One of the earliest life lessons my Dad taught me was that, as the child of Indian immigrants, I’d have to work 5 times as hard to earn the same privileges as my peers. I never lost that hardscrabble mentality, a bedrock belief that I could survive any calamity just so long as I was willing to outwork it. And then one winter, I found myself unwittingly testing the limits of this belief…and discovered to my horror that it was fatally flawed. That kicked off a grueling 6 month period where I questioned everything and struggled to do normal things. It was a time where I constantly felt like a failure: as a career coach, as a husband and father, even as an individual. A time that I later came to call a period of career burnout.
Here’s what I learned on my journey back from that wilderness, especially as it relates to getting ahead:
3 Lessons from Career Burnout
You Really Do Have an Open Laneway.
Run after the hot trend in your industry and you will NEVER feel safe or secure. Drift away from those things that are firmly in your domain of expertise and you will regret it, every time. Going too far in this direction is what unbalanced things for me. All of a sudden I was juggling 10 different plates instead of 5, forgetting which of those 10 were the most important, and plates began to crash down one-by-one.
Here’s the alternative: embrace the open laneway only you can drive. The one that is built out of your unique career experiences, and informed by the perspective only you can bring to the table. You are 1-of-1, and if you can not only build on your expertise but SHARE your story and background effectively, you can be seen that way. Sure, you’ll probably alienate the people who freak out at anything non-traditional, or see unique value as a risk. So what? The others will perceive it as the beacon of quality that it is, and reward you accordingly. And they’re the ones you want to be working with anyway!
Also read: Are You in Career Purgatory?
You are just passing through the Struggle. You do not live in it.
The greatest fear I had until experiencing a period of career burnout was of things falling apart. The business would fail. Clients would dry up. Stress on my family would break that up as well. And then where would I be? And worse, how could I avoid staying in that hellish place forever?
I don’t worry about that anymore. Not because I experienced all of things falling apart. I didn’t. But I experienced the beginnings of deterioration across most of those parts of my life. And as humbling and stressful as it was, I realized something:
There is a HUGE difference between someone who is passing through a period of struggle, and someone who exists in it.
It’s the difference between Fred Smith (founder of Fedex) taking the company’s last $5K to a Las Vegas blackjack table to scare up some operating capital, versus a compulsive gambler tossing away his last few dollars. Same situation, different goals. And that means COMPLETELY different outcomes.
If you’ve been holding off on making a big career move, take the risk. You’ll learn things that are essential to your success through the struggle, and you’ll never truly be in danger of getting stuck there. Not so long as you have a purpose and drive.
Do it for others when you can’t do it for yourself.
While I’d love to say that my will and insights got me out of the flat, featureless plain of career burnout, that wouldn’t be the truth. My wife held me up. My kids held me up. Because when there wasn’t a single iota of energy left, when the LAST thing I wanted to do was take a hard look at my actions and identify the mistakes and errors in order to course-correct…I imagined disappointing them, and found that to be a worse outcome than pressing forward. I told myself that I’m not doing any of this for me. I’m doing this as an advocate for THEM, and as their advocate, what would be the actions I can take to make sure that they’re as successful and secure as possible?
When you walk your own path, both the potential rewards as well as the risk of entering dangerous territories like burnout increase. But the lights of your purpose, perspective, and loved ones will never lead you astray. Keep your eyes on them as you move forward onto bigger and better things!