As a career coach, I've seen a huge uptick in executive burnout within my practice over the last couple of years. Changes in the economy, massive business disruption, the impact of politics on business, trouble finding qualified employees, a predicted market correction, the need to change jobs, etc. The pressure adds up. And, with Millennials now officially making up more than half the workforce, many seasoned executives are fearful they'll be pushed out and replaced completely, forcing them to stress out over how they can stay profesionally relevant. To make things worse, most of these executives started out in denial that they even had a problem. They ignored the warning signs. I call these the "executive blues" and they're the pre-curser to full burnout.
No. 1 Sign You've Got The Executive Blues
As someone who has experienced the executive blues first-hand, there are actually four common warning signals you're headed towards burnout. But, one in particular is the most compelling. It's when you can't emotionally excited about opportunities or set goals that get you revved up like you used to. Many executives write this off to being more seasoned and wise. They say, "I know more now than I did as you young worker, so there's less excitement." Yes, I used to think that too. Until I learned I was completely wrong...
Success Creates Rocks & Too Many Rocks Will Slow You Down
The shocking thing about the executive blues is they're actually caused by success. Executives rise to the top because they intentionally try to learn from from their work experiences. They assess everything that happens to them on the job and self-identify pivotal events in their careers as either "good" or "bad". Catagorizing their experiences aids them in deciding what to do, or not do, in the future. Here's the problem with this process: over time, all the experiences labeled as negatives become like rocks in your brain. You carry them around with you as a reminder of what you percieve as wrong or bad. Over time, executives accumulate so many of these rocks that they become mentally exhausted from the weight of them. While they thought they learned something from the experiences, they actually failed to grow from them. It's part of the Experience + Learn = Grow model I now teach professionals to master. Learning isn't enough, you must be able to let the emotion associated with the experience go. That's the proof you have truly grown. And, it's the only way to drop the rocks, lighten the mental load, and free your brain up to get excited about the future.
I Should Know, Because This Happened To Me At Age 33
I was at the height of my coporate career. As a female executive, I had broken the glass ceiling and was making a substantial six-figure income in a high-profile leadership role. However, mentally I was miserable. I couldn't see any new goals worth setting for myself in my career. Nothing sparked my excitement. I felt drained. However, instead of recognizing my executive blues, I swallowed my feelings and kept reminding myself there were millions of women (and men!) who would kill to be in my position. The result? I ended up with executive burnout. To fix it, I ultimately ended up quitting my job and taking a year off to raise my newborn child while finding a new direction. However, while I'm glad I did this, it's not something I advise my clients to do. In fact, part of the reason I chose to get into career coaching was to help others avoid getting to this point.
P.S. The Sooner You Own What You're Feeling, The Faster You Can Fix It
Executives feel insane pressure to look and act successful. Feeling blue or depressed isn't something they show outwardly for fear of it hurting their professional reputation. For good reason. If you're in a key role in an organization and claiming you mentally don't feel right, you could put your job at risk. But, that doesn't mean you should deny it. Find a trusted colleague or mentor (not a family member as they tend to be subjective), and discuss privately what you are feeling. Being able to sort out the rocks weighing you down is the first step to removing them and feeling better about your future as an executive.