​The Secret to Overcoming Burnout


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You're listening to the School Leadership Reimagined Podcast, episode number twentytwo.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined 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 episode 22 of the School Leadership Reimagined podcast. I’m your host, Robyn Jackson and today, I’m going to do something a little different. You see today we’re going to talk about how to overcome one of the biggest and sneakiest obstacles many builder’s face -- Burnout.

But instead of just doing a training where I give you tips and strategies for overcoming burnout, this week, I’m also going to get pretty personal and share with you my own struggle with burnout.

Because here’s the thing. Burnout is something we will ALL face at some point of our career. And what’s more, it’s not something that you can solve by taking a vacation, or getting more rest, or even reducing your workload.

That’s because usually burnout is 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 my own story with burnout with you. Now, I’m going to get a little vulnerable, not deep sobbing and sloppy tears vulnerable but I am going to share with you one of the toughest parts of my own career in hopes that my story can become a cautionary tale for you.

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 even you’re not struggling with burnout yet, chances are you will. So today, you’ll learn the early warning signs of burnout and how you can avoid real burnout altogether.

But before I dive in, I have 2 quick announcements...

First, I want to invite you to join me at Builder’s Lab 2019 which is happening January 28-30, 2019. It’s the only professional development intensive of it’s kind. Instead of listening to a bunch of speakers, you are actually going to spend 3 days solving your biggest challenges in your school or school district.  Builder’s Lab is VERY hands on. You’ll bring your challenges to Builder’s Lab and you and I and a few other VERY smart Builders will work together to solve them once and for all.

You can get your ticket to Builder’s Lab 2019 by going to https://mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab/.

Second, I am doing a free training next week, November 4-8 on how to start your own education consulting business. It’s called the “Jumpstart Your Education Consulting Business 5-Day Challenge) and here’s how it works. When you join the challenge you’ll get a free workbook you can download that helps you build a roadmap to starting your own education consulting business. Then, each night at 7:30 Eastern, I will jump on facebook live and do a 30 minute training on a critical aspect you need to get your education consulting business up and running. You’ll also be a part of an exclusive, private facebook group where you can post your questions, get real-time coaching from me, and get access to other exclusive bonus trainings. And, if you miss one of the live trainings, no problem! I’ll post the recordings inside the facebook group so that you catch up when it’s convenient for you.

At the end of the 5 days, you’ll have completed your roadmap to jumpstart your very own education consulting business! We’ll cover things like how to figure out your niche, how to identify and find your ideal customers, and how much money you need before you quit your job and pursue your dreams full time. This is the last challenge I’ll be doing for a while so if you’ve ever dreamed of being an education consultant or starting your own business one day but you aren’t sure how to get started, then you NEED to be a part of this 5-day challenge. Click here to join.

Ok, tell me if this feels familiar...

Have you ever dreaded going to work? I mean you just don’t feel like getting out of bed and facing another day of the same old stuff?

Or how about this: Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions but your heart just wasn’t in your job any more?

Have you ever looked at the mountain of work on your desk and just felt exhausted and overwhelmed but then forced yourself to just get through it?

Do you ever wonder 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 answered yes to any one of these questions, I’ve got good news and bad news.

Bad news first. If you’ve ever felt this way or if you’re feeling this way right now, I hate to tell you but you’re probably at least just a little burned out.

But here’s the good news: The good news is that burnout is a signal that something else is going on. And if you listen to it, you have a huge opportunity to turn your career around and start doing the things that you were called to do and make the difference you were meant to make in the world.

Now in order to explain what I mean, I need to talk about the 4 zones in which all of us tend to operate.

In fact, we spend our entire lives going back and forth among these 4 zones. And, the reason that you are feeling burned out is that you are operating inside the wrong zone. Once you understand that, you can get yourself out of the wrong zone and into the right zone and like that, your burnout will disappear.

Zone of Incompetence

The first zone is the zone of incompetence. These are all the activities at which you are not good.

For me that would be anything that required me to very organized. I really struggle with things that require me to follow a prescribed system. I like to improvise and that can really screw things up.

