Summer Rewind: The Secret
to Overcoming Burnout


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 114

Welcome to the school leadership re-imagined podcast where we rethink what's possible to transform your school if you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders,

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson. And today, we are continuing our summer rewind series by rewinding all the way back to Episode 22. Now, Episode 22, originally appeared several years ago. But I think that the content is still relevant and perhaps even more relevant now because it was all about the secret to overcoming burnout. Now, this is something I get asked to speak about a lot. And I believe it is really important for all of us, especially those of us who are working towards becoming builders, because it's really about understanding that most burnout happens whenever you are operating outside of your zone of genius. And so it's really important for you to figure out what is your zone of genius and operate inside of that. It's something that I try to live by every single day. And it's something that the builders that I've worked with have found to be really helpful as they think about their career trajectory.

Just the other day someone called me about a career opportunity that they had. 

They said, it just didn't feel right. And so they didn't take it. And I wanted to applaud that person, because that is a sign that you are really a builder because you understand what is your zone of genius, you understand what makes you happy, you understand what you are called to do. And you stick with that calling, even when you're tempted by a promotion. And so I hope that as you listen to this episode today, that you will start thinking about why you might be feeling burned out? And are you operating inside of your zone of genius. And if you're not, then you really want to reconsider what you're doing. Because the thing about being a builder is that builders are joyous. They are doing work that they feel they are called to do. And that sense of being called that that operating inside of your zone of genius is what helps builders persist when other people give up. So enjoy the episode. And I'll be back next time with another summer rewind.

Today I'm gonna do something a little different. You see, today we're going to talk about how to overcome one of the biggest, and in my opinion, one of the sneakiest obstacles many builders face. And that's burnout. But instead of just doing a training where you know, like I gave you some you know, tips and strategies for overcoming burnout. Well, this week, I'm going to do something a little different, I'm going to get pretty personal and share with you my own struggle with burnout, and how I managed to overcome it and turn that huge obstacle into a huge opportunity. Because here's the thing, burnout is something that we all are going to face at some point in our careers. And what's more, it's not something that you can solve by, you know, taking a vacation or getting more rest or, or even reducing your workload. And that's because burnout is usually a symptom of a bigger problem. So today, we're going to talk about the real problem with burnout. And I'm going to share with you my own story with burnout. And I'm going to get a little vulnerable I mean, not like deep sobbing sloppy, tears vulnerable. But I'm going to share with you one of the toughest parts of my own career and hopes that you know that maybe my story can become kind of a cautionary tale for you and maybe inspire you as you're grappling with your own burnout. So if you're struggling with burnout, you're going to learn how to quickly get yourself out of burnout and be energized and inspired by your work again. And if you're not struggling with burnout yet well chances are at some point you will struggle with burnout.

Learn the early warning signs of burnout and how you can avoid real burnout altogether. 

Okay, tell me if this feels familiar. Have you ever, you know, dreaded going to work? I mean, you just don't feel like getting up out the bed and facing another day of the same old stuff? Or how about this one? Have you ever felt like you were just kind of going through the motions, but your heart just wasn't in your job anymore? Or have you ever looked at, you know, this mountain of work sitting near your desk, and you just feel exhausted and overwhelmed? And you just wonder, you know, what is the point? But then you go ahead and force yourself to get through it anyway? Or do you ever wonder if this is, if this is all there is? I mean, do you ever feel like you were meant for more than what you're doing right now? Well, if you've answered yes to any of these questions, I've got good news for you. And then I've got some bad news. So bad news. First, if you've ever felt this way, or if you're feeling this way, right now, I hate to tell you this, but you're probably at least a little bit burned out. But there's good news. So the good news is that burnout is really a signal that something else is going on. And if you listen to it, you have this really huge opportunity to turn your career round, and start doing things that the things that you were called to do, and to make the difference that you were meant to make in the world.

