Recently one of the amazing women in my community contacted me directly to ask for help.
‘Thanks for all your awesome work. Do you have any quick tips for if you see someone else who is clearly suffering burnout. It's difficult when they do not accept help but are clearly very stressed.’
Before we begin I want to thank this lady for reaching out for help. Asking others for help is one of the most powerful things that we can do, but it can also make you feel vulnerable. We are taught that we should have all the answers and that not knowing what to do makes us look small or stupid.
I disagree completely.
In a world where knowledge is power and information is at our fingertips all the time it takes a strong person to cut through all the noise and offer up that they need help or guidance. We learn all of our lives but so much is unconscious; mimicking and shadowing, doing things the hard way because it’s scary or difficult to ask for help. It doesn't need to be that way.
We aren’t playing small here. We are learning how to balance more responsibilities, obligations and options than any generation before us. For that reason I am so grateful for you, for you joining my community and reaching out and asking. Because it gives me great hope that we can make huge changes together.
So thank you for joining me on this journey and for bearing with me through this mild emotional outburst. I am full of love for all of you at the moment and needed to express that.
Coming back to the original question, I would ask a question in response; who is this person and what kind of relationship do you have with them?
I have seen so many of my friends and colleagues suffering through overwhelm and exhaustion. Some of them were close friends with whom I could be frank and ask why they were working themselves into the ground. Others were more resistant and would require a softer approach.
Before you approach the problem I would ask who they are and how open you can be with them and what they will invite from you.
A couple of years ago, before I reached rock bottom, a client commented on how tired I looked and asked if I was ok. Whilst I know that she meant well, this was in the context of a formal solicitor/client relationship. I have always been the first to break down the barrier a little with a smile and a joke but this felt like an attack on my professionalism. The truth of it was that I was exhausted and was feeling quite unwell (and ended up being off sick for a couple of days afterward) but felt completely unable to comment without losing face.
If this is someone that you can be honest and frank with, the second point to look at is why you say that they do not accept help. Have you offered help previously and been rebuffed? Or is this person particularly independent?
The first rule of helping anyone is that they must be ready to accept your help. If a brief comment asking this woman how she is or how she feels is simply met with a ‘fine’ shutdown then it is difficult to counter. I am sure you will recognize yourself that, looking back, there were months or even years when you struggled with burnout and resilience but were unable to acknowledge it or ask for help. We all come to the point of improving or needing help at some point but that process can no more be forced than in any other context.
In many cases overworking and driving to exhaustion are symptoms of internal concerns as much as external pressures. There is a reason why one of your colleagues seems blissfully free of all pressure and stress even whilst under the same conditions as you and it is most often because they view their work and themselves with a different lens to you.
If your friend or colleague is ready and able to accept help then the best way to proceed is by opening the conversation. That is how you and I communicate every time I drop into your inbox, after all!
I share my burnout story with you to help you recognize that there is no shame in having problems balancing your work and that, like any other process, these are skills to be learned, implemented and refined.
I would encourage you to be open about times that you have struggled but (and this is important) in a way that feels safe for you and meaningful for others. We all have a limit to things that we can comfortably share that will change with time, perspective and will be dependent on the relationship you have with the person you talk to.
Why not share an article or book that has helped you, a story of a time in which you overcame problems with stress or exhaustion, or offer up a listening ear.
So often the women who struggle the most are the ones who feel that they cannot rely on others or open up and that they have to do this alone. That is not the case any more and I have the community of women to show for it.
Finally, a note for you. You are an amazing heartfelt woman who wants to help others. You would give anything to reduce the suffering of the people around you – but please remember that you cannot help others unless you yourself are strong and have boundaries in place to stop other people’s problems becoming yours.
I could not have offered up my help to so many other women even a year ago, as I was still mired in the worst of my burnout and whilst I will never pretend to you that I am perfect or beyond moments of stress and overwhelm, I do know my limit. It is for this reason that I only have space for a limited number of private clients. It is why the investment for working with me one on one is the cost it is; I desire to only work with the most dedicated women for whom that investment offers real value. Those women are the ones ready to make big changes.
Burnout is a particularly personal thing to suffer and to overcome and so it is difficult to give any more direct advice except to listen, to open up and to gather support. That help alone may give more comfort than you even realize.
If you have a question you want answered, shoot me an email at email@example.com