What You’re Feeling is Burnout

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I felt it was time to speak about burnout.

Considering the year that we have all muddled through, it can come as no surprise that many of us are feeling exhausted. For unknown reasons, I never thought to share my developing burnout saga. First let me say, the dynamic was hastened by the pressures of the pandemic — yet it is possible that the roots may have been established. I’ve also realized, that if we fail to see the writing on the wall, burnout can take hold in a manner that can be difficult to shake. It is real. We need to act promptly. To protect ourselves. (See an overview of the research here.)

As a consultant, I’ve discussed burnout with many individuals over the years. I’ve seen burnout manifest during unpredictable organizational change initiatives, as well as industry peaks. It can occur because of one perpetually trying client or the full brunt of a dire economic downturn. But, no one is immune. We seem to experience burnout as individuals — so its particular course is also individual. This can throw us off the trail and possibly leave us unprepared. Burnout will not look the same across contributors.

Above all, we should be discussing the issue and sharing experiences. Personally, burnout manifested in my world as a thunderstorm gathering courage in the distance. There were signs it was approaching. Pangs of apathy and avoidance. Yet, because that is alarming on many levels — particularly because in most cases (as was with mine) the work is our livelihood — we try to ignore its presence. We may have trained for years or others may depend upon us; there are so many reasons that we cannot simply pick up, check out or change course. As a rule, I believe that we opt to compensate however we know how and press on.

We assume there is nothing to be done, as we cannot change the things we must (and in many cases previously loved) and should do.

However, there are costs to this strategy.

Engagement with our work wanes. Motivation plummets. As is the case now, we have also lived through a tumultuous time in history which has affected every breathing corner of our lives. We cannot expect all of this this to steer clear from our work lives.

While we may not be able to walk away from our responsibilities, we can take the time to understand the winds within our own storm. This may offer clues that can lead to solutions. So, here are a few things to consider when approaching burnout.

Hopefully, the topics may alert you to something that can be addressed.

  • We have broken psychological agreements about work life with ourselves. In many cases, there is a psychological contract with ourselves, that we have breached. We may have briefly thought: “I’m extremely weary of this” or “I’m not as happy with this part of my career, as I used to be”, but we pressed on. The scales were tipping and we kept on going, without considering where that path might lead. The rewards were simply not keeping pace with the investment of time, trouble and emotion.
  • When to stop is never discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should slow down or step away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest, even with the tasks that we love. We may not have had the strategies in place to achieve this.
  • We wait for a savior. It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are still doing well.” You must take on the responsibility of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.
  • Declare or wither. One pillar of core stability, is to embrace radical self-awareness regarding what you need to stay productive. We cannot always choose the roles, tasks, or people that are a part of our journey. However, if it is humanly possible to affect core elements before burnout sets in, do this. Declare the elements that are vital to you as a contributor.
  • Acknowledge that living through history is an accelerator. As a child I used to try to imagine how others had lived through World Wars. What were they thinking? Could they go back to living normal lives, that would include joy or a sense of calm? I can only hypothesize that they would not want to return to the elements of their lives that were already worn or troublesome. They would want to grab life and live it to the fullest. That a clear purpose to live well, would dominate.

I do not have the answers — only more questions. However, acknowledging what we have lived through and how this affects our work is vital. Above all, know that our collective journeys are personal, and this requires a very personal solution.

Do you have a strategy to mitigate burnout? How has this helped you? Share it with this forum.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She is the co-founder of Goba — a consulting practice that helps people & organizations a build stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work & organizations have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post

A Kinder Take on New Year’s Resolutions Using Positive Psychology

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We all engage in goal setting.

Historically, we do more of this as we approach the New Year. I like to look at resolutions as wolf-like goals, but in sheep’s clothing. They are every bit as challenging to accomplish (perhaps, more so); but often vague & unstructured. As we’ve discussed previously, goals can help or hurt us — depending on their inherent ability to energize us. As a workplace strategist, I’ve often advised clients to refine or even lose goals that no longer serve them. Why? Goals can actually let us down and fail to direct our behavior in a meaningful way.

Resolutions often fall prey to this same malaise. So, I’m wondering — can we craft resolutions that are better for us?

