Sharan founder Polly and I met about four years ago, working on the National Domestic Violence Helpline in central London. I’ll always remember going for dinner with Polly one evening – I’d just been offered a new job and was in negotiations around the kind of package I wanted. Polly proceeded to give me the most empowering pep talk about how I must be confident and ask for what I needed. My new employers ended up accepting my request! And I am still so grateful to Polly for that advice.
Since accepting that job I spent several more years of my life working in the Womens’ support sector. I did front line work, supporting women in incredibly difficult situations, often with a lack of resources and an even greater lack of support from the institutions that were meant to protect them in the first place.
The work was hard yet fulfilling, upsetting yet inspiring and certainly a great learning curve. However, with a personal lack of understanding about the importance of self-care when working in this field, I ended up burning out after four years intensive work in the sector.
When you burn out you feel like a failure, and you feel like a bit of a fraud too because you’ve gone head long into something, telling everyone around you how perfect this opportunity is for you, and then, tail between your legs, you have to surrender and say ‘I give up’.
Which is what I did. But by surrendering to burn out I opened a new door.
I left my job and embarked on a personal development journey that took me to places emotionally that I had never dreamed of. I started to be really aware of all of my emotions, seeing each one as beautiful and a signifier that I was alive, I was feeling. Because when you reach burn out, your emotions disappear and you’re left feeling numb and resource-less. The route to re-claiming my feelings started by employing a coach, training with The Coaches Training Institute, reading books by Danielle LaPorte, Tony Robbins, Jess Ainscough, James Redfield, Gabby Bernstein and Deepak Chopra. Taking up meditation, yoga, cycling and swimming. Taking these actions meant I started looking after myself and learning myself on a deeper level. Which, basically, re-ignited my flame.
I do believe, had I known the importance of self-care and self-development all those years ago I’d have been able to work in a more sustainable way, and potentially stay in the sector. I’ve always felt working to empower women has been my calling and now several years after leaving the women’s sector I am seeing new opportunities to re-enter the field. But this time, I have done the internal work first, and feel more energised, nourished and empowered to do so.
I learnt a lot in my journey into and out of burn out, but these five fundamental truths stood out:
Burn out truth #1 – Burn out happens to passionate people.
If you’ve burnt out it means you probably threw your whole self into something, you are not a failure, in fact you’re a success for having the guts to try it in the first place.
Burn out truth #2 – Burn out is temporary.
Although it feels powerless to be burnt out, once you acknowledge it’s happening, you can then make changes in your life to move on.
Burn out truth #3 – Life doesn’t have to be complicated to be fulfilling.
People who burn out often have a lot of thoughts whizzing round in their head. Society would have us believe we need to be doing loads of things in order to achieve success. The opposite is in fact true. In order to achieve real success the trick is to slow life down and think about who you are being as much as what you are doing.
Burn out truth #4 – If you look after yourself as a priority, you can then get on with making the change you’re meant to make in this world.
Often people who burn out prioritise making others happy. This is an amazing quality, but in order to achieve this in a sustainable way, the focus firstly has to be on you, and then you’re energised to support those around you.
Burn out truth #5 – After burn out, the flame comes back bigger, brighter and in a more sustainable way.
If you acknowledge you have burnt out and bring in support to help you through it in the form of a coach, books, meditation, yoga, you will have more tools in your toolbox to move on in life. See burn out as a gift, an opportunity to stop, recoup, change gear, and go on another adventure with a renewed energy and a more sustainable internal flame.
By Hannah Massarella