Credit must be given to Steven Matthew Leonard with whose blog post I framed a story for which I couldn’t find words.
Thank you Steven.
On the surface, he was the ideal candidate for all of the best jobs.
A successful team and division leader with multiple complex projects under his belt, he was smart, resourceful, energetic, and on every senior leader’s shortlist for critical assignments.
But he was also tired.
Dark circles hung below hollow eyes; if you stood close enough, you could feel the exhaustion in his body.
After a conversation, he would walk away, shoulders slumped.
“He’s fried,” some thought.
Most didn’t want to be around him.
But he kept on pushing. More projects. No time in between to catch a breath.
The leaders of the organization he loved began to let him down after he caught people in lies and not acting ethically.
The crash was epic and not wholly unexpected.
“Rode hard and put away wet.”
Long before the crash, he was “Rode hard and put away wet.”
Worn down. Tired.
The phrase itself derives from the failure to properly cool down and groom a horse after a hard ride can lead to physical as well as mental issues.
A poorly tended horse can suffer from chills and muscle cramps and become ill-tempered and resentful.
In the same vein, a person who is “rode hard and put away wet” is just as likely to suffer as a result of neglect or mistreatment.
Who was he?
The ’he’ was me.
I became ill-tempered and resentful.
I lashed out inappropriately; I felt I couldn’t trust anyone, maybe even paranoid.
I reached out for help within the organization, and my inarticulate vulnerability was met with silence.
I won’t say indifference, because I don’t think anyone knew what to do and they had a business to run.
I received great support at home and from my doctor, that framed my response as normal.
Months later, the situation resolved itself when I left my job, and my wife noted one day that it was nice to have me home.
The phrase ‘nice to have you home’ startled me. Because I always tried to get home each night.
But what she meant was it was nice to have me present.
I realized how far and wide the ripples of my situation reached. And the unintended consequences of ending up there.
The formula isn’t complex and relies on your ability to self-reflect.
Steven Matthew Leonard wrote in an Aug 27, 2019 blog post that it didn’t need to be that way, though.
He notes that emotional exhaustion, brooding cynicism, and a precipitous decline in self-confidence – but offer a prescription for intervening in your own demise.
The formula isn’t particularly complex and relies largely on your own ability to self-reflect.
Throttle back on the stress.
Not surprisingly, most of us create our own stress. We procrastinate, take on more than we can conceivably complete, and set completely unrealistic deadlines.
People who are driven by achievement or exhibit perfectionist traits are especially vulnerable.
This self-imposed stress only serves to compound the day-to-day pressures of life.
Being aware of your own tendencies is the first step in reducing the stress in your life.
Take a knee.
Whether you rely on mindfulness or simply enjoy “going to my happy place,” you have to have an outlet for rising tension and anxiety.
The longer you allow those to build unchecked, the greater the amount of physiological damage they inflict.
Find a hobby, read a book, or enjoy a cup of coffee as the sun rises in the morning.
What’s important is that you have something you can do to relax your breathing, slow your heart rate, and rest your mind.
Know your limits.
A significant source of stress comes from taking on more than you can handle, either in terms of workload or your own abilities.
Knowing and respecting your limits necessitates some brutal self-reflection and an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re going to tackle projects that are beyond the scope of your abilities, surround yourself with a capable team that can help you see it through to the end. Otherwise, respect your limits and steer clear of situations that might push you beyond those limits.
See the forest.
Often, we find ourselves so mired in the details of a situation that we “can’t see the forest for the trees.”
This lack of perspective can be a major source of anxiety as we struggle to find solutions that are often easily within reach. Spend enough time among the trees and your stress level can quickly become unmanageable.
Learn to step back and view a problem or situation from a variety of perspectives. Not only will this help you to find optimal solutions, but it will also help you to channel your stress in more productive ways.
Pick and choose your battles.
It’s a simple formula: conflict leads to stress and stress leads to burnout.
Every battle takes time out of your day, and that time is a limited resource. If you’re fighting every battle that comes along, you’re not only losing valuable time that could be put to better use in more productive ways; you’re creating unnecessary stress for yourself.
Not everything is important. Not everything is worth fighting for.
Knowing what is and what isn’t will help to reduce stress and, ultimately, the likelihood of burnout.