Burnout Expert: Liza Baker
In my last post, I talked about the best way to eat—what I didn’t tell you is that I usually start my workshops on that topic with a poll: What is the best way to eat?
The respondents are given a list of eating styles to choose from, ranging from carnivore to what my father used to call vegeterrorist, from low to high carb, low to high protein, low to high fat.
And yes, they do have to option to click more than one answer and to choose “other” and describe it.
Most of the time, there’s at least one smarty-pants participant. You know the one—she’s got all the right answers and given the chance (or if you just happen to pause for a breath) she’ll tell you so.
I can say that because I used to be that woman. I was a straight-A, Valedictorian, rule-following, good girl who proved her worth in the world by knowing all the answers. Always.
And I’ve turned into the woman who likes to give my younger self her comeuppance. I’ve learned that none of us needs to prove our worth in the world—if we’re on the planet, we are worthy of love and respect.
So the answer to the question: “What’s the best way to eat?” is a non-answer, “None of the above,” because while there are some principles of healthy eating—whole foods cooked from scratch and eaten in moderation with mindfulness and gratitude—no one eating style works for everyone.
You have my permission to treat anyone who proselytizes about their eating style the same way you treat anyone who tries to convince you that their politics is the right one or to convert you to their (one, true) faith.
How Well Do You Handle Stress?
When I do workshops or group coaching around stress and burnout, the first question I ask participants is, “On a scale of 1–10, with 1 being “terribly” and 10 being “without a problem,” how do you handle stress?”
Ooo—there she is again! That one who confidently answers with a 10 and goes on to tell everyone at length about how she’s meditated (breathed, chanted, yoga-ed, tapped…) her way out of all stress she encounters.
Now, given the story above you probably know I’m about to give my former self a proper smackdown. And you’re right.
Only this time, it’s about changing the question rather than giving the answer.
All you overachievers take a seat. (Please.) Do you really want us to know that you are getting an A+ in stress management? Because we know you’re just passing—not as in barely passing the test but as in you’re showing the world one face and hiding what’s really going on behind that façade. You’re doing it all wrong.
For me, the question is not “How well do you handle stress?” but “Why are you in a position where you have to handle stress?” “Am I doing it wrong?”
And more importantly, “What can we do to remove—or at least mitigate—the stress in our lives?”
“According to studies cited by Brooks, it’s been shown that humans work more productively when they work less.”
5 P’s To Ponder:
In a clever, image-heavy piece for The Apopka Voice, Ethan Brooks writes about Bob the Juggler and his furry friend. Hamster Jack, who knows the secret (the 3 Ps) that will prevent Bob from spiraling from stress into burnout. And keep him from moving from productive to unproductive to anti-productive (the point at which your mistakes are costing your colleagues time to fix them).
These 3 Ps are: priorities, positive constraints, and psychology.
Brooks makes an interesting discovery when he looks up the word “priorities:” did you know that, prior to WWII, the word was used almost exclusively in its singular form? Because really—if you have more than one priority, it’s a bit of an oxymoron cloaked in a single word!
And yet, how many of us are graded at work on our ability to perform at a high level. Because we are able to juggle a number of important projects?
According to studies cited by Brooks, it’s been shown that humans work more productively when they work less. The “work smarter, not harder” movement, which goes along with the whole lifehacking movement which, I’m delighted to hear, is on its way out. Amen to that, I say.
Hamster Jack wisely suggests that performing at the highest level while not protecting our ability is what leads to burnout. And he gives some tips (dare I say hacks?) for protecting that ability, AKA self-care.
Um, That’s Only 3?
You’re right! Brooks offers 3 Ps: priorities, positive constraints, and psychology.
Don’t get me wrong, I want you to take a close look at two more Ps that Brooks’s piece is rife with: performance and productivity.
When I hear the word performance—perhaps because I am not from the corporate world. I don’t think about how one shows up at work: I think about actors, movies, and stages.
And many people I know who feel as though they are going through life with a mask on, hiding what’s happening below the surface, how they feel IRL.
It’s not a positive association.
“Because our thoughts become our words, and our words become our reality.”
