Yearly Archives: 2016

Work/Life Balance: The Elevator Energy Test

By Vahé Torossian, Corporate VP at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions

[Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse]

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Throughout my career, I have been blessed to mentor some very talented people. No matter the region of the world — from France to the United States and Asia to Central and Eastern Europe — a topic that comes up with almost everyone I’ve mentored is how to find the right work/life balance.

It is a very personal question. Back when I first started at Microsoft in 1992, work/life balance was very different than it is today. If there was work to do, you stayed until it was completed (usually accompanied by a pizza). When you went home, it was easier to switch out of work mode because you didn’t have emails coming right to a mobile device in your pocket. You had to make a conscious choice to open up your briefcase or, later on, connect your modem and dial in to the Internet.

Today, finding balance can be extremely challenging, especially when our technology gives us the ability to do business from anywhere. It’s easy for work to enter our home lives unconsciously. You look at your phone, and before you know it your head is back in the office. This connectedness can really blur the lines between work and home, making it hard to focus on just one at a time.

I don’t claim to have the whole recipe for success. Rather, the right work/life balance depends on who you are as an individual and where you are in life. But I do have one trick I’ve been using for many years that helps me choose how I show up at work and how I show up at home: Every day, I commit to returning home with the same energy with which I left. The “elevator energy test” is my way of making sure I follow through on that commitment.

I developed this test for myself while living and working in Paris. I lived on the eighth floor of my building, and I’d take an elevator between my apartment and the basement garage where I parked my car. The inside of the elevator was covered in mirrors, so every morning while I descended to the basement, I’d take a good look at myself to honestly evaluate my energy level. I would actually go so far as to score my own energy level on a scale of one to 10. Then, after work, as I rode the elevator from the basement back up to my apartment, I would consciously recalibrate back to the number I had given myself in the morning so that I brought back home at least the same level of energy as I had when I left.

In my own experience, at the end of a long, hard day it was a great refresher for me to bring that vitality back to my spirit and demeanor. It felt great to leave the workday behind in the basement garage, and my family appreciated it too. When the elevator doors opened, I would enter my apartment and spend the rest of the evening with them — feeling just like the person who had said goodbye that morning. I am not saying it’s always easy, but this state of mind helped me a lot especially during tough times.

Of course, you don’t need an elevator to do this test. You can do it anytime, in all sorts of situations. For example, you can look at yourself in your rearview mirror before heading to work each morning and again before heading home each night. I do the test before and after a tough business review, receiving bad news or taking a long multi-country business trip — every situation that might take a toll on my energy.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be an energy giver and not an energy taker. And there is a certain discipline to living that way. It’s the same discipline I learned as an international rower, where I had to be fit and prepared not only to help my own performance, but also to help inspire energy in my teammates. I have found that sustaining that kind of discipline is hard, but I always try because I feel strongly that the people around me shouldn’t have to pay the price for me being off-balance — not my employees and especially not my family.

So, my advice to people who are looking for a better balance is to make it a conscious choice again. Try the elevator test. It works for me.

 

Vahé Torossian is a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corp. For 30 years he has driven business transformation and turnarounds in high-growth and economic crisis environments.

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Choosing Equanimity

By Chelsea Elkins, Program & Marketing Manager

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I’m not normally an angry person. Really.

But I’m also no stranger to the emotion. In a world rife with inequity, bias, and realities that can make the most patient of us want to scream, anger is not uncommon. When I’m in the throes of it, I can focus on nothing else (including effective solutions to the issue) and find that my productivity and longevity suffer.

I’ve been pondering the benefits of anger lately. How it can be a wakeup call. How it can create needed boundaries. Anger can be the spark – to start a revolution, to fight injustice, to say “enough”. But it cannot be the whole flame or we will burn out. While anger can trigger productivity, anger itself is inherently not a productive emotion. And for sustainable change to occur, I’d argue that anger must evolve – into whatever is needed: passionate organizing, relentless activism, a resolute boundary – because anger alone is not enough.

So how then do we turn our anger into something useful? I believe the answer is equanimity.

