I Completely Burned out. Hitting rock bottom and my journey back to leadership
If you’ve stumbled across this blog post of mine from first reading my “about me” page, then I’m thrilled! You must want to get to know me. After reading this post, you’ll come to understand exactly why this little data geek found herself spending all her free time in pursuit of educating leaders with the knowledge to be better at acquiring the mandate to implement effective digital marketing from above while managing the implementation of this said strategy in their team down below.
One thing I know for sure is that having the courage to share my story has always led me to connection. So in pursuit of connection with those who I could happily call “my tribe”, here I am, sharing my raw and honest journey of self-discovery. The very journey that led me here. To rebuilding a blog and business that aims to act in service of those who may be feeling derailed and disconnected, on their very path to burnout, just as I was.
I burned out and then rebuilt myself from the ground up, and here’s what I learned.
The day I realised I’d burnt out was just like any other work day. I’d quit my 9-5 job in pursuit of the oh-so-alluring laptop lifestyle only a short 8 months prior.
I had a blog that had hit *viral status* within a few months of it launching, a six-figure private consulting career and a rolodex of high-paying clients, a feature in SmartCompany, keynote speeches and masterclasses at ProBlogger, radio guest appearances – and the opportunities kept on coming.
I was being pulled into a hundred different directions, saying “yes” to every opportunity in fear of turning any down, just in case I was to turn down the wrong one. The pressure to keep it up and do it all perfectly was relentless. The pressure of course, was all of my own.
I’d almost ‘had it all’ by the standards I was measuring myself against. My self-talk bullied me into practicing gratitude for all of the incredible opportunities that were before me. I’d expected to arrive here. At the destination for what “success” had looked like in my mind. What “success” I had visualised for myself for years prior to arriving here. So Why did I have to bully myself into practicing gratitude instead of actually just feeling it? Why didn’t it feel as good as I thought it would? In fact, why did it feel so lousy that it led me to a complete breakdown?
As it turns out, a complete break-down was what I needed in order to re-build.
It took me five months of deep discovery and self-examination for me to get clear on why this breakdown had happened. It was vital for me to reverse-engineer exactly what led me to this point, so that it could serve as a clear lesson, with labelled red flags and warning signs so I could be sure to implement the risk mitigation strategy for my life, and ensure it never happened again.
I had always considered myself to be a leader. This identify made up a big part of my self-concept. I had always taken the responsibility of leadership extremely seriously, knowing that to be a leader was to be someone that others relied on. What I didn’t realise, was that the biggest responsibility of all, was to prioritise my ability to self-lead and manage my ability to effectively contribute to my best thinking.
I wasn’t alone of course. In the process of determining exactly how I’d lost my way and martyred myself in pursuit of others goals, Whether they were mothers, big brothers and sisters, of business executives, I found a community of leaders all facing a similar struggle; finding it easy to prioritise others needs over their own. These examples helped me to identify the patterns. I learned my lesson and arrived at the conclusion: we must prioritise ourselves and maintain a sense of balance in order to be our most effective in leading others.
What I now needed was the “how”. The blueprint for how I would maintain it.
I didn’t know it then, but embarking on this process would lead me to uncover my true values and purpose for how I would spend the rest of my life.
I journaled, I read, I listened to podcasts and keynotes. I got curious about the decisions I had made and the influences that were surrounding me and asked myself how each of these made me feel.
Before I knew it, I was looking at a sheet of paper with two lists before me. One on the left hand side of the page and one on the right.
The left read: “People & behaviours that make me feel good”
The right: “People & behaviours that make me feel bad”
Then, I looked at the lists. There was no escaping the reality that I was living entirely in the left hand column, and while I desperately longed for it, I wasn’t making decisions that supported connection with the individuals or behaviours on the right.
I had carefully curated every single thing I ever acquired in my life up until that point. So why hadn’t I curated the people I was surrounding myself with and purposefully choosing behaviours that made me feel good?
How did I get so disconnected from the life that I had wanted to live?
I decided to conduct an experiment. I got curious about my “right life” list. What were the traits and qualities that I admired about these people?
What I landed with was a clear list of values and what was clear as day was that I had not been acting in alignment with them.
So what was I acting in alignment with? Who did this “self concept” of a leader I’d conjured up belong to? What was the blueprint for my decision making and what criteria was I was using to measure this “success” I had thought I’d achieved?