One promising strategy, is to apply what we already know about positive psychology to the process. With roots in humanistic psychology, positive psychology theorizes that we have the power to re-frame our life experiences to help us become more positive and productive.

Goals & resolutions could stand some re-framing right now. So, let’s pursue this thread.

Consider the following passage:

“Positive psychology is…a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” – Christopher Peterson

We could re-cast resolutions (and goals in general) with a nod toward what has gone right and not wrong. As we look toward the future, we might recognize what has worked over the past year — taking the time to remind ourselves of what we have accomplished. To acknowledge all of the positive steps we have forged, even if the end-state has not been reached. This might provide the fuel that we need to protect energy and build resilience.

So — ask yourself: What has brought you some measure of accomplishment recently? Have you overlooked some of the good? Have you cast a shadow over the small successes?

We should take a second look and consider that sustaining energy requires that we actively acknowledge all of our effort. That we acknowledge how small steps have power and can prove instrumental. That we make progress in ways that are often subtle, yet foundational.

Step 1.

Carefully consider a goal or resolution — and take a second look at what you have done to achieve it. Offer yourself credit, for your efforts. (If this a new resolution for 2021, you can jump to Step 2).

  • Draft a list of all of the steps already taken.
  • Do not apply a value judgement as grounds for inclusion.
  • Be sure your list is complete. All steps are progress. No step too small.
  • Now, what was obviously successful?
  • What steps may not have been entirely successful, yet had real value, after a second look? Why?
  • What have you learned from detours, failures or disappointments?
  • How have you managed to actively recover and continue to move forward? (This is also a success.)
  • How did the acquired knowledge in general, inform your journey?

Step 2

Craft behaviorally-anchored steps for the future which build upon progress noted in Step 1. Be sure to integrate what you have learned from previous highs and lows. If this is a new goal or resolution, try to improve upon any broad sweeping statements such as “be healthier” or “becoming an influencer”. Be specific. Think of yourself actively engaging in goal-directed behavior.

  • What are you actually doing?
  • What are the specific steps you will take?
  • Describe these steps. Verbs should figure prominently in your plan: reading, seeking, calling, contacting, developing, etc.
  • Add specificity to every action.

For example, if your broader resolution is “becoming an influencer” — you should note all discrete steps that may contribute to success, applying the specificity rule. For example: ” I will submit 2 pitches a week, to these 4 media outlets for potential articles/posts.”

Consider the following as positive steps, which are often overlooked.

  • Communication Channels. Establishing information networks to support your journey (joining a group, seeking guidance from a professional, engaging with social media).
  • Strategy preparation. Engaging with books, podcasts & articles to explore strategies.
  • The Deep Work. Taking steps to shift your outlook or mindset to support your journey.
  • The Everyday Work. Aligning your goal/resolution with specific habits or daily rituals.

Remember that progress is often synonymous with a collection of small steps — which occur with little fanfare. (I’ve lived this. In 2010, I made a resolution to establish myself as a work life write writer. It was pain-staking, but I tried to revel in the small successes.)

It may be high time — to offer those steps the glory they deserve.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist and a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her coaching practice — helps people & organizations build a stronger work life foundation. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC Work Life, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

Why You Should Be a Beginner

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Welcome to early winter — of the longest year.

I’m certain your journey through 2020 has brought you more than a few twists & turns — impacting both life & work. These moments may have shifted your mindset, caused you to take stock. These moments may have rocked you at the core.

On my end, I’ve noticed some significant changes. I’ve had the desire to write less and think more. To take another look at the world of change management. To reach out & collaborate.

I’ve also noticed a keen interest in the artificial distinction between the idea of “craftsmanship” and our own work. This was largely the by-product of something entirely new for me — a hobby — a life element that I hadn’t previously declared or pursued. I slowly began to see the link between learning a craft, and our day-to-day work. Moreover, that there was something in all of this that we were sorely missing.

