Burnout for Beginners: Knowing when to call it

It’s the affliction of ‘busy’ that’s turning many of us — silently, dangerously — into toast. Are you able to recognise burnout, lead through it and, most importantly, know when to ‘call it?

“I am fine.”

Red flag number 1: Not a thing wrong with me.

This is what happens when we’re going full throttle. We’re always ‘fine’. We’re always ‘okay’ — because the truth is — we’re too busy, too exhausted, too apathetic not to be. And so? We miss the signs.

“This could happen, but it will never happen to me”. But it does. Silently, and aggressively. And you don’t even realise it. What happened to the days when your stress was obvious to yourself; when a mental breakdown physically manifested itself in front of you? Now it takes a company, a best friend or a close encounter to pick up on your red flags, way before you do. This is dangerous — and it’s infiltrating our workforces. Going faster is slowing us down, and this is the premise of a broken economy. 

With an increased demand for instant gratification and unrealistic productivity, we’re all flying our planes on autopilot hoping someone else will land us, softly. But what happens if there is no one in our cockpit to help raise our hand? What happens when everyone around us is also too busy to notice the stress alarms we’re sending off? Some of us get lucky, but many of us don’t.

In a world where ‘time off’ is regarded as ‘courageous’, the human species is dealing with a tarnished perspective on what it truly means to achieve a work-life balance. There is simply no time to ‘crash and burn’; and with Covid-19 in the mix, we’ve jumped the queue straight through to Survival 101.

Did you know that before an aeroplane takes off at 280km per hour it must taxi? The direct meaning of which is: ‘to move on the ground under its own power’. It must taxi – not maybe, not might – must! Before a plane can take off successfully, the taxi part of the ride is non-negotiable. It must approach the runway slowly. Slowly, and with precision. If a plane doesn’t taxi, it can never take off – and neither will we.

We tend to think the harder we push the more we’ll achieve and the more we’ll contribute to our performance and our teams. Burnout loves the over-performer. But here’s the bitter pill: the harder you push, the weaker you become and the less value you add – to your work, yourself and your relationships.

The solution? ’Call Taxi’. Think of it as the slow before the real go. ‘Calling Taxi’ on your life is the red flag before the white flag. We’ve rounded up 4 signs of knowing when to sound the alarm before your burnout renders you wounded and wingless.

  1. Call it when… there’s a jam on the runway

Oftentimes, we take on too much which leads to a bottleneck of stress, which leads to over-promising, under-delivering and eventually – rehab. Call Taxi.

  1. Call it when… ‘Always On’ becomes a way of life

With increased access to technology, we are always on, meaning we never take a break, meaning even if we’re not at work, we’re still at work. Shut down your devices. Call Taxi.

  1. Call it when… you’re running too fast

The frantic rush we find ourselves in has become a counter-productive time bomb. ‘Slowing down to speed up’ is one of Tich Nacht Han’s wisest adages. Spinning and can’t see? Call Taxi.

  1. Call it when… you secretly know you should

The biggest problem with burnout is our silence, and the stigma it carries when we need to STOP. Always remember: Asking for help is not only necessary; it’s an unmatched leadership quality.