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How to Beat Burnout Before it Beats You

Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army
There are several professions that tend to have high rates of burnout, and in my lifetime I’ve been deeply ensconced in two of them. For seven years I taught elementary school, and I can tell you that teachers everywhere are dropping like flies. That job is tough.  People in professions that involve helping others are highly likely to burn out because of the amount of emotional attachment that develops, causing an incredible amount of mental strain.

I’m now considered an entrepreneur, in that I’ve started up my own business and I’m my own boss. Studies show that entrepreneurs are also more likely than most “typical” professionals to experience burnout. This is due to the fact that there is no limit to how much success we can attain, and because of that, we have a hard time turning down opportunities.  Before we know it, we’re exhausting ourselves by taking on more projects than we can reasonably handle.

If you’re making your living in a job that has the potential to evoke excessive amounts of stress, involves a high level of responsibility, or demands long hours, be proactive about avoiding burnout. If you’ve started to feel the first twinges of distress surrounding work, use the following list as a guide to avoid causing a major professional setback.

  • Pin point the source of any discontent and fix it. It’s not the job itself that will bring you down, but its interference with the things you love to do most – like spending time with family, working out, or getting a good night’s sleep every night. What do you wish you had time for?

  • Set boundaries for those above events to ensure that they will always come before work in order to refresh your energy and motivation.

  • Make sure you’re keeping it interesting! Even as an entrepreneur, if your projects all start to look the same, you’ll get bored fast. Pick and choose a variety of assignments, or simply make a change to your daily routine.

  • Pace yourself for the long haul and don’t expect miracles.
  • Take vacations! If you have a corporate job, USE your paid days off – don’t just bank them. If you’re self-employed, start setting things up so that your business can remain successful even when you take a few days off.

It’s extremely important to be able to recognize the early symptoms of burnout so that you can attain the level of success that you’re reaching for while remaining in good physical and mental health. Once burnout occurs, it can spell disaster and is quite difficult to reverse. Always keep that fire extinguisher nearby and at the ready, because if you don’t beat burnout first, it can most certainly beat you.

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Do You Have What it Takes to be a Great Leader?

Photo courtesy of The Eggplant
This morning, my doctor (a specialist, nonetheless) told me, “You know more about this than I do,” and sort of let me lead him through the rest of the appointment, during which I had to correct him several times about well documented medical information.  I left there with only sort of what I needed, but with a new resolve to find a doctor who can lead me, rather than vice versa.

When it comes down to it, what all people really want, in virtually every situation,  is leadership. Whether you’re a doctor, lawyer, nanny, auto mechanic or handyman, people want to feel like you know what you’re doing. When we seek out others for their services, we expect them to take a leadership role in the relationship that develops.  We specifically sought them out because we needed guidance, and if they have none to offer, what transpires is just wasted time, energy and money.

In our own lives, we can alleviate this problem by providing leadership in our area of expertise. I feel fairly confident that most people have what it takes to be a leader in some capacity.  Whatever your role is in society, master it.  Along with learning everything you can about your leadership position, work on improving the following general leadership skills:

  1. Confidence – People will feel comfortable taking your advice and turning to you for guidance if you present yourself with a strong demeanor.   Be self-assured, firm, make eye contact, avoid nervous laughter, and speak with certainty.
  2. Acceptance –  A good leader listens well and is able to hear points of view that differ from his or her own.  Be prepared to face conflicting opinions, attitudes, and viewpoints without being condescending or mean. Also – know how to ask appropriate questions when gathering information from others.
  3. Decisiveness – Ultimately, many final decisions will be up to you. Anticipate some people disagreeing with you and perhaps disliking you.  You are there to lead, not to make friends.
  4. Empathy – You’re not out to make friends, but it is important that you care about helping the people that you are leading. A well-respected leader has a heart. Motivate those who look up to you by encouraging them often.
  5. Consistency –  Avoid erratic behaviors and irresponsible decisions. Offer people the stability that comes with knowing what to expect from you. Offer quality, sensible solutions that follow a similar pattern. Avoid being aggressive one day and passive the next. That only confuses people and makes you seem like anything but a leader.

We all provide leadership – whether  in business, parenting, education, love or friendship. Being a quality leader is a desirable trait in many aspects of life. Leaders solve problems and get results. What’s your leadership role?

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Why Lending a Helping Hand Sometimes Really Bites

Photo courtesy of ninasaurusrex
One day last week, while I was taking my lunch break, I looked out my front window to see a gigantic turtle lumbering across the sidewalk in the direction of the road. The amount that I love turtles is akin to the amount that Kristen Bell loves sloths. Yeah, it’s a borderline problem. For me. For Kristen Bell? There’s no borderline about it.

Given my passion for turtles, I made the impromptu decision to cut into my jam packed work schedule in order to protect this beast from himself. Off I ran, hair akimbo and with no concern for my crocs and socks footwear.  “I will save you from death, turtle friend!” I yelled. I pit-stopped at my mom’s house and panted at her that I needed help relocating a reptile. Knowing me as well as she does, she immediately understood that we were on a Turtle Mission and we continued onward toward salvation.