I recently spent a precious Saturday attending a dharma talk titled “Fierce Equanimity” through The Lotus Institute with Dr. Larry Ward and Dr. Peggy Rowe. The talk discussed how to relentlessly, fiercely display equanimity (or a calmness and evenness of mind and emotion) regardless of life’s circumstances.

This concept states that one can address and overcome challenge and injustice with equanimity in lieu of anger. Instead of rage, determination and perseverance may better serve us. Rather than shouting, a calm but resounding “no” can be just as effective. In exchange for riots, nonviolent protests can mobilize a community. Our middle fingers can be playful instead of aggressive (kidding). This way of being suggests we can combat hate with a fierce and stubborn gratitude.

Still with me?

I heard a powerful idea at The Lotus Institute regarding the non-personalization of experience. In other words, anger is not ours to possess. It’s not a toy, cell phone, or piece of clothing that we can claim as belonging to us. It is an unfettered, volatile (and hopefully transient) response that everyone from all walks of life has experienced. This means that since we can’t actually own anger, it doesn’t own us either.

One of the many benefits of equanimity is that it encompasses inclusivity. It transcends “otherness”. It’s an encouragement to try to understand the “humanness” that is always present behind an act of hateful rhetoric. Inclusivity is one of the most effective ways to deflate an anger bubble – because it does away with the us vs. them notion. Equanimity means objectively asking yourself, “What in my life needs to be nourished? And what needs to be de-nourished?” It’s critically looking at societal systems and asking “What here needs to be legitimized? What needs to be de-legitimized?” And based on your answers, acting accordingly.

I want to go on the record and say that letting go of anger and embracing equanimity does not mean succumbing to passivity. Quite the opposite – equanimity often means being part of a slow-moving force, but one that is startling in its power and lasting in its effect. In Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. says, “I can’t turn back. I have reached the point of no return.” Dr. King is in my mind a model for equanimity. Though he had a lifelong dedication to nonviolence (an important component of equanimity), not one could call him a passive force. Rather, he heeded the call to remain collected and compassionate in the long fight for social change – to powerful results. If anger is the blinding flare, then equanimity is the slow burn that drives us day in and day out.

Passivity in the face of injustice is the opposite end of the spectrum. It is often the companion to apathy and ignorance, and enables the normalization of inequity. Passivity often stems from exclusivity, us vs. them. The funny thing is exclusivity (and therefore passivity) is illogical when accompanied with the awareness that most people desire the same things. We are all on a quest to find happiness, to find fulfillment, to find peace. But, as Dr. Ward asked that Saturday, find peace to do what? Find happiness to do what in the world?

I believe deep down we all know the answers (which are different for each of us). With equanimity, perhaps we can start to ask the right questions.

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The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

This is about the myths and misconceptions surrounding the many interconnected roles, relationships, and responsibilities we face each day, often referred to as this thing called “work-life balance.”

When it comes to this thing called work-life balance…

The First Truth

You can define work-life balance however you want.

There are a lot of ways to talk about this concept, but only one way that feels right for you.

And please, use your own WORDS to define the details of what it means to you.

Most people share a similar desire, which is to create easy joy and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships, and responsibilities that make up life.

That said, there are as many ways as there are people on the planet to describe what living a balanced life would feel like. When it comes to balance, everybody has their own idea of what is comfortable, tolerable, and acceptable.

There is no right or wrong way to define balance. It is what it is for you and for you alone.

The Second Truth

You will be in and out of balance your entire life.

This is just the way the world works.

Things like new jobs, new relationships, new homes, new roles, new hobbies, births, deaths, and health (yours and others’) will all impact your needs for balance.

Your needs for balance will forever be evolving.

Your secret power is in recognizing and accepting that what you need now, in this moment, is very different than what you will need 12 months from now or one, five, seven, or 10 years from now.

Once you have accepted that your needs will change, it becomes about knowing and understanding your needs, making choices that support your needs, and communicating your needs with the important people in your life.

You will be in and out of balance your entire life.

Acknowledging and accepting accountability for your needs, wants, and desires is your secret power.

The Third Truth

Work-life balance has nothing to do with work.