So for instance, When I first became an AP, my principals asked me to be the testing coordinator and handed me the testing manual. After reading about 2 pages, my eyes glazed over. It wasn’t hard exactly. It was just so highly detailed that I kept losing track of what I was reading.

Long story short, that manual was directly within my zone of incompetence. I had no business being testing coordinator. I mean I screw up my calendar all the time.

So, instead of forcing myself to do something I had zero business doing, I found a teacher who’s super power happened to be testing coordination. I mean she is a real genius with this stuff and what’s even more surprising, she actually LOVED doing it. I got her a sub. I fed her chocolate. I gave her anything she wanted and she took care of everything.

And that’s what you need to do with your zone of incompetence. You delegate it to someone who can do it far better than you can.

What we often do is we try to muscle through our zone of incompetence. Sometimes we even beat ourselves up about not being good at something and then we try to force ourselves to improve.

Cut that out.

Don’t waste time in your zone of incompetence. Find out who can do it better and then let them handle it. You’ll be doing yourself and them a favor.

Zone of Competence

Okay, so the next zone is the zone of competence.

The zone of competence is where you can do something fairly well, but others can do it just as well as you can.

If you’re a builder, there are probably a TON of things you are decent at. It’s why you’re in the position you’re in right now. Builders tend to have a lot of competencies. We figure stuff out.

Here’s the problem. Far too many Builder’s spend way too much time and energy in this zone.

Here’s how it usually goes down.

You are fairly competent at something so you end up taking on tasks that you know you could do, even though those tasks are outside of your job description and keep you from working on the things that are really critical to your success and happiness.

Here’s how you know you’re in the zone of competence. If you are doing something that you KNOW you should give to someone else to do but you say to yourself, “it’s just quicker if I do it myself,” you my friend are firmly in the zone of competence.

I’ll be honest with you. I spend WAY too much time in the zone of competence. I always have. As a middle school administrator, I would sit down and work out the hall duty schedule myself because I thought it was just easier that way. I remember sitting in my office filling out the hall duty matrix when the PD department chair stopped by my office to ask a question. He saw all the materials spread across my desk and asked me what I was working on. I told him. Then he said, “You know, last year that schedule was a mess. I have some ideas on how to fix it if you’re open to hearing them.” I said, “I can do you one better. Would you like to work out a schedule and get it to me by the end of the day and then talk me through what you did?”

His face lit up. He was so happy!

But he couldn’t have been more happy than I was. Not only did he do the schedule, but he did a much better job than I could have and I could spend my time working on something else that mattered more to me.

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 but it doesn’t feed you. What’s more, it’s work that doesn’t really capitalize on your talents and your passion. You’re just plowing through it because you think it’s easier to do it yourself than take the time to explain it to someone 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. We feel that we SHOULD be doing that work.

But in reality, we shouldn’t spend a whole bunch of time in our zone of competence because it distracts us from doing the work that we really should be doing, the work that ONLY we can do.

Zone of Excellence

The third zone and in my opinion the most dangerous zone is the zone of excellence. The zone of excellence are all those activities you do extremely well. You make a good living in your zone of excellence and that’s what makes it so tempting and ultimately so dangerous.

Your zone of excellence is where you can 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 that your organization thrives on.

The problem is, in the zone of excellence, you feed everyone except yourself. You show up, you do an amazing job, in fact, you do a better job than most people at your level and you get rewarded for it. People tell you how good you are and you know you’re going.

It’s just that… well… you’re not really passionate about what you do. , it is when we are operating within our zone of excellence that we tend to get burned out the most.

I think that’s because the zone of excellence is a trap.

You see as long as you are operating in your zone of excellence, it’s really hard to admit to yourself that you are not really being fulfilled. After all, you’re doing a great job, you’re getting paid well for it, a ton of people would kill to be where you are, what right do you have not to be happy.

So you ignore that nagging feeling that you were called to do something more and you stay trapped in a job that you’re really good at but doesn’t feel like your true calling and passion.

I know. I spent my entire career as a school administrator in the zone of excellence.

