Driving home from a recent business dinner, I struggled to figure out just how my three smiling dinner companions processed the current business environment with such remarks as “turning the corner,” “looking better than ever,” “full of promise,” and, (the corker), “my best year ever.”
All three highly educated, high achieving business owners seemed out of touch with my reality – the economy still struggles. When I blurted out, “I think it could get worse,” six angry (or maybe, pleading) eyes met mine. I feared stoning.
Vindicated with yesterday’s Wall Street Journal headliner, “Economic Outlook Darkens,” I feel like reconvening dinner for another take on the conversation.
But after much deliberation, my better take-away is less of right or wrong about the economy and more a question of marching toward becoming burned out. Yes, I said it and you heard me.
My dinner companions (myself, included) are working harder than ever and their businesses don’t love them back in the same grand way they are used to. Anyone else having that experience in their career?
Burnout is the illness of just about any averagely driven person in any profession. Associated with overwork, it was considered a noble affliction back in the seventies when people dove into the world with convictions to change it.
Now it’s a sign of weakness, a career killer and a whiner’s lament.
Overwork can cause burnout but it’s not the only cause. Today’s burnout has to do with inflated expectations – the gap between expectation and reward. The payoffs for working hard today don’t have the same successes as before. You can smile all you want to about that new piece of business, but chances are the margins are slimmer.
While full blown burnout can lead to depression and blocked energy, mini-versions of burnout leave us going through the past motions of success with unrealistic expectations for the future. Rosy colored glasses have their place but denying the reality of the future economy’s recovery clouds your best reponse to it.
While many shout “new opportunities” in a struggling business environment, the real reality is working for insufficient reward (whether the currency, is money, prestige, or positive feedback) leaves us with a sensation of emptiness. Without recognizing symptoms of burnout, we can’t convert our actions and take charge of our working lives in a better way.
And with roots in working hard as a form of religion and self-identity, burning out on it amounts to a crisis of faith. No one is talking about it in my circles.
Some people just need surprised to see how a new pattern of working could emerge to ease their pain. My visit two weeks ago to Tucson, prompted my brother to take a Friday and Saturday morning away from his auto-recycling business with 12 employees for the first time in a year. At 4pm on Friday afternoon after checking sales numbers, he grinned and said, “I just had the best Friday ever… and I wasn’t there.” Big revelation for someone who thinks his business rocks around his constant presence.
Is pushing harder and harder at our jobs the answer? Is there a deep flaw in our work culture that prevents us from thinking that anything other than working harder is the best approach?
A drained battery that can no longer hold its charge had a point of full recovery. Many of us would do well to check our gauges for even the tiniest indications that working harder and harder needs evaluation as the best approach in today’s environment.
Draining your battery will have high cost on high achievement in the future. I guarantee it.