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Tom Cools
Tom Cools

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Burnout: Looking the monster in the eye

Early september 2019, it finally happened.
I had been ignoring the warning signs for years.
Instead of pacing myself for the marathon which is a career, I sprinted, running ever faster, harder, better... only to fall on my face.
I had burned out.

That was 4 months ago and I have started working a couple of days a week now.
As we reach this phase of my recovery, I want to take the time to list some of the things which helped me get back on top.

Some ground rules

There are a lot of blogs who talk about burnout without further context. To avoid the same trap, here are some baselines for this post.

  • Blog posts (including this one) are not replacements for professional help. Most of the activities in this post were suggested or inspired by my psychologist.
  • The books, videos and activities listed in this post helped me. We are all unique individuals and discovering what works for you is your own personal journey... but maybe some of my stuff will inspire you.
  • This post is not about work re-integration, both because I'm just starting that phase and your work situation might be very different from mine.

Looking the monster in the eye

During one of our first sessions, my psychologist and I went over a questionnaire.
I got top marks! Unfortunately, the questions were derived from the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the most recognized test for Burnout.

You can do a semi-official test here.
If you take this test and are troubled by the result, consult a professional.

After a week or 2 of growing some acceptance for my situation, my psychologist and I found that the best next step would be to learn more about burnout.
She gave me the notes she had from a recent seminar, which were a good starting point but a bit too academical for my liking (and current state of mind). After some searching I did find some other sources to learn from which I will share with you here.

Video: Understanding Burnout - Prof. Christina Maslach (U.C. Berkeley)

Who better to tell you a bit more about burnout than one of the co-authors of the Maslach Burnout Inventory?
Prof. Christina Maslach is well known as one of the pioneers in work-related burnout.
In this video she focuses a lot on a mismatch between person and job, which I didn't really relate to. It does give a nice introduction to the problem.

Book: Overcoming burnout in 30 days - Carien Karsten

The title of this book should have been "Overcoming burnout in 30 steps", as even the author herself admits in the opening chapter that for most people it will take longer. (Hurray for marketing...)
Despite this, the book offers a great balance between practical advice and (simplified) scientific information.

This is not a book you read in a single day. Every chapter is chore, in a good way.
Getting out of a burnout requires serious effort and thought. In that sense, this book could be considered to be more of a workout plan than a magazine to leisurely browse through.

Video: The Burnout Gamble - Hamza Khan

There are a lot of talks about Burnout on Youtube.
I watched nearly all of them, at least the ones the algorithms allowed me to find.
A lot of them are quick fix-style talks, talking about this one thing you can change to make it all better.
Others were incredibly personal experiences where it seems to be more important for the speaker to have an audience, someone to listen to what happend to them than it is to say something of value.

Amids all of this, there is one talk that stood out. While it did seem to start off as just another personal story, Hamza's story is meant to reinforce his message, it is not the core of the talk.
He explains the different phases of burnout and gives some practical advice on how to move forward.
All while pulling in references to greek mythology, basketball legends and casino-style gambling.

Hamza's talk resonated with me a lot because I consider myself to be a recovering overachiever.
I too kept going while everyone around me told me I was doing more than enough already.
Wether you fall into this same group or not, I believe this is a must-see.

It's not the fire that's the problem,
it is the absence of the fire that's the issue. - Hamza Khan

I have not yet read Hamza's book (The Burnout Gamble) but if it is as entertaining and revealing as his talks, it should be a great read.

The Round-Up

These are the top 3 resources which gave me more insight into burnout.
If you want to learn more, I think some of Prof. Christina Maslach's books or even some of her papers are a safe bet.

In the next post, I will write about some activities which helped me recharge my batteries again.
If you have anything else burnout-related you would like me to talk about, leave a note in the comments.

Take care out there and love yourself! <3

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