As you know, I started out as a high school English teacher and I LOVED teaching. I was good at it, I was constantly getting better at it, and I was passionate about it.

But because I was such a good teacher, I started getting pressured to go into administration.

After a few years, I finally accepted an admin job.

But I think I’ve told you this story before back in episode X, I was really, really bored by the job.

Administration isn’t a boring job, mind you, but I wasn’t really passionate about the work.

Here’s the problem. I was really good at it. I mean, not at first. I made my mistakes just like everyone else. But in a short period of time, I got really good at being an administrator.

And people started complimenting me on it. I got promoted, and then promoted again. I won an award. I was on this fast-track, a rising start in my district.

In fact, one day my superintendent saw me somewhere and told me that I was “ready” and that I needed to be a principal this year.

Now in my particular district, they had a pretty stringent process to become a principal. It was highly competitive. You had to do at least 2 years as an assistant principal first and successfully complete the administrator training program before you could even be eligible. And then you had to do another year as a principal intern before you would even be considered.

I wasn’t even finished with my second year of training yet.

But they pushed. “You’d be a great principal” they said and they were right. I would be good at the job.

“Do you know how lucky you are?” others would ask me. “I mean a million people would kill to have this kind of opportunity!”

And they were right. It was an amazing opportunity.

So why wasn’t I excited about it? I started wondering what was wrong with me?

I started not sleeping at night. I would wake up in the middle of the night with this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Instead of being happy to have this opportunity, I was dreading it.

I was also starting to feel really burned out at work. It wasn’t that the work got harder or things got more busy. It was that I just didn’t feel like working any more. I had to force myself to get through each day and get the work done.

I thought maybe I was just getting bored with the work. Maybe I should become a principal and try a different school. Maybe if I had my own school, I would be more passionate about it.

But that wasn’t it.

What I didn’t realize then and that 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.

Zone of Genius

Your zone of genius is where you are doing the things that you are uniquely qualified to do. It’s where your specific set of gifts and strengths 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 and you are in complete alignment with your passion and your purpose.

In fact, when you’re in your zone of genius, you almost cannot help working. You can’t resist it because you are doing the thing that you were meant to do.

I didn’t feel that way in my current job but because I was good at it, and because I was being rewarded for it. I stayed in the position and continued to serve. Plus, if I’m totally honest, it fed my ego. I mean all these people were telling me Robyn you’re so good at this, or Robyn you’re gonna go far in this county 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.

I started waking up extra early and doing something called morning pages to try to figure out why I was so burned out.

After about a month of journaling I noticed that the same thought kept appearing over and over again.

I want to quit my job.

I want to write a book.

Now I thought that was preposterous. I mean sure, ONE day, I would write a book once I had more experience under my belt. But I was still a nobody. Who would buy a book from me?

Besides, I can’t quite my job. I just bought a house. I needed a new car. I was single at the time so what would I do for health insurance? I didn’t have a sugar daddy. How would I support myself?

Well, one February afternoon, I was shadowing my area superintendent as part of my training and we had just completed a school visit.

As we were getting in the car to go back to his office he casually asked me, “So, what do you want to do next year?”

Well I knew the right answer. The right answer was, “Well 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 in my training program.

So I turned to him and parted my lips to say, “Sir, I want to be a princpal,” but what came out of my mouth was, “I want to quit my job and write a book.”

As soon as it came out of my mouth I gasped. He sat there staring at me in complete shock.

Neither of us spoke for a moment. I could have died. I remember thinking I had just ruined my career. Time of death, 2:36pm.

Finally he broke the silence and asked me, “Do you really mean that?’

For just a second, I thought about taking it back, but the moment I said it, I knew it was my true heart’s desire and there was really no turning back now.

So I nodded yes.

He turned and started up the car. “Well,” he said, “That’s not what I was expecting to hear but if you’re sure then that changes things.”

And at that moment, I got scared. All these questions started coming up. 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 no one wants to publish your book? What if you just made the biggest mistake of your life??

But there was another part of me that felt this, I don’t know, this peace. I didn’t have all the answers but it didn’t matter. I felt excited. Excited for the first time in years. It just felt right.

