To Infinity and…Burnout.

Burnout. An appropriate compound word for when it all falls apart. At work, we’re so busy, so stressed that we can’t keep up. “Drinking from the fire hose” , “Jumping on a freight train”, “Keeping our head above water” are all phrases we’ve heard or even said ourselves. These are all short-term spurts of feeling overwhelming. Burnout however, is over a continuous erosion of our willingness. It’s when we’re trying to hold on, but we’re so exhausted, so done that our fingers slip and it all disintegrates. Burnout at work can impact our productivity, relationships, sleep, and mental health.

Rockets Explode!

It reminds me of the scene in Toy Story where Buzz and Woody are strapped to the rocket gripping onto RC while careening down the street trying to reunite with the other toys in the moving truck. They have so much propulsion pushing them upwards, away from their goal, that Woody’s feeble hands lack the strength to hold on and they’re forced to give way to the rocket’s direction and are shot upwards into the clouds with only moments before the rocket explodes. At the last second, Buzz extends his “high-pressure-space-wings” breaking off from the rocket and both he and Woody “fall with style” into the movie’s most iconic scene.

If only we too could go to infinity and beyond at work. When burnout happens, we don’t have a red quick release button on our chest to hit. We don’t break away at the last second. We’re depleted of all energy to engage thus we go limp, letting the rocket dictate where we’re headed…ending in burnt out cinders. Luckily, burnout is curable. So how do we prevent burnout? How do we be like Buzz Lightyear, the world’s greatest toy, and soar into Pixar brilliance?

Loss of Control

Being overwhelmed by workload demands is one factor leading to burnout. The simplest antidote here is to reduce them. While that might be the simplest, it isn’t always available. The next best thing then is to gain more control over those same demands.

Lacking control is what separates burnout from the typical daily stress everyone feels. Think about this: are you more likely to quit because of the volume of tasks you have to do or how those tasks have to be done? Of the fifteen bullets on your to-do, the one that has to submitted Thursday, approved by two supervisors, formatted just right, takes forever to process, and at the last minute has to be done again because someone submitted their portion late and you’re the only one that knows how to do it is the one the makes us lose our grip.

Much of the previous example is due to red tape, redundancies, and blockades. All of this prevents progress and if progress isn’t being made, teams can become disengaged. Disengaged teams make more mistakes and burn out more easily because they lack the control, or autonomy to refine and streamline. Teams with greater autonomy are entrusted to set their own deadlines and create boundaries for others and have increased motivation to complete excellent work given it is a direct reflection of their skills. All of this results in productivity which translates into efficiencies and efficiencies can support the reduction of the overall demands of a job. A win-win for preventing burn out.

Control the Rocket – Control the Work

Like Toy Story, we too can break away from our rockets before burnout. The propulsion can either push us forward, so long as we have the strength to hold on, or it can cause us to deviate and blow up. Ask yourself, will you let the rocket control you? Or will you control the rocket?

Apologize Less, Apologize Better

We’re over-apologizers. “I’m sorry” is over-used, a subconscious reaction to any slight we make towards others. The repetitiveness of its use dilutes its authenticity and the proof of its inundation is the robotic response when we do. “It’s ok.” If that were true, was the apology necessary? Apologies are to be rare and genuine, reserved only for when someone has the courage to apologize holistically, and those are the ones that should be gratuitously accepted.

What then separates a rapid-fire apology from one we want to listen to?

Don’t follow up an apology with an excuse. Add-ons like but, I just, or I didn’t mean it isn’t owning up to the apology. Regardless of what you intended, it was received differently. Apologize without defense. Making excuses leads the receiver to believer they’re in the wrong, that they should not have been off-put from what was said initially.

They’re not to be self-serving. If you’re apologizing for your own conscious or guilt, it’s the wrong reason. People don’t hear words, people hear intent. If the only reason you are saying it is if you think you have to, don’t. Take some time for reflection and distance for perspective. Come back when you understand their response.

Do apologize face-to-face, if possible. The delivery method in which content is sent is more influential than the content itself. Making a genuine apology is already Showing Up emotionally, might as well Show Up physically too.

As someone listening to any apology, thank them for it. It shows that you recognize they care enough to make amends. If you’re truly “OK”, thank them regardless and say it was no big deal. However, if your feelings were indeed diminished, let them know. They were willing to start a candid conversation so lean into their vulnerability with your own by explaining your why.

In the end, stop apologizing for the fast and loose, the forgettable, and the unimportant. Do apologize when you fall flat. Relationships are not built on a few comments, but the actions we take over time. One mishap will not break the bank so long as there remains a balance of generosity and kindness. To quote Maya Angelou – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Quiet Acceptance

Fear is quieting. When we disagree with insulting or offensive language, it is the short-term pain, the risk of our own relationship, that blinds us to a better outcome for all. Inaction is accepting that it will continue. Until someone offers a counter argument, others gain superiority in their opinions and belief they’re in the right. How then, do we Show Up and ensure we’re speaking for not just ourselves and our values but others around us?

Lead with emotional composure. Explain how that certain language affects how you feel while limiting the outward expression of it. You deserve to be upset, no one deserves to be shouted at.

Be global in your own language by moving beyond the person directly. “If no one used that language, how would that shift our perception of others?”

Fear is quieting. Courage, is speaking in the presence of fear.

Tough Managers

Consider your role in the relationship. Our involvement, or lack of, can perpetuate the undesired behavior or be the catalyst for change…

We all have innate tendencies to act or respond in certain ways and those actions in turn affect our reality.

