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  • Chealsea Wierbonski

Showing Up Without Burning Out

There was a time when I thought that “getting ahead” meant working for as many hours as possible and, in general, being The Great Office Martyr. After intensely working for 10 or 11 hours, I would go home, eat, and then work some more–often until 1am. It wasn’t uncommon for me to call into meetings from vacations or late-night while on European business trips.

I felt a deep sense of pride at my ability to “outwork” everyone. After all, I wasn’t your typical tech worker–I had a degree in Philosophy from a state university and prior to my first job at a software company in Palo Alto, I had barely touched a computer (this was the 90’s mind you).

I wholeheartedly believed that because of my background, working like this was an absolute requirement in order to prove myself.

After many years of this “outworking” everyone, something started to change. I noticed that I felt depressed. Next, my concentration began to waver and I was unable to focus in meetings. I procrastinated on my assignments and no longer got excited about work. I was unmotivated and baffled at how I’d become so “lazy”. Self-criticism followed, and I beat myself up for not having the drive to work like I once did.

At the time, it wasn’t common to talk about mental health and I was ashamed to ask for help. I felt that all of this was completely my fault and I didn’t know how to fix it.

My story is now more common than ever–just this year, 46% of female tech professionals have experienced burnout. According to the Mayo Clinic, job burnout “occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and the motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”

Check, check and check!

Burnout is insidious. It’s hard to recognize that it’s even happening if you are focused on racing from one task to the next. It can hit you like a ton of bricks, and when it does, it leaves you feeling hopeless, cynical and resentful.

If what I’m describing sounds familiar, you may be on your way to (or already have arrived at) a state of burnout! I’m going to tell you what I did to reset in hopes that you can apply some of these tips to your own life.

Before diving in though, let me say this: If you are already at burnout and unable to work, take time off. Take extended leave if you have to. In my case, I changed roles to something less demanding that gave me mental space to clear my head. Because I had waited so long though, it took me nearly a year to reset back to my “normal”. Don’t let it get this bad!

Assuming that you are not in crisis mode yet, here are some preventative measures you can take to ward off burnout.

First, be realistic about how much time you can and want to dedicate to work after hours. Do you have children or ailing parents to care for? Do you have a partner or spouse whom you want to spend time with? Or maybe you just have hobbies that you love! How much time do you need for these things? Figure that out and then set a boundary. A big, hard boundary that you do not allow anyone to cross! Do not pick up your phone to check chat. Do not check your email. Be protective of the time that you set aside for your personal life. Remember, in most office jobs, you are paid to work 40 hours a week. Granted you sometimes need to put in extra time, but since we usually don’t get paid overtime, you are actually lowering your salary every time you work more than that 40 hours!

Next, at the first signs of feeling unmotivated or unable to concentrate, take a day or two off. Take a long weekend. Do something nice for yourself or just stay at home and veg out. Again, do not pick up your phone to check chat. Do not check your email. Try to decompress completely from work. You will be amazed at how refreshed you feel if you completely separate yourself from work even if only for a few days.

Third, take care of yourself on a regular basis. This includes eating well, exercising, and generally speaking, doing things that make you happy. If you don’t know what makes you happy, try setting aside time to journal about this. Just dedicating time to think about your personal needs can be restorative.

Finally, if you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, stop the self-criticism. Everyone feels this way at one time or another, especially now in our forever-on-and-available society. Women who are caregivers are especially at risk, since, sadly, we still take on the burden of most of the housework and child care, and then feel guilty saying no and setting boundaries.

These are only a few pointers that I hope will help you in your quest for getting ahead of burnout and resetting. I truly believe it’s possible to work smarter, not harder, and still get ahead at work. When you are operating at full capacity, you will have a much greater impact than you will if you are overworked and underperforming. If you want to learn more about how to show up without burning out, stay tuned for my video course coming out in 2024 that will go into greater detail on all of this!

In the meanwhile, you can sign up for my mailing list to receive more blog posts like this to support you in embodying the confident, healthy leader you are destined to be.


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