Last week I attended a huge technology conference in Toronto called Collision. The energy at Collision was palpable. So many people gathered to promote, invest, and grow their businesses.
You know what surprised me, though? One word, heard multiple times, from panels, presentations, and workshops:
I heard it from people at every stage in their career.
- Start-up founders complained of burning the candle at both ends.
- Investors felt compelled to discover the next big thing.
- Companies in the growth phase spoke of not having enough or the right resources.
While burnout sounds endemic to the tech industry, it certainly exists elsewhere. I’ve experienced it myself and perhaps you have too.
Burnout happens when you’ve exhausted your fuel. Without that energy source, you can’t keep going. Hence, you “burn out.”
You need to know when your energy source gets depleted, so you can prevent burnout.
Think of your energy as a fire. Fires have four (4) stages: spark (initial), kindling (building), logs (maintaining), and ashes (burnt out). By paying attention to which phase you’re in, you can stay fueled.
Stage 1: Sparks
All beginnings – new job, relationship, event – start with a spark. Whether it’s a speck in your eye or a fully-fledged idea, you feel it as a rush of energy.
For introverts, sparks typically come from within (think of “a-ha moments”) and for extroverts, sparks occur through interactions, conversations with others. Ambiverts experience sparks both ways, depending on circumstance.
Prevent Spark Burnout by not striking your match too hard. For example, I’ve seen introverts adopt an extrovert exterior and, while that works for a time, it’s not sustainable. Introverts need time to reflect.
Also, be aware of your energy source. Do you get energy from others or do you generate it from within?
Stage 2: Kindling
Kindling fuels the flames of your fire. Good fires need feeding. And so do you.
Feed yourself – fuel your flames – with white space. Allow your mind to wander, to rest, so you can make new connections, find patterns, and let your right brain explore creatively.
A word of caution so you don’t experience Kindling Burnout: you can exhaust yourself spending excessive time thinking instead of doing. Recognize the difference between “perfect” and “good enough.” 80% of the time, good enough is perfectly all right.
Stage 3: Logs
You create better fires by stacking logs rather than using just one. One log burns out quickly; many logs do not.
See logs as people. To maintain your fire, you need people. As social animals, humans work best in conjunction with one another.
Log Burnout happens when you lose perspective. I remember one founder at Collision rued putting all his energy into his start-up at the expense of everything – and everyone – else. He got burnt out because he thought he had to build his start-up alone.
Working with others gives you alternative viewpoints so you don’t get stuck in your own narrative.
Stage 4: Ashes
Fires give heat, provide magical backdrops for storytelling, and delineate light from dark. Eventually, though, fires burn out.
Like all fires, you too will burn out. I used to assume burnout was “bad”, yet I can see it’s part of the natural cycle of fires.
Consider reframing burnout in a more nuanced way. Burnout can suck and be cathartic, paradoxically.
And you know what else? Phoenixes rise from the ashes of fires.