Burned out? Swim with dolphins! (Aka: get out of your comfort zone…)

I had dinner the other day with a Senior Director of the ‘global recruiting team’ within a prestigious consulting firm. Italian born, she had worked and lived in Europe, Asia and the US. Her current role allows her to travel, she’s held in high regard within the firm and has other ‘perks’ such as flexible hours and telecommuting.

Yet, as we ate our desserts, she confided that she was ‘bored out of her mind’ with the job.  She had been with the company for 10 years (having started out as a strategy consultant) but when she became a parent had switched to a more balanced work schedule and had taken on the role within recruiting.  Her pay was still extraordinary and her colleagues very bright with interesting backgrounds.  “But,” she admitted, “I just often feel exhausted when I think about going to work.  I know the business inside out, and the slightly conservative culture makes it hard to drive initiatives that are off the beaten path and add excitement.”

In today’s economy this sounds like a good problem to have! Unfortunately however, when you experience burnout as a result of boredom (as opposed to the more commonly known culprits of stress and work overload) it is equally demoralizing and draining.

The solution…?

One way to endeavor to circumvent this type of burnout is to get out of your comfort zone.  Within the bubble of your comfort zone you know what to expect: life is predictable and straightforward.  The danger is that not venturing out can quickly turn a job that is ‘perfect’ on paper into an uninspiring drag…

To begin breaking out of your comfort zone, start by becoming aware of your fears. What scares you?   Then think about facing those fears and going out on a limb. You might lose something (which probably won’t be nearly as bad as you’d imagined), or you might gain something!

Go on: take some risks.  This isn’t saying ’be reckless’ – take stock of possible consequences.  Start out small: what about inviting an unpopular colleague for lunch and addressing some issues, or trying to get to know them better: get to the bottom of that ‘bad vibe’.  Or, next time you have a team meeting, bring up that issue that’s been bugging you but you’ve been afraid to address…

If you are struggling with taking risks in your professional life, start with your personal life. Go out with a crazier (or more conservative!) group of friends or invite 10 of your friends over to celebrate 10/10/2010!

Fox Meets Owl Top Tips!

Life out of your comfort zone can be scary, here some ideas to help you to break out and embrace a more rewarding way of life:

  • Make it about something bigger than yourself. We can all learn to take ourselves less seriously.  Letting go of some of our focus on ‘self’ is a very healthy exercise. Life feels more meaningful when we feel that we have a sense of purpose in a larger sense.  Think about how an act of generosity towards a colleague can lead to greater team spirit and give more meaning to your work (we do spend nearly half of our waking life there…!).
  • Detach yourself from the outcome. When you decide to do something, do it for its own sake: detach yourself from the results. If you share an idea that is ‘out there’ with your team members, be prepared not to get buy-in.  Throw the idea out there because it is about a topic you care about.  If they go for it, that’s a bonus! But if they don’t: a) it’s no big deal, and b) people will have a better idea of what you’re ‘about’. Try to focus on the joy of doing whatever you’re doing and live in the here and now.
  • Embrace uncertainty. When things don’t go your way – and sometimes they won’t – move on. If you’re clinging to your comfort zone, you’re hanging on to an idea that the world is supposed to be a safe, predictable place. Ask yourself: is this true?  Look around.  From where I’m sitting, the world is a dynamic place where things go right and wrong.

A couple of final thoughts:

  • My Director friend emailed a month after we had had our discussion over dinner: she has asked her VP to re-design her current role and to introduce a mix of consulting and recruiting responsibilities. She also signed up for a drama course at the Actor’s Institute to enable her to undertake more speaking engagements: something she had always wanted to do, but never had the guts to pursue… She sounded a lot happier and enlivened!
  • And me, well I – practicing what I preach – had an absolute blast swimming with dolphins.  I stepped right out of my comfort zone and it was incredibly liberating and made me feel alive!  And I’m making sure that my mantra is to live a life authentic to who I am: be it professionally or personally…