It’s scary, isn’t it?
If you’ve ever been there before, you know exactly what I’m talking about too.
The feeling of complete mental and emotional burnout.
Most of you already know this, but I took the past three weeks off from everything.
No Monday morning blog posts. No inspirational status updates on my Facebook page or Twitter feed. No computers, no emails, and no writing. Nothing.
Just me taking a much-needed vacation in Hawaii (Kauai, to be specific) with my family to clear my head and recover from the worst burnout that I have ever experienced in my life to date.
Here’s a little context about where this burnout came from: Right now, I’m working 50+ hours a week as a Director at a Top-5 U.S. Hospital, I’m maintaining The Positivity Solution blog each week (and its social media pages every day), I’m working hard to be the best husband and father that I can possibly be (which are my most important jobs, by far), and with whatever time is left, I’m trying to squeeze in time to sleep and have a social life.
And unsurprisingly, I epically failed to keep juggling all of those balls in the air. My health, the quality of my work, and yes, my positivity all suffered mightily because of it.
On Monday July 21st, at the lowest point of my burnout, I hit the “Publish” button on my last blog post (which I can now admit that I wrote in an attempt to kick my own ass into gear), and I stared lifelessly at my computer screen with absolutely nothing left in the tank and nothing left to give.
So, I walked away.
And as I was walking away, do you want to know what the worst part was?
It was the weird, misguided feeling that I couldn’t share any of this with you.
I’m Mr. Positivity, right? Admitting that I was feeling overwhelmed and broken down are signs of negativity and weakness, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong.
Being real and authentic are signs of positivity and strength. Even though I knew that, I struggled to believe it when I was in the depths of burnout.
And on the beaches of Kauai, as I worked to recharge my batteries and find myself again, I gave some serious thought to what it really means to be strong.
Unfortunately, I was wrong about a lot of it.
Myth #1: Strong People Don’t Publicly Admit Their Mistakes
I’m embarrassed to say that I fell hook, line, and sinker for this ridiculous myth.
As The Positivity Solution started to gain traction and become more and more popular, I started to do something that I thought that I would never do:
Change who I was.
In the past few months, I received very kind and super-sweet emails from people saying, “You are the most powerful force of positivity that I have ever met!” or “I am using you as the example for how I am going to raise my son.”
Whoa, that’s a big freaking deal. And truthfully, it was a deal that I wasn’t quite ready for.
For some strange reason, after receiving those emails (and others like them) I felt compelled to start acting like I was a “Positivity Superhero” who never had bad days, who feared nothing, and could destroy all forms of negativity without even breaking a sweat.
You might not have noticed it as much as I felt it, but living up to this persona was starting to eat me alive.
That’s because I do have bad days. I do have fears. Most of all, just like everyone else, I’m battling like crazy to deal with the negativity in my life–and many of those battles are ones that I don’t win.
If you’ve been following me for a while, then you already know that I’m a very positive guy…but I’m also far from perfect. Sadly, I felt like I needed to be perfect in order for people to care about me, this blog, or most importantly, my lifelong dream of making this world a more positive place.
And that’s the mistake that has burned me out the most.
It’s also a mistake that I will never make again.
The truth is that is takes strength to admit our imperfections. It takes strength to admit our mistakes. Most of all, it takes strength to be completely real and risk disappointing people who thought you were someone else.
So here’s the real deal: I’m a positive guy and I want to create a more positive world as much as I want to breathe, but that doesn’t make me immune from negativity, fears, self-doubt and making mistakes…lots of them.
Screwing up is a part of life, because it’s what makes us human. The real strength comes from having the courage to admit our mistakes and the wisdom to correct those mistakes as quickly as humanly possible.
Myth #2: Strong People Don’t Need to Take a Break
Many years ago, I used to work with a guy named Rick. He was one of those guys who prided himself on putting in 12-13 hour days at the office (and for giving anyone the stink eye if they were “lazy enough” to leave the office after only putting in 8 hours.)
He also liked to brag to anyone who would listen about the fact that he hadn’t taken a vacation in close to 10 years. Do you know how Rick’s story ended? (I’m sure that you do.)
Unfortunately for Rick, he ended up with heart trouble, divorced, his two children barely even know who he is, and most predictably of all, due to overworking himself, the quality of his work deteriorated to the point where he was eventually laid off from the company that he gave most of his adult life to.
And it was all in the name of showing everyone how strong he was by not needing to take a break.
Thankfully, unlike Rick, my relationship with my wife and girls is going great, but the sad truth is that before my vacation, I was cluelessly following down the same dead-end road that he already traveled.
I spent a lot of my nights and weekends doing work for my day job, I was feverishly writing blog posts, constantly answering an insurmountable mountain of emails, sleeping less than three hours a night, ignoring heart palpitations, and driving myself past the point of human exhaustion, instead of playing with my little girls, spending quality time with my wife and friends, and focusing on what’s really important.
It was embarrassing, dangerous, and if you’re keeping score at home, it’s the second mistake that will never happen again.
The truth is everything in our lives suffer when we don’t take a break from working. Our minds need the break, our bodies need the break, and most of all, our loved ones need us to take a break.
So please, make it a priority to use your vacation time (all of it, ideally), leave the office on time as much as possible, stop answering work emails on nights and weekends, have some fun with the people you care about, get some meaningful sleep consistently, and most importantly, take the time to take care of YOU.
You can’t be strong, you can’t do your best work, and you can’t give your best to your loved ones, to your job, or to anyone else if you’re burned out.
Trust me on this one.
Myth #3: Strong People Don’t Need to Ask for Help
Asking for help is tough. It can put you in a vulnerable spot because it is basically admitting that you don’t know something, or that you can’t do something without someone else to support you.
I used to believe that doing things without asking for help was the epitome of strength. “Used to” are the key words in that sentence.
The truth is nothing meaningful can be done alone. Every successful person from Oprah Winfrey to LeBron James to Steve Jobs to Mr. & Mrs. Richards (hi Mom and Dad!) realized that they needed help in order to live their best lives.
So, who was I to think that I could do anything meaningful all by myself? Pure insanity.
Yep, you guessed it–not asking for help when I needed it the most is the third mistake that I will never make again.
It was when I was at my lowest point a couple of weeks ago that I finally woke up and realized the stupidity of this myth.
When I wasn’t feeling very positive, I reached out to some of my closest friends who helped me immensely to get my positivity mojo back (you guys know who you are–thanks.)
When I was so exhausted that I was falling asleep in meetings, I reached out to some of my close colleagues who were able to attend in my place, take great notes for me, or both.
And when I needed the energy to come back with a new-found passion to this blog, do you know whose support I relied on to make it happen?
I owe you big time for that.
If you ever need help, the strong thing to do is to ask for it. Ask your family, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors, your therapist, your spiritual advisor, your mentor–I really don’t care who it is, just ask.
You don’t have to navigate this maze called “life” alone. I just wish I realized that fact a few weeks ago…but hey, better late than never, right?
Most importantly, I’m feeling better than ever now, and I have some intense burnout, three life-altering epiphanies, the serenity of Kauai, and your support to thank for it.
If you’re feeling burned out right now, please know that there is a way out of that feeling–and it all begins with the unshakable belief that you are strong.
Believing that you’re not is the biggest myth of all.
Have you ever been burned out before? How did you do deal with it? Do you have any myths about what it means to be strong that you’ve overcome? If so, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!