The craft I have chosen, photography, is wide & expansive — and because of these attributes, provides rich learning opportunities. One key advantage is there is not an easy path to achieve mastery quickly; requiring significant time served as a novice. I’ve had to become more patient, more open to failure and more appreciative of the time needed to improve. (Yet, thumbing through a book of Steichen’s work, I was happy to start at what Whitney Johnson refers to as “the bottom of the learning curve”.) Yes, beginnings can be frustrating, but also glorious — if the context in which you find yourself aligns with the spirit of the process. In any case, there should be no shame in declaring ourselves as “apprentices”. I am happy to be one.

Why we fail to approach growth at work in this spirit, is more likely due to the pressing needs of organizations, rather than the good of the work or our professional development. Of course, projects must be completed, targets met, goals fulfilled. But still, there are obvious advantages. If we could somehow approach some portion of our work as a craft — creativity, engagement & innovation may get a needed boost. If we could be an “apprentice” within a defined area, the pressure to be perfect, to know it all, to pass the test, to dazzle (or dominate) the room, could lessen.

We might allow ourselves the time & space to expand the horizon of our work, to seek new methods/strategies through new topics or adjacencies. This in turn could help us become better at what we do. (This strengthens our core and possibly the core of the organizations in which we work.)

During every year we could re-dedicate ourselves to our profession and become a beginner in some regard. To choose an avenue to explore, whether this is carried out in partnership with our employers, independently, with the help of a new contact, or a course of study.

However, the desire to “check the box”— has to be retired. Living in the “apprentice” phase should not be judged or hurried. We should accept that early steps are just the start. That we have much to learn. That this will take time.

Poorly executed photographs aside, I’ve learned much during this uniquely grueling year. Lessons that will stay with me — and could be incorporated into my work going forward. I’ve learned that continuing to feel useful is vital. That adapting to constraints is anything, but glamorous. That growth happens in fits & spurts (and it is often imperceptible), when we face those constraints.

To hone a new craft, we all have to start somewhere.

Even if that somewhere is at the very beginning.

And that’s perfectly alright.

What I’m listening to:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

The Everyday Guide: Do Our Relationships with Social Media Say More Than We Think?

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I seem to have developed the habit of personifying social media outlets.

That may sound a bit off. But trust me, it’s not the first time I’ve engaged in this strategy. As a consultant, I’ve always thought of organizations as having a distinct vibe or personality, separate from the clients that I meet. (Some are depressed. Others frenetic.) Over the years, I’ve developed a strong propensity to craft stories out of disjointed facts, observations and conversations. It may be a bad habit. Yet, it helps me makes sense of things at the start of a project, when there are one million details to consider.

This habit seems to have extended to social media. To be quite honest, I usually find Facebook tedious and bit needy. Instagram often feels fickle & hyped up on pretty places (which I enjoy) & success-oriented quotes. LinkedIn nearly always feels focused & fair (I have more than my share of followers over there, so I am likely biased.). Twitter feels balanced on most days; a bit like my memory of my high school cafeteria at lunchtime. (Except for the realm of politics.) You are clearly aware that all of the various groups are present, but no one really cares if they hang out near you. There is usually enough decorum, to keep the room from devolving into an all-out food fight.

My assessment of a social media definitely impacts my willingness to enter into a relationship with them. My patience can be worn thin, just as I would feel when ready to leave a party where I feel disengaged.

These days, I’m only willing to invest my time and trouble, where I feel understood & loosely accepted. I’ll delete a page willy-nilly, if I have a clear and present sense that their algorithm is on a path to “ostracize” me. (I’m a proud sort. I won’t hang around to feel the sting of the sneers.) When re-starting on Instagram this past May, I haplessly re-shared a random photo of an old structure in London and the photographer reported me to the powers that be. This unfolded even though I had clearly attributed her, took the photo down immediately & tendered an apology. (Turns out she was somewhat of a big deal over there. I explained that my articles are often shared without my direct permission, but if attributed I’m usually ok with it. But, alas this was her foul to call.)

Lesson learned: Don’t share great photos on Instagram? (Know Instagram is a business for many. I now know & respect this.)

If a coaching client were to ask me about this topic, I know how I would respond: Spend time where you feel uplifted. If something feels horrible, stay away. Take a break and then possibly re-engage. But first, look into your heart and find out the “why”. Develop your personal brand, where you feel aligned with the “vibe”.

