There is a painful experience often referred to as imposter syndrome. Leaders, professionals who work with people for a living, and other people-helpers, all usually suffer from this one at some time or another. For coaches, this most often takes the form of “Who am I to guide others when I still have my own problems to sort out?”
This is a major barrier for new coaches, and it was certainly a big hurdle for me to overcome (hint: it’s all about being honest). It sucks to think of yourself as a hypocrite when you’re trying to do good in the world and change peoples’ lives for the better.
The reason I’m reminded of this is because lately I’ve had to endure the pain of my own hypocrisy. Once again, many years later, after making solemn vows to never repeat this same mistake, I have allowed myself to burn out. Well, almost. It’s not as bad as the first time (weeks of not being able to even think a clear thought or make decisions), but getting dangerously close if I fail to intervene immediately.
This is all despite me guiding my clients and Brojo brothers away from imbalance in their lives, and towards taking better care of themselves. Who knows, maybe I’m not the first coach to forget to live by what they preach?
A common symptom of Nice Guy Syndrome is perfectionism: an inability to allow things to go poorly, to not work, to break down and to lose control. I’ve been working on this for years and still only starting to scratch the surface of how deep this shit goes. Yet again it has snuck up behind me and dived into the game, before I consciously realised what was happening.
It actually starts from a positive place…
WANTING TO GET THE MOST OUT OF LIFE
This desire, based on the fear of dying insignificantly, has driven me towards creating an amazing life and trying to improve whatever small part of the world I can. After spending most of the first part of my life just floating along and not really asserting myself, nowadays I face the polar opposite issue of trying to squeeze too much in. There are so many wonderful things I could get involved in, yet there will only ever be 24 hours in a day.
First there is Brojo, building up a community of driven and powerful leaders. Then there are my coaching clients; coaching is my favourite thing to do and the most powerful work I have ever been involved in. Then there is writing my next book, launching and managing a new dance school, training with my dance partner, and the dance team, band practice, gigs and bass practice, socialising, gym, and on and on.
This is how it begins for me. I start sticking more of my fat little fingers into more and more pies until I’ve run out of fingers and have to start sticking my toes into pudding or something, just to keep up. The 24 hours of me that’s available each day starts getting scraped around thinly.
And on paper it looks like I can handle it, like I should have just enough energy and resources.
If there is a God (there probably isn’t), it must love these moments. God or whatever sees that you’re at capacity, smirks to itself, and says “Now”.
That’s when my car broke down… and I had to move house urgently… and I had to somehow travel every day for extra training sessions… and I had just run out of cashflow and money completely… and I had performances to attend… and on and on it goes. Before long I’m losing the plot and blaspheming indiscriminately just because my toast fell on the floor.
This kind of ‘series of unfortunate events’ is usually what we blame for our burn out, particularly when we are so stressed out that we catastrophise and blame the Universe for all our woes.
So even though I’ve trained myself for many years to take responsibility for my life, why do I still play the victim when I get stressed? For those of you familiar with my 3X Model you’ll know what has gone wrong here. I’ve neglected the Release Phase, and stopped living by the value of self-respect.
THE PROBLEM WITH AVOIDING REST, RELAXATION AND REFLECTION
Blaming the Universe for your emotional distress is a common symptom of neglecting the Release Phase.
When we are not regularly taking breaks to assess how things are going, to heal and recover, and to reflect on our actions, we start to lose the sensation of progress. Because we are not stopping to measure results we start to believe that they are not occurring (a lot of this seems to happen subconsciously), and so we begin working even harder.
This creates a vicious pattern of constantly avoiding Release time. All recovery and rest time starts to be seen as a low priority, and is discarded in favour of more ‘productive’ activities. This is what started happening with me before the week from Hell knocked me back. I would regularly put off healthy recovery and reflection activities in favour of more dancing, more business, more coaching etc. etc. etc.
I was trapped in a cycle between Explore and Engage without stopping to reflect on what was happening. So I missed the warning signs for a long time before it was almost too late.
Often we fool ourselves into believing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Each week’s new stressors seem like exceptional circumstances, that are “only for this week” and then they will disappear. In no time you’ll be back to your regularly scheduled programming. But then something else comes up the next week, and the week after that, and before long you are suffering what appears to be a never-ending tidal wave of pure hassle.
THE WARNING SIGNS
I’ve learned to recognise when I am heading towards my highest risk state for burn out, by noticing when I start to see certain behaviours. First it was lacking joy while doing some activities that I usually love. Then comes snapping at frustrations that I usually don’t even care about. Then comes a strong desire to just escape. Then comes bingeing on chocolate, feeling like I’m rushing around, and insomnia.
There are even more, but the point is this time I’ve thankfully caught myself before the worst part happens: Total Burn Out. Something I wish to never experience again.
As I am humbled to remember that I will have to work on myself for the rest of my life, that there will never be a final destination, and that I will never be perfect, I wish to remind you of what I forgot. Life is richer and more meaningful when you dedicate an important amount of your time and energy into activities that keep you balanced. An old saying – less is more – comes to mind, and it’s just so true.
Doing something well and then sitting back to marvel at it before moving on is so much more effective than trying to do everything. Your body (including your brain) regularly burns through resources and needs breaks to recuperate and restock. This cannot be avoided or skipped; life just doesn’t work that way, you are required to rest.
Take care of yourselves and each other. Let other people help you when you’re overwhelmed, they will enjoy life more for the opportunity to support a front-runner like yourself. Give yourself the gift of longevity so that you’ll eventually achieve those lofty goals instead of going mental and giving up on everything altogether.
Relax this week, you’ve earned it.