With managers that go against our natural grain, it’s easy to abdicate our responsibility and expect others to act or resolve. To claim victim.

We Show Up by focusing on the relationship and how we can change our actions. As we do, we move towards influence that alters our expected reality and creates change in behaviors that benefits you and your manager.

The Path of Change

Change is unyielding and unending. Every day is unique. If you can’t think of a reason that’s true, here’s a global perspective. As the earth travels around the sun, you are 1.6 million miles from where you were yesterday. A more tangible parallel is the weather. While that can be forecasted, it cannot be determined. We can anticipate outcomes but cannot foresee them. Minute changes are easily overcome and even welcomed as monotony can be deflating. Larger changes however, feel insurmountable. We look across the deep chasm of where we are, our comfort, to where we’re headed, the unknown and different, and wonder how anyone could cross.

The Change Curve

A few years ago I was introduced to a popular concept to me called the Change Curve. This curve helps to model the journey we take when change is afoot within an organization or beyond those four walls. We’ll use a broad example of just discovering that your current role will be transitioning to a different capacity in which responsibilities will shift and new operating procedures will be put in place.

We begin on the left where what we know is all we know. Merrily content with our undisturbed work. Suddenly, a forceful gust of wind pushes us over the ledge and we begin tumbling towards an arduous rocky bottom. The announcement of impending change happens fast and is unpredictable. This part of the curve is where we know the least amount of information and where we can feel like the change is happening to us. We’ve been informed that we’re now on a path that the day prior didn’t know existed. We have so many questions and here so many of them go unanswered.

Different = Emotionally Taxing

An organization’s decision to make major changes is not without forethought. Great organizations spend time weighing different paths against remaining on the current one. When the decision is finally made, only the path is decided and some obvious risks along the way. They are unaware of every twist, every fallen tree that will have to be hurdles before the final destination. Yet when it is announced, it is our natural tendency to ask these very questions in hopes of quelling our anxiety and doubts.

Anxiety is born from too little information and no power to control. When a change is external, not brought onto yourself, like an organization’s decision to shift responsibilities you certainly feel powerless. We may not always have the chance to influence how a change is decided or put into action. Great organizations consult those that would be affected but usually select a few to speak for many. If we cannot gain power over the situation we therefore search for more information.


Managers say it, leaders follow through on it.

While leaders may not have the exact route mapped out, calling out these emotions is a comforting antidote. Bringing teams together to share initial thoughts and feelings dissipates feelings of loneliness and uncertainty and those are not only recognized but accepted. There should be commitment from leaders that as information comes down, what can be shared will be and that it is all open for discussion. Managers say it, leaders follow through on that commitment.

The Valley of Despair

Too often managers hear uncomfortable feedback surrounding change and say “Hey, don’t be upset with me, I’m not the one that decided this!” Then take a passive role in letting the change happen to the team and not with the team. If you feel like a change is happening to you and not with you, this further deepens the powerlessness you feel and as the actual change begins, we get to bottoming out in the curve in what’s aptly named the Valley of Despair.

The Valley of Despair is vast and the darkest section as we find ourselves against an upward rock face, casting looming shadows over where we stand. Here we’re being directly impacted by the decisions made. Responsibilities you’ve had are being trained out and new, confusing expectations are laid out in their place. It is at this point where going back is not an option and moving forward seems impossible. Where what was once was cannot be and what is to be is not what was. At this lowest point we are uncomfortable, tentative, and vulnerable. We feel that even budging an inch will cause catastrophe. Without an easy way out, we decide to stay, becoming grounded and most resistant. The change is no longer occurring to us, it is working against us.

Change for the Better

The toughest task of organizations going through change is being able to pull people out from the Valley of Despair and move towards Acceptance where change happens with us. We need to be cognizant that people approach this section at varying speeds. Some people, using momentum from the initial fall seem to fly over the Valley of Despair and others fall head first into it. It is crucial to understand that both responses are human and neither should be characterized or misjudged.

We can however leverage those who are already on the Acceptance trek to help those still in the valley. They cannot get out alone and the lifeline required is connection. Everyone finds acceptance in their own way and on their own time but what helps tremendously is hearing from others already there. It is these people that have begun to realize this is the section where you are powerful. Yes, new expectations are confusing so let’s define them. Yes, those familiar responsibilities are gone so let’s learn new ones. Armed with more information and now the power to affect, anxiety is left in the valley with the shadow of our former selves.

Change For Us

At the top, beyond Acceptance is Meaning. In a state of acceptance, we can still be hesitant to change. There’s a space in acceptance where one may not accept because they see the positives but because they have no energy left to oppose. When we discover the meaning, our disposition shifts from change being with us, to for us. It makes all the endeavors thus far seem worth it. “I can do more with this different position.”This will help me further my career.” In acceptance, the change is an object to be conquered. In meaning, the change is a mindset.

Finally, we reach the other side. We look back across the landscape and can appreciate the journey we took. With change complete we stand in a higher place, with knowledge and growth gained. More knowledge of our personal speed through the Valley of Despair. Deeper understanding of what we need to move from acceptance to meaning. A certain comradery with the others that supported you along the way. Most importantly, confidence that the next change will be met with less resistance and that ultimately change does not happen to us or against us, but with us and for us.

(What learnings have you uncovered during your times of change? Let me know in the comments here or on Facebook at facebook.com/WeCanShowUp!)