“For the high achievers, studying gave them the pleasing, absorbing challenge of flow 40 percent of the hours they spent at it. But for low achievers, studying produced flow only 16 percent of the time; more often that not, it yielded anxiety, with the demands outreaching their abilities… The low achievers found pleasure and flow in socializing, not in studying.” Daniel Goleman
Are High Achievers in greater danger of burn out?
High achievers are used to making things happen. As Daniel Goleman states, they have learned through their growing up years that they can work out a way to do pretty much whatever they put their mind to. It is like an inner confidence that they have the ability or they can work out or find someone who has the ability to help them do anything. This makes them highly resourceful and usually leads them to achieve high levels of success at whatever they do.
The difficulties can start when life becomes more complicated. Not just busier or a new very challenging project or job. These things are usually a welcome challenge for a high achiever. Problems that can lead to burn out can develop when relationships get tough, and emotional energy gets stretched with children and multiple responsibilities across several life areas. It’s the juggle of demands across several areas of life. Conflicting priorities, conflicting values, people demands, relationship demands, obligations that pull life in many directions at once.
Janis is a very clever and passionate professional who had just secured a new position in a very responsible corporate role. She came to the role with a lot of passion and ideas about how to excel. She was rather surprised to find her intensity in the workplace was not appreciated by her colleagues. They did not respond well to her. In fact some ignored her. Her immediate boss would not help her and seemed to view her passion and ideas as a threat. She felt very isolated in her role and it affected her quite deeply. Over a few months she became quite depressed and felt like leaving her exciting new role. To her credit Janis realised she was part of the problem. She sought out mentoring help. She learned a whole lot more self-awareness and relationship management skills which has enabled her to navigate her way through. She realised she needed to build better working relationships before she could expect to be respected and present new ideas.
I have worked with many high achieving corporate executives in senior roles who have had their own journey to the edge of burn out and back again. For some they become overwhelmed after securing a highly sought after promotion. Others find that work becomes impacted by the challenges of family life. A sick child, a partner seeking to ignite their career after time out for maternity leave, juggling priorities and aspirations to give your children a better life – it all takes it toll. The biggest issue is the mindset of the high achiever that says I can do it. I can just work a bit harder. I can stay up a bit later. I can push through. It is just a season. Often the thing that gives way is sleep, nutrition and regular exercise. Self-care becomes a luxury rather than a staple. After a few years of this, physical and/or emotional health issues often arise.
Small Business Owners
Small business owners have a similar issue. They start a business with energy and passion knowing it is going to take hard work, and a lot of commitment and energy to make their business a success. They factor in a couple of years where things are tight, and crazy busy. However, after a couple of years of success, and employing a few people, and acquiring larger premises, and responding to clients – it is often difficult to see how to work any less hours. The dangers of burnout for entrepreneurs in this start up and early growth phase of a business are huge. Typically people become business owners in their mid to late 30’s and early 40’s when their family life is also very demanding. The same issues around health and burn out apply as to corporate executives.
How do ‘high achievers’ avoid the risk of burn out?
To achieve business success AND build a great lifestyle which is sustainable for yourself and your family requires learning some new lessons. Usually around the age of 40 is the time all this is happening and it is time to hit pause and work on yourself. Time to redefine what it is you really want from your business life. Time to become crystal clear about what is truly important to you in your world. Time to learn what your values really are and make sure you live to them. Time to become strong enough to say ‘NO!!!” to those things which may be good but are not central to your life, your purpose and all that is precious in your world. It is time to learn to work in sustainable ways that work with your life rhythms. It is time then to fully pursue your audacious business goals while at the same time you integrate time spend in work with the other important areas of your life.
I have written about what it takes to do this in my recent book, INTEGRATE – why work-life balance is a myth and what you really need to create a fulfilling lifestyle. To purchase a copy hit the link. Or download the Kindle version on Amazon.