I looked back at my list. The people and behaviours I was engaging in were rooted in comparison. I wasn’t measuring myself against my values or expectations, I was measuring myself against the values and expectations of the people around me, or at least what I could observe of them.
I got caught up in chasing other people’s expectations for what “good” looked like in the hope that it would give me the permission slip to tell myself I was “good enough”.
In lieu of my own criteria sheet from which to measure myself against, I looked to others for their approval and validation that I was on the right path. But here’s what I’ve learned; validation is a substitute and chasing other people’s expectations will never fill the void of not living into your life’s purpose.
It wasn’t a conscious choice I was making. It insidiously crept up on me day after day, decision after decision until one day, I didn’t recognise who I saw in the mirror and the dissonance between who I was looking at and who I knew I wanted to be in the world was palpable. So palpable, that it led me to that complete breakdown.
I had perfectly adhered to the rulebook of other people’s expectations and their definition of success, yet I felt like a complete fraud, because it simply wasn’t my definition of success.
So it came time to rebuild. I used my new-found values as the foundation for what would become my own “criteria sheet” for which to measure my worthiness.
Here’s what it looks like:
|Protect the asset||That’s me, and it’s you – we’re the asset. |
Protecting our physical and mental health, knowing ourselves well enough to work with our strengths and weaknesses (without judgement), getting clear on what we will and will not sacrifice and actively pursuing activities that keep us in our most productive state, as it’s only when we have the bandwidth to engage curiosity that we can lead ourselves and others to greatness.
|Courage over comfort||The willingness to be vulnerable and lean into connection with others when there are no guarantees of safety or ‘success’. |
(Thanks to Brene Brown for that lesson)
|Acts of service||Choosing to sit outside of comparison which distracts and derails us from acting in a place of service for others and encourages us to act out of ego, painting a picture of perfectionism to onlookers.|
|Break down barriers||Acknowledging the very real fear of judgement and befriending the feeling so it doesn’t hamstring us from reaching our potential or acting in alignment with our purpose.|
It is the ongoing pursuit of the things on my criteria sheet, that leave me feeling “good” in my human experience and it’s my commitment to you, dear reader and fellow leader as we embark upon this journey together.
All in all, here’s what I’ve learned and what I now keep myself accountable to:
When others praise us for achievements, they are offering praise for our ability to align to their criteria sheet. It is therefore meaningless unless we too believe in our accomplishments and any futile attempt to seek out praise from others will only ever provide a substitute for the validation we crave.
We have to learn to validate ourselves by understanding what we value and being compassionate as we strive towards acting in alignment with those values, regardless of whether we do so consistently, or if we fall short from time to time.
As leaders, we have so many things to balance, things and people we are responsible for.
To be good leaders and be of service to the world, we require the mental bandwidth to discern the right few things that matter the most from the vast many that vie for our attention.
To do this, we must get to know ourselves first. Our values, our purpose and what fulfils us, our wellbeing and what keeps us feeling anchored to our sense of self.
It’s at this point we can clearly identify what sacrifices we may willing to make (or not make) and where our boundaries must be, to keep us at our most productive, effective selves (which we simply must be if we choose to be leaders)..
It is then and only then that we can achieve what greatness is to us, sustainably, and that (to me) is what successful looks like now.
So now that you’ve got to know me, you can probably join the dots for why what I teach is about discerning the few from the many to make our most effective decisions that free up our time and afford ourselves the opportunity to scale, sustainably,
If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, I’d take a guess that you’re someone who feels as though they’re at risk of falling into the perfectionism trap too – and if that’s you, I’d love to go on this journey with you.
What I teach isn’t for everyone. It’s for leaders who are feeling their inner voice is becoming one of imposter syndrome, second guessing your decisions and leading you to spread yourself thinly across opportunities in attempt to validate your thinking and find certainty (in lieu of feeling confident).
There is no certainty of course, there’s simply our best and most effective leadership.
My mission is to keep you focused on what matters.
Stick with me and I’ll arm you with the best bits of everything I know about digital from my decade working in it (so you’re not getting pulled into a hundred different directions “trying it all”), as well as everything I’ve learned about maintaining the mindset to make the best merit based, high performing strategic decisions in marketing.
So are you with me?
Let’s get clear on your values, build your criteria sheet for what success looks like for you and start feeling like the powerful marketing leaders we are.