Now, in order to explain what I mean, I need to talk about the four zones in which all of us tend to operate. In fact, we spend our entire lives going back and forth among these four zones. And the reason that you're probably feeling burned out when you're feeling burned out is that you're operating inside of the wrong zone. And once you understand that, you can get yourself out of the wrong zone and into the right zone, and just like that, your burnout will disappear. So the first zone is called the zone of incompetence. And these are all the activities at which you are just not good. So for me, that would be you know, basically anything that required me to be super organized. I mean, I really struggle with this, I really struggle with things that require me to follow a prescribed system. Now my sister thinks that's because I'm a hard headed rule breaker. But that's not true. Follow the rules, it's just that it's really hard for me to kind of, you know, force myself into a prescribed do this, first, do this. Second, make sure you cover this kind of thing. You know, I kind of like to improvise. And you know, in some instances that can really screw things up. So for instance, when I first became an assistant principal, my principal asked me to be the testing coordinator, and he handed me the testing manual. And, you know, I took it back to my office, and after reading about two pages of the manual, my eyes started to glaze over it. It wasn't that it was just hard. I mean, that's not the issue, it was just so highly detailed that I kept losing track of what I was reading, and I just thought, you know, kill me now, this is horrible.

Long story short, that manual was directly in my zone of incompetence.

I had no business being the testing coordinator. I mean, I even if I screw up my calendar all the time, so but what was I going to do with a testing calendar with all these dates and things that had to be sent in and all of this, you know, stuff that has to be so organized. So instead of forcing myself to do something I had zero business doing, I found a teacher whose superpower happened to be testing coordination. I mean, who knows? Right? I mean, she was a genius at this stuff. And what's more, he was kind of, it was kind of weird to me. But you know, she actually loved doing it at I couldn't understand it. But she loved this kind of stuff. So I got our sub, bought her candies, and chocolate, I gave her everything she wanted. And then I let her take care of everything. And I went on and did something that I was better at, and something that was more meaningful to me. And that's kind of what you need to do. Whenever you're in your zone of incompetence. You need to delegate that work to someone who can do it far better than you can. And here's what we do, what we often do is we try to muscle through our zone of incompetence. And sometimes we even you know, beat ourselves up about not being good at something and then we try to force ourselves to improve and cut that out. Don't waste your time in your zone of incompetence, that can lead to a lot of frustration and burnout. Find out who can do it better, and then let them handle it, you'll be doing yourself and you'll be doing them a favor. So that's an easy one. That's an easy kind of burnout to tackle. Now the next zone is the zone of competence. So zone of incompetence, I can't do it. zone of competence is where you can do something fairly well but others can do it just as well as you can. And if you're a builder, they're probably a ton of things. But you're decent at maybe even good at I mean, it's why you're in the position right now, right?

So Builders tend to have a lot of competencies in big, that's because we just figure stuff out. But here's the problem. Far too many builders spend way too much time and energy in the zone of competence. And here's how it usually goes down, like, you know, you're fairly competent at something. So you end up taking on tasks that you know, you could do, even though those tasks are really outside of your job description. And they keep you from working on things that are really critical to your success and, and to your happiness. And here's how you know, you're in the zone of competence, if you are doing something that you know, you should be giving to somebody else you hate doing it, you don't like doing it, but you say to yourself, look, it's just quicker and easier if I do it myself, you, my friend, are firmly in the zone of competence. And I'll be honest with you, I still spend way too much time in the zone of competence. You know, I always have as a middle school administrator, I would sit down and work out the hall duty schedule myself, because I thought, you know, it's easier if I just do it that way. And I remember one time I was sitting in my office, and I was, you know, completing the hall duty matrix for the year. And the PE department chair stopped by my office to ask a question. And he saw all these materials spread across my desk, and he asked me what I was working on. And I told him, and then he said, you know, last year that schedule was a mess. And I have some ideas on how to fix it, if you're open to hearing them. And I looked up at him. And he looked like an angel at that moment. And I heard the heavens open. And I said, Look, Ivan, do you want better? Would you like to work out the schedule, and then you know, get back to me at the end of the day, and then talk me through what you did. And his face lit up, he was so happy. But he couldn't be more happy than I was at that moment, not only because I didn't have to do schedule, but because I knew that he was going to do a good job. So he did the schedule, and he did a much better job than I could have done. And instead of working on a schedule and slogging through that, I actually spent my time working on something else that mattered more to me. Now, how many of you right now are spending way too much time in your zone of competence, you're doing work just to get it done, because it needs to get done.

It's quick if you do it yourself, but it doesn't feed you. 