Well, after that conversation, I submitted my formal letter of resignation.

When people found out they started asking me, “What??? You’re leaving? What will you do?

I don’t know.

“What’s your book about?”

Not sure.

“Do you have a publisher lined up.”

Uh, no. Not yet.

“How will you support yourself?

“I have no idea.”

They looked at me like I was crazy. Some even told me, “you’ll be back.” Others, started avoiding me altoghether.

It was crazy. I think that when you walk in your zone of genius, it makes a lot of people, especially those who are still in their own zones of competence or even excellence, uncomfortable.

But as unsure and 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, I packed up my office and left my job. I didn’t have it all worked out and I was not sure how I was going to pay my mortgage, or how I was going to eat, or even if I could write and sell a book. But in spite of all that uncertainty, I was so happy.

And guess what? That book I wanted to write was Never Work Harder Than Your Students which has gone on to become an international best seller. And, while I was writing that book, I started Mindsteps and went on to do things I never imagined I’d do.

That’s really what I want to leave you with today. 

If you are feeling burned out. If you have nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you were meant for more than what you are doing right now, don’t ignore that feeling. 

That burnout you’re feeling is really a sign that you are not currently operating inside your zone of genius.

And here’s the opportunity. If you listen to your burn out, 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 is perfectly aligned with your unique gifts and talents. If you listen to your burn out and take it seriously, it will show you that what you are currently doing is keeping you from what you should be doing. 

And then you have a choice. Do you stay locked inside 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 in burn out doing a job you’re good at but that you’re not really passionate about, or do you take your burn out as a sign that you are called to do something more?

I’ll tell you what builder’s do. Builder’s don’t ignore burnout. They pay attention. They see that burnout as a sign that they have been called to step into something greater. 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 they may have overlooked.

That’s how you handle burnout #LikeABuilder

Okay, now before we go,

I want to remind you about Builder’s Lab 2019. If you are facing some push back this year, or you are about to embark on a big change and you want to avoid as much push back as possible, bring what you’re working on to Builder’s Lab and I’ll show you the exact steps you need to take overcome that push back and get your change off the ground this year.

Remember, Builder’s Lab is a small, intimate intensive where you can get coaching and support and personal attention so it’s the perfect place and time to step away from your busy school for a few days and get some perspective and support while you still have time to implement the changes this school year. You bring your biggest challenge to Builder’s Lab and  together we’ll come up with a solid plan to help you implement the changes you are trying to make and get everyone on board and invested. Visit https://mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab/ to get your ticket today.

And for those of you who are interested, I am doing a free 5-day Challenge called the Jumpstart Your Education Consulting Business Challenge.

If you’ve never done a 5-day challenge before, here’s how it works. When you sign up for the training, you’ll get a free challenge workbook which will contain everything you need to build your roadmap to starting your own education consulting business. You’ll also be invited to join a private facebook group. Each day at 7:30pm eastern, I’ll go live inside the private facebook group and do a 30 minute training on one aspect of the roadmap. Because I’m doing the training live each day, you can join me live and ask questions. But if you can’t make it live, don’t worry. I’ll record the training and post the recording in the group so that you can watch it later. Then, after the training, you’ll take what you learned and immediately appy it to think through your own business. As you’re building your roadmap you can post questions inside the facebook group and I’ll give you additional coaching.

At the end of 5 days, you’ll have your completed roadmap and you’ll be ready to jumpstart your education consulting business!

The challenge starts Sunday night, November 4, 2018 and runs through Thursday, November 8. You can sign up for the challange here and I’ll also put the link in the show notes.  

Next week...

Now next time, I’m going to continue this conversation by answering a question I often get asked. “How do you know what your zone of genius is.” You see, so many people recognize that they are not operating within their zone of genius but they aren’t sure how to figure out what they should be doing instead. So, if you know that you’ve been called to something bigger, but you’re not sure yet what it is, don’t worry. Next time I’ll show you how to find your true calling #LikeABuilder.

Bye for now. See you next time. 

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build a master teachers.