Not the type of work you do…

We all have responsibilities that can be considered work. Whether you get paid for what you do or not. More than that, balance has nothing to do with your gender, family structure, parental status, religion, education, income, or geographic location.

Work-life balance is not about any of these things specifically — it’s mostly about the type of conversations we have or the conversations we avoid having about these things, as well as our feelings about the impact of these things on our lives.

Most of the issues we attribute to being “out of balance” at work or at home can be traced back to (and resolved through) a conversation — to be specific, an authentic conversation. (You know, the kind where you say what you REALLY mean.)

What gets us in trouble and keeps us busy and disengaged are the conversations we are NOT having with our boss, our business partners, our customers, our friends, our significant others, our children, and — especially — ourselves.

It’s possible that 99% of the time, these conversations we are not having are about the triggers that are causing the imbalance in our life.

These triggers, most times, boil down to your values and the boundaries (or lack of boundaries) that support and honor your values in all the relationships you are in:

the relationship you have with work,

relationships you have with others (in and out of work),

and the relationship you have with yourself.

Why are so many people not having these types of conversations?

The answer is simple. In most cases, it boils down to fear: Fear of rejection. Fear of being perceived as “less than.”

Fear of failing. Fear of asking for help. Fear of being different. Fear of actually being perceived as both balanced and successful.

Sometimes these conversations that we avoid are about saying no (and our fear of saying no).

Saying no to someone at work or someone you love might let them down, and no one wants to let anyone down, especially on purpose.

Let’s be honest: It’s easier to say no to your own needs than to disappoint someone else. (Even if it means disappointing yourself.)

When you say yes to people, requests, and projects, that are in conflict with your values, or when you engage with people who do not support — or even worse, who disrespect — your values, you are actually saying “no” to yourself and creating imbalance in your life.

work-life balance has nothing to do with work. It’s about authentically owning and clearly communicating your yes’s and no’s to the people WHO share your life.

(which includes yourself)

The Fourth Truth

Creating balance is free. (Great news — because everyone loves free!)

When it comes to creating work-life balance, you don’t have to…

These are all options you can choose — but you don’t have to do any of them. The only thing you have to do is choose balance as a lifestyle.

Okay, so you make the choice — you want balance.

Then what?

Start small. Pay attention more.

Many people don’t spend much time where they are. They are either still thinking about where they have been or thinking about where they will be — which robs them of being where they are when they are there. The richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor have equal access to the currency of presence.

There is no cost whatsoever to being present.

It’s free to pay attention to your environment and see and feel as much (or as little) of the experience that you want. It’s free to pay attention to the people and the relationships in your life — to slow down, to really hear what is being said, and to notice what is not being said. It’s free to pay attention to you. Your body, your feelings, your wants, your desires, and especially, your thoughts.

We have all experienced this thing called presenteeism.

This is when you show up physically, but not mentally. The impact is that you are unable to be in the moment and contribute your best, because you are distracted about whatever might happen in the future or are reliving what has happened in the past.

(It’s okay — we’ve all done it, and will do it again, because sometimes that’s just what happens.)

Odds are you already have a pretty great life. Paying more attention might make it feel even better. Connecting to what you already have is free. It’s the disconnection that can cost you dearly.

The Fifth Truth

The choice is yours to create balance each day.

It’s your choice to define what balance means to you.

It’s your choice to accept that there will be times of greater imbalance.

It’s your choice to own and authentically express your yes’s and no’s.

It’s your…

Some days you might make choices that support your definition of balance, and other days you might make choices that sabotage the type of balance you are seeking.

The magic is that every single day, the choice is yours to make again, and again, and again.

The Five Truths About Work-Life Balance are SIMPLE:

  1. You can define work-life balance however you want.
  2. You will be in and out of balance your entire life.
  3. Balance has nothing to do with work.
  4. Creating Balance is free.
  5. The choice is yours to create balance each day.

What you choose to do with these truths is up to you. The choice is yours.

 

The Five Truths About Work Life-Balance is available on Amazon.

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Make It Happen

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

What if I don´t succeed? What if I cannot make a living out of what I want to do? What if I am not cut out for this? What if this is just the way things are? What if…?