And what's more, it's worth the depth and really capitalizing your talents or, or your passion, you're just plowing through it, because you think it's easy to do it yourself, then take the time to explain it to somebody else. You know, I think the reason that we stay stuck in the zone of competence is that we feel guilty about delegating stuff to other people. I mean, we feel like we should be doing that work. But in reality, we shouldn't spend a whole much time in our zones of competence, because doing that distracts us from doing the work that we really should be doing. And that's the work that only we can do. So a lot of burnout happens in the zone of incompetence, a lot of it happens in the zone of competence. But in this neck zone, this is where we find the most insidious kind of burnout. And that's in the zone of excellence. So the zone of excellence, in my opinion, it's probably the most dangerous zone. And that's because in the zone of excellence are all those activities that you actually do extremely well, you you make a good living in your zone of excellence. And that's what makes it so tempting. And ultimately, you know, so dangerous, because your zone of excellence is where you can usually achieve really great results without much effort. You're reliable in your zone of excellence. In fact, you provide a steady stream of all the things that your job is looking for, and your organization thrives on. But here's the problem. In the zone of excellence, you feed everybody except yourself, you show up, you do an amazing job.

In fact, you do a better job the most people at your level, and you get rewarded for people tell you how good you are. And you know, you're good, you know that you're doing a great job. It's just that, well, you're not really passionate about what you do. It just doesn't feed you Yeah, and you can't quite put your finger on it. And usually it's when we're in our zone of excellence that we get burned out the most. I think it's because in the zone of excellence, it's it's really a trap. You see, as long as you're operating in your zone of excellence, it's really hard to admit to yourself or to other people that you're not really being fulfilled. I mean, after all, you're doing a great job, you're you're getting paid well for it. A ton of people would kill to be where you are right now. But for some reason, you're just not happy. So sometimes, a lot of times what we do is we ignore because you can't quite put your finger on it because you might feel guilty about being unhappy when when you're doing a great job and when other people would love to be in your position. You end up ignoring the nagging feeling that you are called to do Do something more and you end up staying trapped in a job that you're really good at. But it doesn't feel like your true calling or your true passion. And I know because I spent my entire administrator career trapped inside of my own zone of excellence. So, as many of you know, I started out as a high school English teacher, and I loved teaching, I was really, really good at it, I was constantly getting better at it. 

I was passionate about it. 

But because I was a good teacher, you know, what happens to good teachers, I started getting pressured into going into administration. And then, you know, after a few years, after a lot of pressure, I did something that I really, you know, when it went against my passion, I accepted a job in administration. And I had the pressure of the district saying, you know, you're so good at this, you really need to do this, people were pushing me. And I made the mistake of succumbing to that pressure. And as soon as I got into the administrative job, I felt like, Oh, goodness, I've made a huge mistake, because I just missed the classroom so much. And it was really, really bored. I mean, it's not that administration itself was boring, mind you, it's just that I wasn't as passionate about the work as I was about teaching. And here's the problem, I got really good at being an administrator. I mean, not at first, but you know, I made my mistakes like everybody else. But in a really short period of time, I got good at this job that I, you know, wasn't all that excited about. And what happened was people started complimenting me on the job, I got promoted, then I got promoted. Again, I won an award, you know, it's on the fast track to, to being a principal, but I wasn't going to stay a principal long, because people were saying, you know, sooner or later, you're going to be, you know, central office leader. And some point, you'll be a superintendent, and you know, some rising star in my district. And every time he would talk about my bright future, I would, I would imagine that future, and their faces would be all lit up, and they'd be all excited about it. But I would look at that future and think that that doesn't sound good to me at all. And I started feeling really trapped.