Again, perhaps because I’m not in the corporate world, I have a hard time viewing productivity—as in “the economy must always be growing”—as a noble goal.
I know—how very un-capitalist of me! I’ll admit it, I’m a Bernie girl through and through. So when the next round of McCarthyism comes through, you’ll know why I’ve disappeared.
But as I’ve said many times over the years of my coaching, part of my work is to teach clients to speak a new language. The language of health. I spend a lot of time helping clients to reframe their thoughts. Because our thoughts become our words, and our words become our reality.
And perhaps if we recognize that we can replace the question, “How do we perform at the highest level and be the most productive?” with a better one, “How can we protect our ability to do our best work in the world?” we’ll finally get headed in the direction of reducing and preventing burnout.
A Final Reframe:
I’m not a huge fan of binary thinking: carnivore/vegan, right/wrong, right/left, red/blue, black/white—these are the dichotomies we face daily, often forgetting that there’s a messy gray middle that our messy gray matter often has trouble navigating.
A large part of my work supporting women in burnout involves getting them to engage with their inner wisdom, to use their intuition to discover what food and lifestyle choices are right for them in the stage of life where they find themselves right now, not in the BC era (before children? before cellulite?).
Dedicated to their chronic caregiving—work all day in the service of others only to return home to more populations that need their care. A lot of them don’t remember the last time someone asked them what they need, what they want. And they are constantly bombarded by messages that they’re not doing it well. Not measuring up, you’re wrong and not doing it right.
A Final Exercise:
As a final reframing exercise, I direct you first to an article that leaped off the (virtual) page at me last week. In all its masculine energy-driven, capitalist-steeped glory: “You’re still doing remote work all wrong,” writes Will Leitch.
This self-styled expert on all things remote work makes some good suggestions, that may work for some of us who work remotely. And, as many experts do, he couches his recommendations in the language of commandments: put on real clothes, leave your office (chair), limit your social media, create a schedule, get outside.
Apparently, Mr. Leitch has not read much about how women are suffering burnout at several times the rate of men during the pandemic. He can’t hear us responding to his every point:
- I haven’t had time to wash those real clothes.
- I leave my office chair all day long to deal with homeschooling, childcare, eldercare, and domestic work that still needs doing irrespective of where I work.
- Social media? What’s that? I don’t remember the last time I logged on.
- Create a schedule? Honey, I manage my own schedule in addition to my spouse’s, my kids’, and my pets’.
- And I do get outside—in my dreams.
So thank you, Mr. Leitch, for your input. I’d like to inform you—in your own binary-based language, which is likely the only one you understand. You’re asking the wrong question.
A Better Question:
The better question might be (note the non-binary language! the ambiguity!): what changes can be made at the systemic level—whether that be the home, the workplace, the community, the state, or the nation to prevent burnout in the lives of the women whose mission it is to make our homes, our workplaces, our communities, our states, and our nation?
I like the reframe offered by what three women write about for United Nations’ Women Count initiative:
[T]he responses to COVID-19 must reflect the specific needs and new burdens that people, and particularly women, are facing. Responses must be transformative in nature, recognizing that women’s time and resources are finite. Women are providing the care that is sustaining our families, societies and communities. This work is essential and needs to be recognized, valued and most importantly supported through diverse measures, including policies such as expansive and inclusive social protection for unpaid caregivers and greater access to family and paid sick leave.
Ginette Azcona, Antra Bhatt and Kaitlin Love
We’re plenty “productive” already—not only at work but also at home—and we’re tired of being judged for our “performance” and found wanting and doing it all wrong.
Imagine a world where we are compensated not only for what we produce (things and ideas and children), but for the cognitive work we do. The mental load of project management that follows us from work to home and back again. Sometimes in the very same physical space.
About the Author:
Liza Baker is a full-time health coach and nonprofit consultant, self-published author, blogger, podcaster, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Her favorite women to support are the under-appreciated, under-listened to, under-taken-care-of, under-valued, overwhelmed, overworked, over-scheduled, overtired, and OVER. IT. ALL. women 40+ who work in the mission-driven/nonprofit sector. Put more simply: she helps women be well while doing good.