For better or worse, one of the defining characteristics of an American workforce used to be that we’d never leave our desks. We’re considered to be workaholics, forever obsessed with the next project, the next deadline, and the next deal. Yet now, when I talk to my friends from overseas, I see them stretched thin with the same hurried pace that had marked us for over two generations. Except for maybe Brazil, where a good conversation is always valued more than the next appointment, it seems we’ve lost the ability to unplug. Worse, we’re hitting professional burn out and not even realizing it.
Leading one the of the top firms in the United States, Harmeet Dhillon of Dhillon Law Group, is entrenched in one of the most aggressive industries that faces its fair share of burn out. Harmeet classifies burn out with the following five symptoms, saying “You know you have it when you are getting irritable, depressed, biting people’s heads off, procrastinating, unable to focus.” For her, the solution is based in changing your relationship with your profession. Rather than being shackled to it, as is the case with professionals in the most demanding industries, you need to learn how to balance it with an outside outlet. In a conversation, Harmeet encourages professionals to “get over it by changing up the routine — going for a walk, buying something nice for yourself (even a pedicure will do) or in my case, I make it a must to knit regularly which relieves stress, is meditative, and I produce stuff out of the process which makes me happy. And it’s not work.”
I couldn’t agree more with Harmeet. The minute something you love feels like work, it’s time for you to step away. This is particularly true if you’re in a challenging position where a lot is required of you. When you reach a point where you dread going to your desk and turning your computer on, it’s a sign that you need to head in the other direction.
Sometimes the problem isn’t the nature of the work, it’s the location. Veteran teacher and now a new entrepreneur, Brandon Carter has always been willing to pack up and head out for greener pastures to explore personal and professional growth opportunities. After spending the last 7 or so years in Korea and New Zealand, and traveling across America, Brandon is now onto his next adventure. He must be onto something, because having known him for over ten years, I’ve yet to ever see him lose his curiosity and enthusiasm. There are days where I feel battle-worn, while Brandon is eternally rejuvenated. So I asked him the same question: what do you do when you feel professionally burned out?
“This is an easy one,” he writes. “I move to another city/state/country. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time staying interested in my work. A year or two pass and I start to dread the coming day. Moving around from state to state and country to country provides a big change in my daily routine and helps me maintain my career sanity. Fresh faces, new procedures and an unfamiliar environment all provide a new outlook on life. I am moving to North Carolina next week to start a new career, but this time it looks like its permanent. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.”
Embracing a new type of work is exactly what Arthur Bearden recommends to escape burn out. Bearden, one of the more reliable and capable software and IT guys I’ve ever had to pleasure to work with, recommends avoiding burnout by changing industries. In his case this is easy, since according to him, “Software spans all industries so there’s always a new and interesting way to apply it.”
If you can’t change the nature of the work, your location, or your industry – then perhaps your solution is just to take a good old break. We used to call them vacations.