How to Overcome Career Burnout

How to re-discover your energy

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Are you feeling burned out in your job? If so, you’re not alone. Job burnout is an all-too-common phenomenon in today’s workforce. And while there’s no magic wand you can wave to get rid of it, there are steps you can take to improve your situation. Here are some of them:

[See 6 Ways You Stay Limited and Stuck in Your Career.]

Understand why you are feeling burned out. Get a really clear picture of why you’re feeling burned out. Take inventory. Don’t just say, “My job is burning me out.” Get specific. Say, for instance, “I’m working too many hours. I don’t like what I’m working on. I’m experiencing too much conflict with my co-workers. I feel stuck and trapped.” Awareness is a key ingredient. Understanding the specifics of the source of your burnout opens the door to asking, “What can I do about this? Are there any changes I can make that would improve the situation? What steps can I start taking to make changes in the long term?”

Question black-and-white thinking. Black-and-white thinking keeps you limited and feeling trapped. It limits you to either/or choices. Either you can fix the situation, or you’re doomed to wallow helplessly in it. Either you have to just accept that your job sucks, or you need to change jobs. Having only the two choices on the extreme ends of the spectrum doesn’t leave you a lot of room to maneuver. The reality is that there is frequently a whole spectrum of possibilities between those either/or ends of the spectrum. You may not be able to fix the situation completely to your liking, but you may be able to make it 30 percent better. And 30 percent better is 30 percent less pain.

Find your energy source. One way to combat burnout is to build more of what energizes you into your workday. And to do that, you need to know what energizes you to begin with. A good place to start is to make a list of things that have lit you up over time and then pick one and ask why. What was it about that activity or experience that was so energizing? Why was it so fun? As you explore multiple things from that list, you’ll start to see common themes (reasons why) emerge. When you understand those common themes—your energy sources, if you will—you can ask yourself, “How can I create the opportunity to experience more of these energy sources in my work?”

Look at the 360-degree picture. How you feel at work isn’t solely related to what’s happening at work. What is happening in the rest of your life can have an impact as well. If you aren’t taking care of your health, guess what? That has a huge impact on the energy reserves you have to draw from at work. Take a look at your life in 360 degrees. Do what I describe as a personal energy audit. Ask, “What is giving me energy? What is draining my energy? What supports me? What depletes me?” Do that for all the areas of your life, including work, relationships, and health.

Commit to change. Typically, clients come to me when they have frustration coming out their ears and they’re ready for a career change yesterday. I have noticed repeatedly that the simple act of committing to change reduces their frustration significantly. Why? Because part of their frustration comes not just from what’s happening today, but also knowing that it’s going to be repeated day after day after day into the future. So committing to change takes a lot of the weight of that future frustration off their shoulders. Nothing about their situation has changed in the here and now, but knowing that they’re not trapped for the long haul makes a big difference.

[See 5 Questions to Overcome Job-Search Frustration.]

Meditate. No post on job burnout would be complete without mentioning meditation. Imagine yourself as a Catherine wheel, that firework that spins around throwing sparks in all directions. That’s how a lot of people live their lives. Exhausting! If you can find a way to slow down and stay grounded, it lets you stop spinning that energy off in all directions.

Exercise. Exercise is the great stress reliever. It has the dual benefit of immediately relieving stress and giving you more energy in the long run by being more fit.

Find meaning. Finally, look for ways to derive meaning from your work. That could mean identifying what the benefit of what you’re doing is and focusing more on that. Or it could mean finding ways to make a difference, like mentoring a younger colleague.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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