You know, every time they thought about this future, this track I was on, I started to feel claustrophobic. And then one day, the superintendent of my district saw me somewhere, and he told me that I was, quote, unquote, ready, and that I needed to be a principal this year, this coming school year. But here's the problem. So in my particular district, they had a pretty stringent process for becoming a principal and it was highly competitive. So you have to do at least two years as an assistant principal first. And then you have to successfully complete the administrator training program before you can even be eligible to be a principal. And then even after that, you have to do another year as a principal intern, before you would even be considered as a principal. And I wasn't even finished with my second year training yet. But they pushed me they said he'd be a great principal. And they were right, I would do a good job as being a principal. And they would say, you know, like to know how lucky you are. And they would say things like, you know, I mean, a million people would, would kill for this kind of opportunity. And they were right. It was an amazing opportunity. And I was tremendously flattered. It was a big deal. problem was, I wasn't excited about it, I started to wonder, what's wrong with me? Why am I not excited about this great opportunity. And, you know, after a while, I started not sleeping at night, I would just wake up in the middle of the night with this really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. And instead of being happy about this opportunity about being this rising star, I just, I was dreading every moment of it. And I started feeling really burned out at work. I mean, it wasn't like the workout harder, or things got more busy was just, I just didn't feel like working anymore. It was hard to get myself motivated to do the work. I would have to force myself every single day to just go get through the day, get the work done, just so I could get home and I thought maybe I was getting a little bored at work. Or maybe I should become a principal or try a different school.

Maybe if I had my own school, I would be more passionate about it. 

But that wasn't it. I mean, what what I didn't realize then and what I know now is that the reason I was so burned out was because I was operating in my zone of excellence instead of in my zone of genius. You see your zone of genius, is where you're doing the things that you are uniquely qualified to do. It's where your specific gifts, your specific strengths, they really shine. The thing about your zone of genius is that when you're in it, it doesn't feel like work. It feels totally natural. It feels like the thing that you were meant to do and you are in complete alignment with your path. passion and your purpose. In fact, when you're your zone of genius, you almost can't help not working. I mean, you, you can't resist it because you're doing the thing that you were meant to do. I didn't feel that way about my job as an administrator. But because I was good at it, and because I was being rewarded for it, I stayed in the position, and I continue to serve. Plus, if I'm totally honest, if fed my ego, just a little bit, I mean, all these people were telling me, Robin, you're so good at this, Robyn, you're gonna go far in this district. And it was flattering. But the more I listened to the flattery, the less, I listened to my heart. Sure, I was experiencing success. But I wasn't happy. And I didn't understand why. And I started waking up extra early. And I'd started doing something called morning pages, which is kind of a journaling process. And what I was trying to do is I was trying to figure out why I was so unhappy, why I was so burned out.

And after about a month of journaling, I noticed the same thought kept appearing up over and over and over again. And that that was this, I want to quit my job. I want to write a book. Now about that was preposterous. I mean, sure, one day, I would write a blog once I had more experience under my belt, but I was still a nobody. I mean, who would buy a book by me. And I couldn't quit my job anyway. I mean, I just bought a house, I needed a new car, I was single at the time. So I didn't have you know, some sugar daddy, you know, there to support me while I figured all this out. I mean, how is that going to support myself? And so I just kind of stuffed those thoughts inside, I didn't pay attention to them. And I just, you know, kept plowing through my work, but I was so miserable inside. And then one February afternoon, I was shadowing my area Superintendent as part of my training program as an assistant principal. And we just completed a school visit. And we were getting back into the car to go back to his office. And he casually turned to me and asked me show. What do you want to do next year? Well, I knew what the right answer was. The right answer was, sir, I want to be a principal. This was my big chance. And it was a huge honor, since I still technically had at least a year left on my training program before I'd even be eligible to be a principal. So I struggled with myself and I turned to him and I parted my lips to say, sir, I want to be a principal. But what came out of my mouth was, I want to quit my job. I want to write a book. And as soon as that came out of my mouth, a gap, he sat there staring at me in complete shock. And, and neither of us spoke for a moment. And I need to tell you, I could have died. I mean, I remember thinking, you know, I just ruined my career Time of death to 30 6pm. And finally, he broke the silence. And he asked me, Do you really mean that? And for a second, just a second, I thought about taking it back. But the moment those words left my mouth, I knew it was my true heart's desire, and there was no turning back from that.

It was more dangerous for me to to squelch that desire than it was for me to step out into the unknown. 

