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Burn out is a relatively new phrase for the problem we have all been too afraid to face.
If I work this many hours, at this intensity, for this long, what effect is it going to have on me?
One of my most commonly asked questions is whether it is possible to avoid burning out altogether and my answer is yes, absolutely!
Despite the belief that law is an inherently stressful job, I do not believe that it is inevitable that working hard means burning out.
There are 3 key areas that come up time and again in discussions with my clients and are strong predictors of whether you're heading for burnout.
1 - What kind of stress do you experience?
Stress by itself is neither good nor bad, it is the way that we experience it and the effect that it has on us that can be negative. Think back to the last time that you were stressed and working hard, rushing against a deadline or snowed under with work.
What thoughts and feelings were coming up? Were they about the situation or about your place in it?
My clients will often come to me with an underlying narrative or belief of 'I'm not good enough, people will find out, I don't belong here, I can't do this'. These thoughts colour everything that they do and push them to over perform in order to feel safe.
A more resilient mindset focuses on the issues at hand without falling in to blame, shame or fear. Pay attention to how you feel and speak about yourself when under pressure; if you're falling into the trap of blaming yourself, it's time to take a step back.
2 - What support do you have?
We all need support, no matter how much we want to deny it.
Ask what your support is, at work and at home. Do you have friends, family members you can speak to and share the issues with? Do you work in a supportive, collegiate environment and know that you will receive support if you ask for help?
Conversely, working in high pressure or competitive offices, worrying about people waiting for you to fail or feeling that you cannot confide in people outside of work because they don't understand or you don't want to worry them is a risk factor for burnout. Find the support you need and allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to share.
3 - What action do you take?
Stress coping strategies can alleviate or compound the problem.
Do you have people to talk to above? Do you lean in to the fear and allow yourself to rest and celebrate when you get through the tough times?
Or perhaps you're more likely to distract yourself with food, alcohol or numb out to endless boxsets on Netflix, suppressing the stress and putting it off instead of dealing with it.
Remember: stress is neither good nor bad, it's how we perceive and respond to it that determined the effect it has on us.
Finally I want to remind you - stress and burnout are not the career killers you might think. You might be surprised by just how many people feel exactly the same as you do.
Formerly a stressed and exhausted solicitor, Leah Steele is the founder of Searching for Serenity, the international mentoring and training practice for professional women. Leah's mission is to open the conversation around perfectionism, worthiness and mental health and to provide guidance, training and support for women who are ready to shake off the do-it-all mentality in favour of a career they crave and a life they love.
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