My favorite book as a kid was “The Little Engine That Could.” I had my parents read it to me over and over and over; I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to hear how the little engine overcame his fear and was able to climb the mountain by just repeating to himself, “I think I can, I think I can.”
That became my mantra — in my career, in my life. I CAN. I can have a great career. I can have a great relationship, a great social life, great health and so much more. I kept telling myself, “I can have it all, and it has to be perfect.”
I kept moving and pushing forward to cram in all of the things I wanted. My can-do attitude got me more responsibility at work. I had not one, not two, but three roles all at the same time. After a long day at work, no matter how exhausted I was, I’d rush off to see my friends or go to the gym. All day long, and even in the middle of the night, my mind would be thinking about all the things I needed to do now to get it all perfect.
One day I found myself in the eye of the storm of my own personal whirlwind. My body came to a complete halt — literally. One minute I was in a conversation; the next minute, I was on the floor unconscious. When I came to, I freaked. Questions like, “What if I had been driving a car when this happened?” surged through my shocked mind. The reality of it hit me hard. I could have easily lost my life.
I was plain exhausted, on edge and feeling burnt out, but I didn’t notice until my body gave out on me. I didn’t notice the red flags indicating that something was wrong, like being irritated on a daily basis by all sorts of things (like small requests from people that normally would not have bothered me), having brain fog, and struggling with recalling simple things like if I had sent an email or not. Worst of all, anxiety was a constant companion of mine – hypothetical disaster scenarios constantly plagued my mind.
If you are on the fast track to being burnt out and this is all sounding uncomfortably familiar, here are the first basic steps you can take to readjust and recoup:
Rome was not built in a day, and your life won’t be, either. Instant gratification is the norm today. We get texts, emails, downloads in a split second – but building a career, a relationship or running a marathon doesn’t happen that fast.
These things take consistent effort over time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you live your life? One moment, one step at a time. Celebrate the steps you are taking toward your goals and dreams, no matter how insignificant they may feel. Taking a seemingly small step forward can eventually lead you to the prize.
It’s OK if everything isn’t perfect. Let go of how things should be, or what you want them to be, and look honestly at how they are right now.
Think about it. The last time you achieved something in your life, did it go exactly the way you thought it would? Did all the steps it took to get there go like you thought they would? Accept where you are now. Detach yourself from how you think it should be and leave the possibilities open. There are many different ways to achieve a goal.
3. Reset your focus on what is truly important
In the book “Success Built to Last: Creating a Life that Matters,” author Jerry Porras notes that enduringly successful people developed the habit of always choosing in favor of things which have deep personal meaning for them.
With this in mind, focus on what you can realistically do in one day, one week and one year. Not everyone can climb Mount Everest tomorrow, but everyone can use tomorrow to begin preparing to climb it. If there is a goal or dream of yours that doesn’t light you up anymore, then scratch it off your list. Focus on what you want and enjoy.
What helped me was focusing on the top five things that were truly important and meaningful to me. My health became especially important, and made it to the top of my list. What top five things are important to you and give you a lot of satisfaction and joy?
My wish is for you to learn from my mistakes and not exhaust yourself so you can focus on what truly matters to you and have the energy to do it. There were things I was doing that I didn’t realize were not good for me and my health, even though I thought I had it right. Pay attention to those warning signs, and turn things around.