By now, you’re likely getting the sense that my relationships with social media may bear a striking resemblance to the outcome of a Rorschach assessment. I concur. It is entirely possible that this dynamic has possibly re-ignited my teenage insecurities regarding shifting friend groups. On the other hand, it may simply be a lack of stimulation during the marathon that is this pandemic.

I’m unsure.

You make the call.

Have you ever personified social media?

Share your experiences.

BTW, we do more than just talk about social media!
LWTP will launch it’s first mini-course: Personal Branding & Blogging for Introverts in 2021:
Apply here.

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect office gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.

The Power of a Daily Ritual

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Rituals are the formulas by which harmony is restored.- Terry Tempest Williams

We planted four yellow rose bushes in our backyard garden last summer. They are situated in an area that for some odd reason, everything seems to perish. I have a number of concocted theories as to why this continues to happen. Firstly, our home is well over 70 years old and from what I discern from original plans, a garage once stood near that area. Maybe this contributes. Or there is possibly too much sun. Too little water. Or our 100 pound German Shepard stomps over the plantings when chasing her tennis ball.

I’ve just surveyed the current situation. It’s not looking all that hopeful.

The point is not the roses, but that the ritual of the garden occupies my mind in a manner that frees me for some stretch of time. Small rituals makes us more comfortable, more centered — even when a sense of instability may exist all around us. For you, this may mean walking around the block after dinner, game night, sitting on your balcony in the morning or a quiet cup of coffee before you write a report.

You could call these routines, but somehow these idiosyncratic actions hold more value than that label would imply.

Whatever that ritual is, no matter how small it may seem — it matters. Small rituals help define who we are as individuals. They help align who we are with our surroundings. I feel they likely make us better contributors, as well.

When we get back to our desks, the rest will still be there.

But for that moment, I’m rooting for the roses.

Strategy: Rituals

  • Do you have a small ritual that helps you remain productive right now?
  • Do you feel rituals have become more important during this crisis?
  • Does your organization or team have a ritual that helps them along?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. She helps people & teams build a stronger work life foundation through The Core Masterclass. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

How Work (and Other Things) Might Help Us Cope Right Now.


It is 2020.

We are all struggling to establish a new normal, in times that are anything but normal. I’ll spare you and will refrain from sharing advice about how to work remotely. We are in the midst of history being written. That alone demands that we peel away the layers of the onion.

Many of us simply want to protect ourselves, our families and quite possibly our well-being. Know that psychological resources such as hope, self efficacy and resilience, can be adversely affected as we practice social distancing.

As an alternative track, I’ll share few thoughts on how to stay on a somewhat even keel. (Disclaimer: These are my own. They do not have to be yours.) Not surprisingly, this does include work and seeking a daily measure of joy. Know that I am referring to the type of work, that feeds your soul and occupies your mind. I am also referring to the trusted elements of our lives to which we turn, when feeling unsettled.

What to try now:

  • If possible, continue to do the work you love to do. I’ve just listened to Coldplay’s Chris Martin live streaming an impromptu home-based concert at Instagram (@Coldplay). As a psychologist, I’m thankful that he can continue to share his gift to help others. Try to do the same. Work on topics that bring meaning & value to you.
  • Reach out. Limit feelings of isolation & distance. Technology can obviously work with us here. I couldn’t love Zoom more than I do today, in this very moment. I intend to contact the clients & colleagues, I’ve come to respect over the years. Utilize Facebook video to call friends who are alone (quite reliable) and text your neighbors. I’m hoping this helps in some way.
  • “Lean in” to the things that bring joy. Whether this is music, film, reading, art, walking, observing birds, podcasts, comedy, singing, blogging, or crafting. Do these things when you have a moment. James Altucher just shared his reading list as we self-isolate. Shuttered Broadway performers are singing for us. Museums have shared virtual tours. Improvise. Build these into your daily routine.
  • Complete something. Anything. When we cannot control our circumstances, self-efficacy suffers. This can lead to feelings of helplessness. While you distance, complete smaller projects/tasks that you can pace. Bring feelings of mastery into your “new normal”.

We are all struggling. Share your concerns to someone that you trust.

What are you doing right now to support your psychological foundation?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from founding a company — to the perfect office gift. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.