This is what we had to attempt to save.
Photo courtesy of slappytheseal

Admittedly, we were suddenly skeptical, and we wondered if this guy even slightly wanted our services. Happy to see us, he did not look. We vacillated between spending our time as it had previously been judiciously and pragmatically allotted, or attempting to preserve the life of what appeared to be the last living dinosaur who seemed pretty angry that no one told him about extinction. Ultimately, we threw caution to the wind and waved good bye to precious work hours in order to save a turtle.

Anky, as I now refer to him, was not one bit interested in our “help” and he did everything to rally against us at every turn. He thrashed his razor sharp claws and snapped his long fangs at us.  His thorny tail whipped through the air in warning when we approached. If we were there to assist him, he would prefer that we would just drop dead, thank you very much.

That got me thinking about all of the resistent people in our lives who we repeatedly try to help, to no avail. They respond similarly to Anky, except in a more passive aggressive manner. They make it clear that they are “heading toward disaster.” We offer a helping hand, which is forcefully pushed away. This cycle can go on indefinitely, repeating itself ad nauseum, until we finally wake up and make the connection that these people don’t want help; they want attention, and they’ll sabotage our work days, our productivity levels, and our own level of success to get it.

Before you sap precious energy that could be better spent improving your own life, determine whether or not your assistance is needed or even really wanted. You’ll learn to sort out people who really need you from those who only want attention. Trying to help the unhelpable is a waste of time that could be spent increasing your productivity or learning something new. Your time is valuable! Use it wisely.

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Just How Far Will Flattery Get You?

Photo courtesy of lover-of-life
Just when I thought the art of flattery was dead, I got a gushing e-mail from a client complimenting some work I recently completed on a project for him. When I realized that he took actual time out of his work day to deliberately write me an email for the sole reason of giving me a virtual high five, I was so moved that it made me stop and think: did kudos go out of style when Myspace did?

If you think about it, in our daily lives, whether at work or at home, compliments are kind of hard to come by these days. Bosses, clients, coworkers and sometimes even family members are quick to point out our flaws and shortcomings, but seem less likely to let us know when we’re rocking it. According to a recent survey that I just found, one out of eight women said that they had not received a compliment in the past three months. Not one single compliment in ninety days! Things are dire, dear readers.

As human beings, we need to be told that we’re doing a good job. Sure, we get a paycheck every week, but sometimes we aren’t sure if that means we’re a stellar employee or because they HAVE to pay us. We all need to hear that we are appreciated, and that what we do makes someone else’s life easier, right? Hearing that we are appreciated and needed encourages us to perform even better, and gives us the motivation to hone our skills even further.

The problem may be that some adults are uncomfortable with receiving compliments, which tends to give others less inclination to praise them. However, even if someone repeatedly brushes off your flattery, rest assured that they are secretly internalizing those positive comments and their self-esteem is getting a boost. You can make someone’s entire week with just a few small words. Imagine that! You have the power to change someone’s WEEK from bad to good with one sentence and a smile!

Naturally, sometimes in the garden of life we encounter a few thorns that need to be tamed or pruned a bit so that they do more good than harm. But when life gives us roses, be sure to point out how lovely they are, and how sweetly fragrant they smell. You might see them bloom even bigger, right before your eyes.

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Talk Might be Cheap, But it’s Still in Demand

Photo courtesy of LifeSupercharger
“The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation…”
~Deborah Tannen

I’ve been married twice now, and although it is true that it’s markedly easier the second time around, any relationship requires attention and tune-ups in order to thrive.  You know when they show those clips at the end of romantic movies where they ask old couples, “What is the most important part of a happy marriage?”  Nine couples out of ten enthusiastically say, “Good communication!” Sometimes one of the old men will give a sly grin and say something about a good sex life, but we know (and he knows) that without communication, everything else just falls apart.

My husband and I have been married for just under a year now and are refining our relationship brilliantly. We work extremely well as a team, and we continue to grow stronger and happier the more we each listen to each other. What we have realized is that, since we met and married in our 30s, our communication skills have already matured quite a bit, as have we. Since we have both been previously married and engaged in professional careers, we have become quite adept at communicating with a variety of different people in our lives: spouses, children, parents, bosses, coworkers, friends in need, neighbors, in-laws and even people we don’t really like.  We’ve learned how to adjust our interactions with others based on each individual person’s personality.

What my husband and I recently discovered, however, is that some key aspects of communicating are actually quite universal and will be effective whether used with a spouse, a child, a stoic neighbor, or a boss.  In fact, my husband actually inspired me to write this blog post when he found himself in a difficult situation professionally.  He relayed to me that he ended up referring back to something he had learned by communicating with me, applied it to his work situation, and voila! Instant success!

We spend most of our time communicating with our spouses and children because we view them as the most important relationships in our lives. Why not apply bits and pieces of what we learn through making our most meaningful relationships successful to other relationships as well? Newsflash: If your wife likes hearing that you’re sorry, chances are good that your boss does too.

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