Cutting edge as the bleeding edge: Avoiding burnout on your path to success

There is a constant pressure for founders to keep their company in the limelight and on the radar of people that matter. What can you do right here, right now, to manage or change the probability of hitting a burnout?

By Tanvi Gautam - CEO of Leadershift Inc

It was just another c-suite coaching session till this powerful woman, the one they all looked up to, the one who brought in the top dollars, broke down and wept as though someone had died.

And upon holding some space for her and trying to figure out what happened, I realized someone did die. It was a part of herself. That version of her that inspired her and kept her working with a spring in her step had long gone. She was crumbling under the mounting pressure of delivering more and keeping up with a very alpha male leadership style of the company culture. It was a rare moment that she let her guard down with me. She was burnt out. She was running on empty. And she was ready to throw in the towel.

The phenomenon of burnout is not confined to the corporate circles alone. Plenty of it exists in the world of entrepreneurship as well. There is a constant pressure for founders and startups to keep the company in the limelight and on the radar of people that matter. Lack of resources and bootstrapping takes a toll that they are afraid to admit for fear of being deemed a failure.

Being at the cutting edge of things is often deemed a virtue, but the cutting edge is also the bleeding edge and we have to learn to manage how deep the cut goes.

Total burnout never happens without warning signs. Exhaustion, lack of interest in non-work-related life, sleeplessness, nagging anxiety about nothing, unfulfillment and overwhelm are signals that demand attention. Often people ignore these signs and consider them normal tradeoffs of the demanding schedules of today. This line of thinking itself is toxic.

So, what can you do right here, right now, to manage or change the probability of hitting a burnout?

Firstly, inspired purpose is the key to sustainable success.

If you don't have an inspired purpose for yourself, it gets very, very difficult to deal with the challenges that come your way as you rise through the ranks. We have all read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In - and while I am a fan of her work, I think there is a conversation that needs to happen before you step up, speak up and lean in. You have to ask yourself: What is your inspired purpose? What is your version of success that matters most to you?

Secondly, burnout at work is not just about stress. It is also about loneliness, according to a Harvard Business Review article.

The myth of the lone ranger - like a Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk - is pushed hard by the media. However, no person is an island. Loneliness is not just about lack of a social support system at work, but also in your personal life. Sometimes families are not supportive of career choices of women. Husbands can get competitive too. Children demand attention as do aging parents. Working oneself into the ground is almost exalted, but there is a cost to pay.

Don’t buy into the ‘I am so busy’ trap. If you find yourself constantly declining social invites because you are too exhausted or feel like you are better off investing more in your work when people NORMALLY take a break, you need to change your attitude. It may help you to know that according to research, productivity itself goes down when one experiences loneliness. Ask yourself – how are you investing in a social network that has your back?

Thirdly, what is your relationship to yourself and your self-worth?

Is your sense of self tied to validation through others? Some of us feel we have to earn the right to be seen, heard and acknowledged. And to win this right we over-give, over-deliver, overdo and peg our feeling of achievement to the external applause. Do you feel you can’t ever drop the ball and must always exceed expectations to be worthy of the love and attention you get? Do you resent how you keep doing for others but no one cares enough to thank you or do something for you? These are all signs of collapse of boundaries with others. You have to ask yourself where are you overdoing things just so you can be validated for the actions you take. Brené Brown has famously said that worthiness has no pre-requisites. It is time you realized that your worth cannot be tied to a list of accomplishments, titles or a dress size. 

Finally, no article or talk is going to change your life till you decide to take ownership for your journey. Ask yourself daily - what is the cost of success for you? And are you willing to pay for it with your mental, physical and emotional well-being. No success is worth that price.




Dr. Tanvi Gautam, CEO of Leadershift Inc is a best-selling author of “The Spark lies within: And other secrets of women leading inspired and authentic lives” (www.thesparklieswithin.com). She is a keynote speaker and executive coach for leadership in the age of disruption. Tanvi is also the founder of Asia’s only global women and leadership program at Singapore Management University. Follow her on LinkedIn.