Avoiding Burnout

First, let me say that I’m not at all qualified to write an article on burnout, much less give you advice on how to avoid it or recuperate from it. All I have going for me is my experience with burnout – or at least that’s what I call it. It was a period of time where I went from being totally stoked with life in all that I was doing to a feeling of total helplessness and hopelessness. Some would say what I experienced was a series of traumatic experiences while others will say I had a nervous breakdown. Both are true I suppose.  

So, what can I say I’ve learned from having survived these 4 extremely difficult years? Here are a few observations of what happened from my own obviously skewed and biased point of view.  

Can’t happen to me.

Some of you may know this song from Charlie Major. The lyrics go: “it’s always someone else, you see it can’t happen to me”. It’s a great song (especially if you like Country Music) but the lyrics now have more meaning to me than ever before because that is part of the reason for my crash and burn. I never imagined I could fall from so high. I obviously wasn’t vigilant enough. Too confident? Too cocky? I don’t know for sure. Maybe. But I think if I had been a bit more careful about my own mental wellbeing as soon as signs appeared, I may have fared better.  

Too trusting.

 I’ve always been extremely trusting of others around me. Some will argue that trust is a good thing and yes, of course it is. It’s necessary, in fact. But be careful who you trust. I made the error of trusting contractors for my building project too much and one by one, I kept getting taken by them, for a total of nearly $800,000. Was I naïve? Of course. Was I checking up on them and holding everyone accountable? Evidently not enough.  

Failure to recognize the pain around me.

I failed to recognize that while I was dealing with all this trauma, my inability to cope and deal with everyday work decisions put undue stress on the people around me who depended on my leadership. This eventually led to them questioning my leadership and, to some extent, abandoning ship at a time I was most vulnerable. Needless to say, at first, I felt terribly betrayed by these people close to me that I trusted. I now see that they were simply coping the only way they knew how and it was never malicious. I was simply another victim.  

Failure to seek help early.

 I should have sought medical and psychological help much sooner. Medication and therapy were what I needed- and really needed both badly. Fortunately for me, I’ve never been a person who saw the need to get medication or therapy as a sign of weakness. I just noticed the need to get them too late.   

Failure to take care of myself.

Something I’ve learned in working with my therapist and finding strategies to recuperate is the need to be more selfish and take care of myself.   

So, what have I learned and what can I offer you?  

Here are some of the better takeaways I can recommend to you.  

Find out what burnout entails.

 You may be surprised to find out that it doesn’t always come from working too many hours (which is what I believed). My burnout didn’t happen when I was working my 3,000 hours a year as I once did. In fact, I would say that my mind was healthiest when I was working those 3,000 hours a year. Despite the tremendous stress and long hours of those years, I was focused, did everything with purpose, and really made the best of every minute of every day, especially with the little time I spent with my family. I believe burnout is mostly associated with a lack of fulfillment. It’s working too hard for too little reward and feeling unappreciated and taken advantage of by your clients, your team, and maybe even your family. These factors give way to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  

Pay attention to your mental wellbeing.

 My therapist shared with me that everything we do will fall into one of 3 categories and suggested that I make a list of all things that:  

  1. Fill my tank 
  2. Empty my tank 
  3. Have no impact on my tank

Strangely, this exercise proved to be more difficult than I would have thought. It may have had to do with my horrible state of mind at the time, but here’s what I came up with:  

  • Fill my tank  
  • Motorcycle riding (you guys really need to check out the Indian motorcycle I’ve got)  
  • Quad riding in extremely muddy trails (the more stuck I get, the better)  
  • Paint-balling (funny how shooting others was very therapeutic – getting shot at not so much)  
  • Mentoring other practitioners (extremely fulfilling and good)  
  • Coaching people on my team  
  • Live speaking engagements to an engaged audience  
  • Helping clients with their tax and business challenges  
  • Spending time with my family (including my brothers and sisters)  
  • Many small and sometimes physical activities like taking walks would not have a huge impact on filling the tank but did at least a bit  
  • Empty my tank  
  • Dealing with any/all stupid government officials who have no common sense (tremendous drain)  
  • Dealing with anybody who lacked integrity or caring  
  • Seeing stupid things posted on Facebook (weird how that annoyed me so much)  
  • This list was extremely long and exhaustive, so I will therefore stop here
  • Have no impact on my tank  
  • Watching T.V.  
  • Reading non-self-help books  
  • Mowing the grass or snow blowing the yard.  

What my therapist then recommended I do was find ways of doing a lot more of the things that filled my tank. She recommended I get rid, stop, or delegate all things that emptied the tank. And she recommended I maybe spend less time watching T.V and spending more time doing things that filled the tank.  

I would strongly recommend that if you make that list, consider  stopping doing things like:  

  • Listening to the news (it’s all bad and most of what they’re saying is not entirely true anyway)  
  • Doing the tasks you really hate (you’ll be amazed at how other people will enjoy doing the things you hate and by how well they can do them if you provide some trust and a bit of coaching – so delegate.)  
  • Spending time with those negative people of your life (you know who they are; identify them and avoid them all if you can)  

I would recommend you do more of the following:  

  • Spend time with those who make you feel better about you and life in general  
  • Increase physical activity (if you hate exercising as much as I do, just go for walks, do some gardening and other yard work. Cycling and swimming on a nice day doesn’t feel like exercise)  
  • Eat better (the internet is full of information on this)  
  • Hammock time (just time to relax and smell the flowers) maybe with a glass of wine alone or with a friend  
  • Pray, meditate, yoga, etc. (something I used to do regularly (praying) but am struggling with lately – working on it)  

Research the brain.

Find out all you can about how the mind works and how to control it better when it goes crazy on you.   
And finally, do not hesitate to get professional help from a psychologist, medical doctor, pastor, life coach, mentor, or whoever floats your boat.   
Doing what you should do and avoiding what you shouldn’t, will mean the difference between crash and burn and having a healthy prosperous life.  

But hey, what do I know?  

Did you enjoy this article?

Last month, Jean-Guy delivered a session for CPA Manitoba’s public practitioners on a Personal Perspective: Recognizing Signs of Practitioner Burnout and Stress in Ourselves. As you prepare for the upcoming tax season remember to take a break and work on activities that fill your tank. 

For more topics that Jean-Guy can deliver to your team and your members, visit the website