Any of those questions could have prevented me from making one of the necessary life changes I’ve made so far. But the choice was mine, and mine alone, to consciously decide to take a different path in life – one that could bring me purpose and leave me more aware, more awake, and more connected with the joy of being alive. A path in which not every single thing I did was a struggle, but instead could be an enormous joy.

So often we find ourselves feeling like we have no options. We feel stuck, thinking that we have no alternative other than to bear with the relationship we’re dissatisfied with, bear with the job we dislike, settle for less than what we want, and the list goes on. It´s like hitting a wall: we don´t see what can be done to turn things around, and it is then that we fall into resignation. We turn to justification, and create a story to tell ourselves why we are not living the life we want, not in the relationship we hope for, or not going after our dreams. And there lies the risk.

When we live in resignation and say things like “this is just the way things ARE”, “this is the way I AM”, “this is the way my partner IS”, we block the tremendous potential for growth and transformation that we all have. We are the ones that can make things HAPPEN, and the main ingredients are simply: intention, willingness and action. With intention and willingness, we are able to start to create a future that is different from the past. To make that a reality, we need to take a different set of actions than the ones that led us to feeling stuck in the first place.

It is only then that a new horizon of possibilities opens up to us. All of a sudden, we see a ray of light where there used to be darkness, we see abundance where there used to be depletion. Finally, we can move into action. We leave our comfort zone. Maybe we leave a situation that brought us security but no satisfaction at all. Or maybe we hit the road (either literally or figuratively) with an intent on living the life we want for ourselves. From that moment on, everything falls into place. It is like finding a piece that gets us closer to completing the puzzle. We connect deeper with ourselves and start being more aware of the choices we have, and the consequences of such choices. We start living a life that is in alignment with our values.

Deep down, everybody knows what it is they need to create positive change. The distance between reality and our dreams lies with intention, willingness, and action. And the choice is ours to start anywhere, at any point in our life, and to create more awareness around the choices we make each day that either support or sabotage our desired outcomes.

What if I had not made the choice? What a life I would be missing!

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Assume Positive Intent

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post]

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It’s easy to get hooked in our modern world. Meaning many times each day we feel resistance when conversations, outcomes, projects and meetings don’t go the way we hoped they would go or as we had planned. Perhaps someone who works for you delivered an underwhelming performance, or you disagree on strategy with your manager, or a friend/family member holds views that are very different from yours – regardless of the scenario, the feeling we experience is similar.

Some common emotional responses when things don’t go our way are we feel wronged, invalidated, frustrated or at times angry, and likely our responses (conversations and actions) reflect that. This only compounds the feelings we are experiencing and creates a mirror reaction in the person or people with which we are engaged.

At times, we may feel as if the person or people who triggered us did it intentionally or on purpose -which rarely ends up being the case. Most people wake up each day with a desire to do good and be good in this world.

We live in a world composed of 7 billion unique people each with his/her own idea of what “do good” and “be good” means – none of which are more right or more wrong than the other – just different. It is true that at times we harm each other with words and actions, disappoint each other, miss expectations or plainly act as a jerk. And it’s also true that most times these choices are not premeditated – the intent of the action is not to harm, disrupt or divide.

There is a different choice each one of us has when we feel hooked or triggered and that choice is to assume positive intent. This doesn’t mean ignore your feelings of displeasure. Rather, address them from a different place – one that starts with assuming the others involved started with a positive intent that just didn’t land.

Next time you feel hooked or triggered experiment with making a choice to acknowledge that it was positive intent that created the situation and can get you out of it as well. The choice is yours.

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Enough

By Joanna Fuller, Friend of Simple Intentions

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In May 2014, after more than 20 years in the workforce, I decided my life was overdue for a change. And so, as any relatively sane, single person might do….naturally I ran away and joined the Peace Corps. I left my job, rented my house, packed two bags and boarded a plane for Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.

Like the word Timbuktu, people often use Ulaanbaatar to mean the middle of nowhere, or a place so far away you actually have no idea where it is. But UB wasn’t my final destination – that was a twelve-hour bus ride west, in a small, provincial center called Bayankhongor, where I lived and worked for two years as a secondary school English teacher, helping prepare students for life outside the nomadic herding tradition of their parents and grandparents.

