Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Avoiding Burnout as a Young Professional

As undergraduate students, and even as graduate students, we dealt with our stress by hanging out with friends, attending a school event or party, and always in the distance was the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel". Graduation was some fixed date in the future toward which we were continuously striving. A set end-point at which point we knew that there would be some new challenge awaiting us. Unfortunately, now that we're in the "professional world" we lose that "point on the horizon" and one day can begin to look just like the next. We find that the "challenge" we actually face is trying to avoid burnout in our young, professional careers.

I have experienced brief periods of burnout in my now 8-year-old professional career, and for me, it makes my resume look a little bit like a patchwork quilt. Now, I don't regret my job hopping in the past because it led me to where I am now, a fabulous institution in my hometown doing something that I love. But even now, I need to "refocus" on those aspects of my job (and personal life) which give me the most joy and satisfaction.

In recent months, however, I have recognized these signs of burnout in many of my young-ish colleagues here at the museum. It has helped me to know that I am not alone, but I've thought a great deal about how I can help them avoid the "career quilt" that I've experienced. One place I reached out to was First, the signs....
  • Have you lost your enthusiasm for your work?
  • Is your work become more than a drag but a weight that gets heavier and heavier?
  • Are you feeling that you no longer get satisfaction from your job, or are you questioning the value of tasks that you perform?
  • Are you entertaining the thought of finding a new job?
  • Do you no longer laugh or have fun at work?
  • Are you more irritable toward coworkers or customers?
  • Do you always see work as a chore?
  • Have you developed chronic worry about your job?
  • Do you feel lethargic and empty in your work?
If you answered yes to a good number of these then you, too, might be suffering from burnout. Not to fear! Finding good stress management techniques can often help alleviate these feelings of dread every time your alarm clock goes off in the morning. lays out some relatively simple ways to refocus yourself and to once again find your passion for the job. You can visit the website for a more detailed description of these solutions, but here is my own take on what has worked for me and might work for you, as well (though keep in mind, I'm a museum professional not a mental health professional):
  • Look for the positives in a challenge rather than focusing on the negatives. How might this additional project dropped on your plate allow you to improve your visibility in the institution? What new opportunities will become available to you by assuming a new responsibility?
  • Have fun at work. All of the important things I've learned in life I learned from the movie "City Slickers". Ok, so not really, but Jack Palance and Billy Crystal were on to something when they talked about finding that "one thing" to make your life complete. The author and philosopher Joseph Campbell frequently referred to your "bliss", or finding and following that thing about which you are most passionate. Some of us are lucky enough to find it, many more are continuously searching...and that's ok, too. But while your on that journey, there is no rule that says you can't enjoy yourself. Try to get those monotonous tasks out of the way early in the day so that you can focus on more enjoyable tasks for the rest of your day. Get out of the office and speak with a student group or a senior group visiting that day.
  • You deserve a break today. The marketing geniuses at McDonald's had it right. Take a walk through your museum's galleries to really LOOK at all of these amazing things that so many people pay to come and see. In Milwaukee, we actually had mandatory weekly "gallery walks", which were in essence a walking meditation session. We conducted one-on-one meetings this way, brainstorming sessions, you name it. It really kept us, as a staff, connected with why we took these jobs in the first place.
  • Mix it up. Redecorate your office. Work out details for a flexible schedule where you can come in an hour earlier (or later) one or two days a week (or more) so that you can get some things done without the phone ringing or school groups screaming in the lobby. Though it may also sound counter-intuitive, you could also ask for some additional responsibilities or a project which you know you would enjoy.
  • Step up and take control. Many times, supervisors recognize that employees may be suffering from burnout but don't know how to address it. Without going up to your boss and saying, "I'm burning out," (trust me, you won't get the response you were hoping for...I know from personal experience), try to suggest some new ways that you might be able to do your job or ask for permission to run a project for a short time to try and put your stamp on it. Own it. Who knows, maybe you'll find your "bliss".

How do YOU deal with stress and potential burnout? Share your suggestions by clicking on the "comments" link just below this posting.


Nathan said...

Great post, Jason. I have also felt burned out at all of my jobs at one point or another. One thing I have heard and read constantly lately though is to avoid job hopping unless it is really necessary. There are tons of valid reasons to leave a job (pay cut, better offer, bad boss, etc), but I think you are spot on that it is important to always re-evaluate what you like most about your job and try to refocus the majority of the time you spend at your job doing those things that makes you most happy. I think there is a perception that goal shaping happens only at a management level, but there is no reason why you and your peers can't set goals for your area or why you as an individual can't shape your own personal goals to help you derive the most pleasure from you work. That is, after all, why we sacrifice pay for such awesome jobs.

kimberly said...

I always enjoy a walk around the museum, all the historical value makes me feed my knowledge and i feel that i grow up like a person. I like to try what i want to prove. this is when i buy viagra for my husband. whenever i have a doubt, i mus to satisfy my curiosity.