So I nodded. Yes. And it felt life or death. So he turned and he started up the car. And he said, you know, well, that's not what I was expecting to hear. But if you're sure, then, you know, that certainly changes things. And it sounded so ominous. And I even got a little scared at the moment. In all these questions started coming up, like what are you going to do about health insurance? How are you going to make ends meet? What if you can't write a book? What if nobody wants to publish your book? What are you talking about? I want to write a book. What book about what? What have you done? What have you just made the biggest mistake of your life? But then there was this other part of me that that felt, I don't know, like this piece. I didn't have all the answers, but it didn't matter. I felt excited. And in fact, I fell excited for the first time in years. It just, it just felt right. So after that conversation, I submitted my formal letter of resignation. And when people found out they started asking me why you're leaving. What are you going to do? going to write a book? Oh, really? Do you have a publisher? No. What's your book about? I'm not sure yet. How are you going to support yourself? I have no idea. And they will just look at me like, This girl is crazy. And some even told me you you'll be back. sure this is a cute dream, but you'll be back and other people and this is kind weird, but other people started avoiding me. I mean, it's crazy. But here's what I think what's happening, I think when you walk into your zone of genius, if you step in there and you walk, and you stay securely in your zone of genius, it makes a lot of people, especially those people who are still operating in their zones of, of competence, or even their zones of excellence, it makes those people really uncomfortable, because they are not listening to themselves, because they're burned out because they're not walking in their own zone of genius.

So people start avoiding you. It's weird that way. But as unsure and as nervous as I was, I no longer felt burned out. In fact, I felt happier and more excited than I had felt, in years. That summer, packed up my office, I left my job. And I didn't have it all worked out. And I wasn't sure how I was going to pay my mortgage, or how I was going to eat or even if I could write a blog or sell a book. I love a publisher. I didn't know anything. But in spite of all that uncertainty, I was no longer burned out, I was happy. And guess what, that book that I wanted to write turned into, never work harder than your students, which has gone on to become an international bestseller. And I've written you know, nine other books since then. And while I was writing that book, in order to support myself actually started in mind steps. And starting mindset was one of the best things I ever did. Because every single day, this work I do, I get to walk in my zone of genius, I get to serve in a way that I never thought was possible. And that's really what I want to leave you with today. If you're feeling burned out, if you have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you are meant for something more, something more than what you're doing right now.

Don't ignore the feeling. 

That burnout that you're feeling is really a fine, but you're not currently operating inside of your zone of genius. That's the obstacle. But here's the opportunity. If you will listen to your burnout, it can be a huge wake up call that helps you start searching for the thing that you were really meant to do. The thing that's perfectly aligned with your unique gifts, your unique talents. And if you listen to your burnout, and you take it seriously, it'll show you that what you're currently doing is keeping you from what you should be doing. And then you have a choice. Do you stay locked inside of your zone of competence or even your zone of excellence? Or do you start going after your zone of genius? Do you continue to wallow and burnout? doing a job that you're good at? What you're not really passionate about? Or do you take your burnout as a sign that you are called to do something more? Well, I'll tell you what builders do. Builders don't ignore burnout, they pay attention. They see that burnout as a sign that they've been called to step into something greater. And instead of letting burnout be an obstacle that keeps them vaguely dissatisfied in their work. They see burnout as a chance to recognize the opportunities that they may have been overlooking all along. Just this week, I was working with a superintendent. And we were trying to get through some of the challenges in his district when I finally just turned to him. And I asked him, I said, Listen, it seems to me, like you're just trying to build a school district. That's a slightly better version of the district you're already have. It's not your real passion. And he said he shook his hand. He said no, but he's so frustrated. He's so frustrated, because he knew that he wanted to turn his district into something bigger and better. But he had gotten and fallen into this trap of just giving the district good enough. You see, sometimes you're burned down. And it doesn't mean you need to leave your job.

Sometimes burnout means you just need to do your job and do it with the passion. Do your job the way that you want to do it not the way that it was, you know, maybe other people are telling you, you need to do it. So we started talking some more. And I said, Okay, what if, what if we started dreaming, we started coming up with things and all of a sudden, right before my very eyes, his burnout disappeared. He got so excited about the work beforehand. It wasn't like we solved all of his problems right then and there. But all of a sudden, all the problems that he'd been dealing with faded into the background because he got excited. He stepped outside of his zone of competence, which was maintaining the district exactly like it was and he stepped into his zone of genius. That's what builders do. builders. Don't wallow in burnout Builders. Don't phone it in. Builders take risks. And the biggest risk you can take is to step out of your zone of competence. Step out of your zone of excellence. Step into your zone of genius. The moment you do that, all of your burnout evaporates, and you begin to do something that you were meant to do, and you take your career higher than you ever imagined. That's how you handle burnout #LikeABuilder. 

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

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