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Watch Out For Your Burnout Strengths

May 20, 2011

I always thought that posting about someone else’s blog post was lame and redundant, especially when all you are doing is repeating and summarizing the original blogger’s idea. Wouldn’t I rather be original and unique? 

Well. Yesterday that all changed after I read my friend Claire Burge’s post on her journey through career burnout, Three Things to Do When Your Career Hurts You.  This is one of the best stories I have read recently on career. I can’t say what struck me most about this piece.  Maybe it’s her blunt honesty. Or her insightful self-awareness. Or her persistance on the journey. Or her poetic writing voice, which must be heard in Clarie’s sweet South African accent. Or the fact that I imagined the movie version of this story, starring Keira Knightly.

Claire was feeling what we all feel at some point in our careers: a bland sense of malaise, showing up at work but not wanting to do anything, and not knowing why. Not one to sit around in her own stink, Claire made calls to 37 different industrial psychologists to find a resource to help get her career back on track. It was number 38 that helped her break through.

They got together and evaluated Claire’s career based on four criteria:

1. Her beliefs
2. Her core values
3. Her personality
4. Her skills: burnout and motivating skills
But there was something new here that caught Claire, and myself, completely off guard: Burnout skills? I’ve never heard of that before.
Burnout skills are the actions at which you excel, that people identify as your strong points but which drain you of motivation. They are unable to energise you and therefore deplete you without refueling you.
Apparently, Claire’s entire career had been built on her burnout skills. And she was withering away. Now she’s transformed her work into her energizing skills, and she comes home at the end of the day to her husband and says this: “It didn’t really feel like work today.”
The movie ends with a scene of Keira Knightly sitting in a Dublin cafe, laughing and chatting with a group of  hip, young professional co-workers from her cutting-edge consulting firm as they map out innovation plans to transform their latest client forever. The camera pans back to the busy street, then to the city skyline, and the music builds while the scene fades out as a jet stream crosses the clear blue sky.
Roll credits.  
You must read Claire’s post here.
17 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2011 5:34 am

    Brad, you are a classic! Thank you for sharing this. It wasn’t easy going through it but the breakthrough has been life changing.

    I hope more than anything that the story can help others to stop and evaluate where they are.

    Cheryl asked for a deeper explanation in the comments about the burnout and motivational skills. The assessment divided these into four categories:

    people, data, things and ideas.

    It would be useful for people to consider their careers in these categories if they plan to evaluate what motivates and sucks energy from them.

    • May 21, 2011 1:54 pm

      Claire, I think you should give more details on this process… So many people I have spoken with are very interested in this idea, so giving us an overview of the framework for identifying your burnout and motivational skills would be extremely helpful. It sounds like you would assess your level of energy or burnout on each of those four things: People, data, things and ideas? But I would need more info to really assess. I know that I love ideas, and get energy from writing reading and thinking and presenting big ideas. Data can be interesting, to an extent… Things, I have no idea what you mean there. And People, well, people can either give energy or extract. Managing people can be an energy-sucker, but having great, stimulating conversations with people, or helping people to develop and grow, can be very inspiring. That’s my quick drive-through.

  2. May 20, 2011 6:53 am

    This was a great article and I’ll be highlighting it at the Weekly Calling for Laity Lodge at your suggestion.

    What impressed me was that someone was able to dissect the problem and put it into categories of strengths and weaknesses.

    When you are burned out, your whole world is falling apart. By divvying things up, you can not feel so overwhelmed.

    • May 21, 2011 1:56 pm

      Good point, David. In addition, I think the very idea that utilizing your strengths may not necessarily lead to fulfillment and joy is a huge revelation. That some of your strengths will motivate you while others will just feel like you are obligated and weighed down to please someone else.

  3. May 20, 2011 6:54 am

    I forwarded Claire’s article to the beloved Swede (my husband) the other day after you tweeted it. If he knew where blog world was, I’m sure he’d be a Shrinking Camel follower. You find some great stuff. I’ve referred to Claire’s piece a number of times over the past couple of days–A lot of folks on the edge of burnout here in New England.

    • May 21, 2011 1:58 pm

      Yes, I have been talking about this a lot too. Funny the way you put about your husband unaware of where the blog world is… I know so many people in that category. I tell them about it, ask them to go to certain blog sites to read, but it somehow evades their interest. Must be a burnout skill for them.

  4. May 20, 2011 7:13 am

    Thanks for reminding me that I need to read Claire’s post.

    BTW, your first sentence here makes me laugh, because my post today riffs off one of yours–and says so.

    • May 21, 2011 2:00 pm

      Sheila, thanks for the shout-out on your blog site! I appreciate your referral back here and glad you got some interesting insights from that last post. I admire your ability to be grounded enough to make a mistake at work and not let it turn into an obssessive downward performance spiral. Yours is a a great story, too.

  5. May 20, 2011 8:57 am

    Pondering Claire’s words and yours. Thank you.

  6. May 20, 2011 10:29 am

    Lol! 🙂 She called 37, but it was # 38 who helped her? 🙂 You make me laugh.

    I think this is absolutely perfect. It takes wisdom to learn to say no to what others think you should be doing just because you’re capable. It takes courage to embrace the you who makes you happy (and ultimately will make others happy, after they are done being mad at you for denying their do-this requests 🙂

    • May 21, 2011 2:02 pm

      Well, it was Claire who named the magical 38th career-therapist, not me! I do think it is a fine display of tenacity and taking charge over one’s circumstances, rather than passively moping around in a bad funk. I admire Claire for making 38 calls to get what she needed. I probably would have stopped after 3 and given up all hope.

  7. May 21, 2011 3:46 pm

    It really is a brilliant concept to consider, isn’t it? I’ve been chewing on it, still working on coming to my own conclusions – you totally have to tell us how it ends up changing your career, Brad!

  8. May 21, 2011 9:35 pm

    What a flare for the dramatic! Love it.

  9. May 21, 2011 9:35 pm

    Wait, is that flair or flare? I’m too tired to figure it out.

  10. Gordon Atkinson permalink
    May 25, 2011 4:45 pm

    I read that post too. Wow, talk about being proactive! That girl doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen.


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