Permission to Just Be
Before you jump into anything, it’s important to ensure you are doing it for the right reasons.
Dr. Jackie’s guilt was the driving force behind her desire to return to work. But she wasn’t quite ready.
If you’ve ever experienced burnout, you know it can take time to heal. Getting back to work too soon can be detrimental to your long-term confidence and success. It’s like running out of the hospital in your gown with the IV still in your veins without a proper discharge.
How do you know whether you should go back to work?
You go back because you want to do it, not because you feel like you have to do it.
If you broke your foot and you’re in a cast, you might be able to walk on it, but you’d take it slow. You’d adjust your expectations. In a similar way, you go back to work without the headaches and without the pressure. You dip your toe in the water and see how you feel.
It might turn out that over time, you build up your confidence and you gear up because you love the work. It might just be a step towards getting rehabbed back into the work you envisioned initially. Based on your experience, you’ll decide if you’re in the right place doing the work that is right for you or if something needs to shift. The only important thing in this moment is moving forward.
While Dr. Jackie was figuring things out, she set up a mobile practice that allowed her the freedom to be in control of her schedule. It was a step in the right direction. But there was more soul searching she needed to do.
Revisit Your Values
Getting in touch with your values is huge because it gives you more clarity. When it comes to burnout prevention, it is essential to make decisions that are driven by your values. This allows you to create a life, not just a career, and is an opportunity to gauge whether the decisions you’ve made up to this point reflect your true values.
We all have these beliefs that come from our early childhood experiences that shape our many decisions. The trouble is, many of them are not in line with who we are today or who we want to be.
Examining your values is a great opportunity to shed some of the old and embrace the new, even though it’s different and now what you expected.
Your brain might say, “Hey, why are you doing that? Hold on. We’ve got to do what’s familiar.”
That’s your brain just doing its job. It is trying to stay efficient. When this happens, though, your job is to say back, “I hear you. But that way of doing things doesn’t work for me, at least right now.”
In the same way that you might come back to work part-time after having a baby or a major health crisis, after burnout you have a chance to rebirth your career. It doesn’t need to be forever, but for right now it will feel good to have work on your terms.
Do you like the idea of only working four days a week?
Do you like having more control over your practice and cases?
If so, embrace the change without thinking too much about what could have been, what should have been, and what wouldn’t be. Consider what your first step will be once you’re ready for it.
Working in the Real World
In all the years I attended graduate school to become a psychologist, no one ever When talked to me about what it’s like to own your own business. Instead, much of the time was spent learning about statistics because the program was training us to become researchers.
I have not used statistics since I’ve graduated and completed my dissertation. My education was focused on what the administrators think they’re grooming you towards rather than blending any sort of real world know-how into the academics.
I learned the most after I graduated.
After starting my private practice, I was determined to always provide my clients with resources. I started digging for helpful tips and strategies while concurrently working on my own development. That’s where I started to piece together all kinds of tools. None of this came from my schooling.
You are now in that process of taking your expertise and starting to find your way back into the world of work. Just give yourself some grace, especially with everything you’ve got going on. Your schooling didn’t prepare you for working in the real world either.
If you’re having sleep problems, mood that’s up and down, anxiety that shoots through the roof, you are going through a lot. Slow everything down and remind yourself that life ebbs and flows. Whatever you’re feeling right now is temporary. You’re not going to feel this rotten your whole life.
When you find a work solution that works for you, ease back in because one of your biggest problems is confidence, not skill. Your schooling prepared you in the skill department. In the real world, though, you might have freaked out because you took on too much responsibility.
Perhaps that’s something you’d been trained to do from a very young age. There’s so much fear in getting it wrong. When things don’t go the way you would like, you make it mean something about you. The compulsion to prove your worth drives you to work ever harder.
Ideally, then, you get to a place where you can have more self-compassion and an understanding of the world as imperfect.
This is what it might sound like:
“I’m going to come in with all of my expertise. I’ll do whatever I can for this patient. And that’s the best I can do. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get it right. But based on my history, I am successful far more than otherwise.”
Instead of focusing on the one person that I couldn’t save, I will focus on the hundreds of people that I did save. I wish I could control the results and it sucks that it’s imperfect, but I’m still glad to be doing this work because it’s meaningful. Working in this field aligns with my value of helping people live a higher quality life.”
What’s the Difference Between a Calling and an Obligation?
Perhaps you’ve been led for so long by other people’s ideas and expectations or by your limiting beliefs that you’re fuzzy about what your true calling actually is.
Consider what an obligation feels like to you. Chances are, it’s a feeling that you have to do something.
Sometimes we confuse our calling with a sense of obligation because, like Dr. Jackie, we have a desire to help people, but we layer expectations about what we need to do to attain that result. If you’re in the helping field, you can appreciate that there are many ways you can help others.
Dr. Jackie was caught up in the story that she’d gotten herself this far up the latter of her career through her specialized training that she needed to be doing her work in a certain way. Her heart wasn’t in it anymore to the same extent but she felt guilty when she thought she wasn’t making a big enough difference in the world.
Burnout was the wakeup call that brought her back to her values and helped her rethink her paradigm. The key was to meet herself where she was at, even if it meant being two rungs down the ladder. Her expectations needed to shift so she could start to heal and grow her confidence. To do that, she needed to let go of the “shoulds,” “have tos” and “need tos” and find a fit.
There are plenty of people who go through school and when they get into the real world, they find out that what they’d been prepping for in college or graduate school is totally wrong for them. When that happens, it is often because either they followed someone else’s dream which wasn’t a fit for them, or because they had one experience at school and an entirely different experience in the real world. The real world experience wasn’t a fit. Or perhaps, it just isn’t a fit right now.
Give yourself permission to get back on your feet.
What Do You Tell Yourself When Something Doesn’t Work?
You put yourself out there. You tried your best. Something didn’t work. That’s not where the problem lies. It’s in what happens next.
The problem is you are focusing on the past instead of on what you want moving forward. When you focus on things outside of your control, you make yourself nuts. It’s hard enough to go through life and not get what you want. Don’t beat yourself over the head on top of it.
Maybe taking a break is good right now because, honestly, you need a little bit of space to focus on YOU. Once you’ve healed and you’re back on your feet, things will look different.
Maybe there’s a reason it’s not working right now. And it doesn’t mean that it’s never going to work. Don’t overload yourself while you’re in this process of recovery.
You say you hate your career, but you’re just mad at it. It took a lot out of you to get to where you are today, but you sacrificed all this because the work is meaningful.
Bring yourself back to your vision. You want to use your advanced training without anxiety. You want to feel confident and manage the overwhelm. You want to create a sustainable practice. When you focus on what you want, you feel hopeful. Sometimes, hope is the biggest resource we have to boost our confidence and eventually our performance.
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. Go to: https://drsharongrossman.com/burnoutchecklist/