As a volunteer, life was stripped down. I lived with a host family and while I had my own small room—equipped with the luxuries of a twin bed, a small sink with cold running water, a single electrical outlet, a stove and refrigerator—I lacked both an indoor toilet and a shower. I washed clothes by hand and had heat from October through April, though it regularly snowed September through May. A big adjustment from life in America.

It’s funny, though, how adaptable we humans are. Soon, my tiny room became cozy and comfortable. Walking to work (we weren’t allowed to drive) became daily meditation. Cooking simple meals with the ingredients available became a creative endeavor, best enjoyed family-style, with my site-mates and our Mongolian friends.

I thrived in the simplicity: On the one hand, I did tire of wearing the same clothes every week; on the other, I stopped thinking about what to wear because with limited options, the decisions were few. Cleaning my home took ninety minutes or less, including time to hand-wash my clothes. And with nothing much besides food and school supplies to buy, there was little time spent shopping or tending to things.

I’d never before realized just how much of my daily life in America had been consumed with processing decisions about what and how much to buy. Being free of that demand was nothing less than a giant Hallelujah. So, when I came home this past August, I figured I was permanently enlightened. That, having seen the image in the Magic Eye poster I’d never again be able to un-see it and would easily fulfill my intent to bring this simplified life to America.

Nope.

Returning to America after two years was like booking a week at the swankiest, most decadent spa resort in the world. I could have whatever food I wanted, any time I wanted it. I could get in my car and drive (on paved roads!) to places where I could buy anything I desired. I could swim around in a queen-sized bed, throw my laundry into the washer and walk away, turn the heat in my house to the exact setting of perfect comfort. It was so good.

But it wasn’t long before I grew accustomed to those things, and needed more and more input to get the same rush as in the first few weeks of my return. Suddenly all the things I’d been able to live without in Mongolia became things I had to have, now that I could, in America.

I determined I needed new clothes for interviews and eventual work. I started going out to eat with friends—a lot. I decided it was time to replace my fourteen year-old car. I looked around my twenty-year old home that had seen better days, and it was “clear” that new carpets were in order, not to mention a full interior paint.

But after weeks of adding to my to-buy list, in one particularly anxiety-ridden moment, I simply stopped. I took a deep breath and reminded myself: You haven’t spent this money yet. And even better, you do not have to.

Maybe that seems obvious. Maybe it seems ridiculous that I even got that worked up, and maybe I just have a problem that no one else has. But I don’t think so. I think consumption is the air we breathe in America. I think I was simply sliding back into old habits and a culture I was used to: responding to advertising and the availability of goods and services (and free financing!) all around me, not to mention the way so many others around me were living. In some ways, wasn’t I just fitting in?

But I knew I didn’t want to live that way. I’ve come to believe that the question I’m answering almost every time I buy something new is not, “Do I have enough?” but, “Am I enough?”

  • Am I enough if my house doesn’t look like it belongs on HGTV?
  • Am I enough if my closet isn’t “fashion-forward,” or if I don’t look as hip as my friends and co-workers?
  • Am I enough if I can’t—or don’t want to—afford to meet friends at expensive restaurants?

The answer every time should be yes. But the culture here is strong, and the truth is, when I feel different from the people around me, I can also start to feel less than.

So that’s the work I need to do if I want to enjoy the peace and freedom I experienced in Mongolia.

But equally, I don’t want to lose the ability to enjoy the wonderful luxuries we have here in the States. New carpet and new paint in my home aren’t just indulgences, they’re also good stewardship, and part of my desire to have a home I enjoy and that’s a welcoming place for friends and family. A small, professional capsule wardrobe makes sense and can be invested in wisely. An occasional meal out can be a fun and relaxing way to connect with friends.

There’s an art, I’ve come to believe, in allowing myself to indulge often enough that it brings joy, but not so often that I become desensitized to the experience.

