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Resilience is one of the top new words in pandemic parlance nowadays. Lots of articles and advice, but in my reading, I’ve not come across much which really penetrates the issue from the inside out.
Very few authors are actually talking from real experience: it’s mostly 3rd person (‘Teams’ and ‘leaders…’) and maybe the odd 1st person plural (‘we…’), but in this instance it’s time to share some personal experience:
I burnt out, and I built back better – and I’m talking about it now. That’s because I’ve spoken to too many people recently who are heading down the path I’ve already travelled, and it’s time to do something about it.
Whether or not you’re leading teams, here’s some advice borne from personal experience, which I hope helps:
Everyone’s resilient until they break – unfortunately you only find out your breaking point when it actually happens.
Physics wasn’t my best subject, but I do remember Hooke’s Law. It’s the law of elasticity in springs. Beyond a certain load threshold, springs stop being springs.
A similar principle applies in professional life, and in physical training. We can’t spend all our lives in a comfort zone because we don’t grow as individuals. A certain amount of stress is good for us – it keeps us alert, it stretches us, and in physical terms that’s what training is all about – we get fitter. But abnormal stress levels beyond ‘stretch’ are dangerous, and can have serious and long lasting effects. In my case I took 6 months away from work. I reached my breaking point – in retrospect, I probably should have seen it 2 years in advance.
Spot the signs of looming burn-out and take action before it’s too late.
It’s a marathon not a sprint
I love cycling. I’ve completed dozens of 100-mile rides, and there are so many lessons to import from the world on two wheels into working life:
- Feed & hydrate yourself regularly
- Don’t go off too hard
- Don’t spend too long in the red zone
- Max efforts must be brief
- Rest & recovery is as important as effort
Each of these points has its corollary in work. At Positive Momentum we’ve made this point in projects with numerous teams. It’s incumbent on both leaders (the coach) and colleagues (the athletes) to practice them.
I should have listened to my loved ones and close friends when they questioned my getting up at 5.15am nearly every morning to smash out a spin session before taking my daughter to the school bus and commuting into the city to arrive at my desk before 8am every morning. It wasn’t sustainable, and I found out to my cost.
Caring is sharing
We’re all familiar with this maxim in its conventional reverse form, but I argue that one of the most important ways to show you care about others around you is to occasionally show them your own vulnerabilities, especially if you are a leader.
That’s partly why I’m writing this: when I notice someone struggling, I’ve learned to resist the typical male instinct to solve problems immediately (it doesn’t work!), but instead to listen, and share a personal resonance. I know from being on both sides of those conversations that finding out that you’re not totally alone in feeling the way you do is a great comfort. It is indeed OK not to be OK sometimes. It happens, life’s complicated, and away from work, we each have our own plethora of things going on – elderly parents, moving house, or even country, looking after children; and when they all start oscillating in phase with each other it can turn tremors into quakes.
Be proud of yourself, stay true to yourself – don’t try to be someone you’re not
One of the biggest disruptors to my own personal wellbeing was thinking I had to become someone I wasn’t. I’m not talking about the imperative to continually evolve and adapt, that’s been fundamental to my career success; from TV producer to digital publisher, to consultant. I adapted to become fluent in spreadsheet formulas (thanks to early A-level maths), and I evolved to become a leader of managers, rather than a manager. What’s sacrosanct is who you are inside. In my case, my boss at the time wanted me to radically change my style to become more like them.
We all have a being at our core which is what makes us who we are – it is precious and unique. Don’t let anyone take away that from you, and if you’re a leader, help your team members be their true selves. Help them understand their own strengths and their qualities, and crucially know how they influence how they think, behave and react. The same qualities can be useful in some situations, and not so helpful in others, so the trick is to notice them in action and, where necessary, dial them up or down according to the situation. For example, I use my people-pleasing side to help me accept feedback, but then in completely different context I might deploy my sense of justice & principle when I find my people-pleasing running away with itself.
Keep nurturing the other parts of you which aren’t work – your work will benefit.
As humans we are polygonal. Work is one side of life – it’s not the whole story. Leaders must recognise this, to help their team-members realise it too.
The various sides of our lives can serve as inspiration and diversion from each other. For me, cycling can be an energiser for work, and is the perfect way to get some headspace or to mull a gnarly challenge subconsciously. (It’s also helped with the odd resilience analogy too.) Running my pop-up online radio station IsolationFM has accelerated my content creation, website building and podcasting capability, and it’s also given us a radical idea for colory.info, the community content platform that La Piazza launched in Italy.
Leaders, give space to allow your team members to nurture their other sides – the work you’re doing together will be richer for it.
Work changes shape all the time, and comes and goes, as lots of people have experienced recently. Your family and friends are there throughout. Look after them, and let them look after you too.