So of late, I’ve adopted a quick, two-part framework for guiding how and when I make purchases:

  1. The UB rule: In Bayankhongor, shopping was so limited that most purchases had to wait for the twelve-hour bus ride to the capital, which only happened every few months. If I ran out of peanut butter or popcorn, I did without until the next trip. So the UB rule is: With the exception of groceries, I can only make purchases after observing a waiting period of at least a month. Very often, I find I’m OK without. If I do go ahead and buy it, I usually treasure and enjoy it all the more because of the wait.
  2. The “What is it, really?” rule: If I’m tempted to break the UB rule, and to make a purchase in the heat of the moment, that’s usually an indication I’m trying to fill an emotional need, something another purchase won’t actually resolve. If there’s something I feel I absolutely have to have, right now, I ask myself what I’m really trying to buy, versus what I need. They’re not usually the same. Am I feeling lonely? Downloading and binge-watching a full season of Girls isn’t the answer. I need to reach out to my real-life friends. Feeling down about myself? New clothes might be a temporary salve, but more self-care is probably in order: I can cook a flavorful, healthy meal (even better with friends) or go to the Y for a swim. Usually the things I truly need don’t cost much money at all.

I’m no longer under the illusion that living simply is simple in America. But as I work through the complicating factors of culture and my own ego, I’m more convinced than ever that with commitment, community, and mindfulness, it’s more than possible.

By making a commitment to live with what I have, I’m finding time and space to enjoy my life at home more than ever before. As in Mongolia, my home is becoming cozy and comfortable as it is. I’m taking more time to enjoy simple meals with friends and family. My daily walks and bus rides to work have become cherished time for reflection and for just enjoying the beautiful scenery.

As Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast.” And I have—and am—enough.

 

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Stayin’ Alive

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in the Oct. 2016 issue of Mindful Magazine]

In 2007 I collapsed from exhaustion at an event that I was producing. It was the culmination of far too many hours working, the lifestyle choices I was making (and not making), and the always-present stress of trying to be “perfect” at my job.

My doctor said my body was in adrenal fatigue and that my career was killing me. His advice? Get a new job. I knew that wasn’t the “right” conversation – yet I didn’t know what was. I chose to stay on, but went deeper into my own mindfulness practice to try to understand what had happened. Over the next year, I discovered that the right conversation sits in the knowledge there is a choice regarding the type of relationship you want to create with your work.

For those of you flirting with burnout, you are not alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of people feel stress at work. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 75% of all doctors’ visits are stress-related. There is hope, however. And it comes down to being present to what’s happening in your life, and acting with mindful intention to make some changes.

Burnout is not so much about the specifics of your job. It’s mostly about the choices you make (and don’t make) about how you want to live. Being aware of these choices, and approaching the inherent stressors in any job with mindfulness and clear purpose can transform our relationship with stress – and put work in its place. To start, here are some actions you can take in the moment to redefine your relationship with work.

Define the core issues

Can you pinpoint what causes the overwhelm? Is it a capacity issue? Do you have more work than hours to complete? Is it a skill issue? Is there a gap in the skills you have versus what is required? Is it a communication issue? Are you able to share what’s causing stress? This is your first step: Collect all the relevant data so you know where to focus solutions.

Befriend your body

How do you hold stress? Maybe you grind your teeth at night, experience a knot of tension in your neck, or have trouble staying asleep. Now think about what helps you to unwind. Taking a lunch-time walk outside, going for a post-work run, or getting a weekly massage, as examples. Regularly tune into your body so that you can recognize the earliest signs that stress is present, and take the preventive actions you’ve identified to work through it before it overwhelms.

One step at a time

You didn’t arrive at burnout overnight, and the process to undo some of the habits you created will take time. Pick one behavior right now that you can consciously begin to shift. For example, create clear start and end times for work each day. The flexibility that technology and remote working offer can be overwhelming and contribute to burnout if boundaries between work and non-work time are not well-established.

Share what you need

Professional stress can be extremely isolating; we often withdraw in order to “deal with” work issues on our own. But letting the people in your life know what you need to feel supported is essential for putting things in perspective and managing stress. None of us can do it all alone. Your colleagues and loved ones won’t know how to help if you don’t tell them

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