Protect yourself from Burnout by taking time to notice when you’ve done a good job
It’s hard to like people who boast a lot. But deep down, underneath it all, you and I know something about why they do it. It’s because they feel insecure.
As I’ve got older, I’ve noticed that people who are good at what they do don’t waste time talking about it. They just get on with it. They work hard, they invest their lives in helping other people. And, they tend to ask for very little in return. They are, in my view, the salt of the earth. But, while extending kindness to others is key to helping people thrive, it can also lead to compassion-fatigue where you find yourself with nothing left to give.
The good and bad of being productive
Being productive has many benefits. You get lots done, you’re more organised and you can deliver a better service to your patients and your students. Productivity is active. It’s doing. Its moving your feet or your hands. And when you contribute in these ways, people notice it. They notice, because it impacts them. If you do it well, then it makes their lives better.
But productivity can have a dark-side. When you’re ambitious and you work in public service, there is always something to do. There is always someone else who needs your help and there is often a better way of doing things that hasn’t yet been discovered. When you value productivity, you risk being over-active to the point where you are likely to burnout.
What braggers and non-braggers have in common
You might think that people who brag a lot and those that never brag are completely different people. And, I think you’d be right in some ways. What they do and how they appear to other people is very different. But, what if, under the surface, the same insecurities that cause some people to show-off are the same insecurities that drive excessive modesty?
Fears of failure are common in my experience. So too are beliefs that “I’m useless” and “I’m inadequate.” And these beliefs can be painful, because you feel ashamed, sad or anxious a lot of the time. And the way people cope with these feelings can be different. Here are several examples:
- Keep busy running around
- Take on too many responsibilities
- Blame self entirely for poor outcomes
- Downplay professional successes
- Ignore the value of your efforts
- Worry and ruminate
- Avoid jobs
And, of course, the one I’ve left off the list is….boasting! Yes, just like the hard-working, modest and focused professional, the person who spends all their time boasting can have the same difficult thoughts and feelings. They are just coping with it differently.
These two groups of people have something to learn from each other. Those that boast a lot would benefit by taking a leaf out of the book of the modest co-worker. If they could learn to tone-down what they say and how often they say it, everyone would appreciate it.
And I believe, that the productive carer and teacher who is always thinking about what else needs to be done, could learn something in return. And that something is to celebrate your professional successes.
What does actual success look like?
So, what does a professional success look like? This will vary on your circumstances e.g. job role, environment and level of responsibility. Your job description might provide some clues, but it would make a lot of sense to identify this in your own words. What does you doing a good job look like? How do you know when you’ve done it?
A professional success is what you set out to do every day when you arrive at work. And, to bring this alive even more and to make it easier, think back to a time in the past when you have felt really energised. Let your mind settle on that sweet-spot, which is a time when you felt like you were doing your job and being deeply fulfilled from it.
It may have been a time when you felt deep pride or joy. And, it may have been a time when you felt angry or scared, but you did something important and meaningful that made a real difference. The feeling isn’t so important. Its more about finding a memory that you are glad to have. A memory that you wouldn’t want to forget.
When you have chosen something, write it down. And then write down what you think it says about what is most important to you. You are looking for a value, which is a verb or an adverb like caring, supportive, lovingly or courageously. These words represent what you truly value and tell you the kind of person you want to be.
Once you have identified your values, you can use these as a guide to define professional successes. A professional success is when you do something that is consistent with what you value.
Is it still a success when you don’t make any difference to someone’s life?
This question goes straight to the heart of the traps professionals often fall into when they evaluate success. Successes are shaped by outcomes e.g. does a patient get better or does a student pass an exam? These are the successes by which your employer measures things. They are connected to targets they receive from government. And, whilst reducing mortality rates and academic achievement are important goals, a problem occurs when you equate those targets directly with your own professional successes. They aren’t entirely dependent on your individual actions.
When you care for someone, you can’t control how well they take care of their health. When you teach someone, you can’t control what they learn. Outcomes are dependent on what others do as well. Therefore, it works to measure your own professional success by what YOU do.
How to reasonably measure success
When it comes to measuring your own successes, there are two things to factor out or ignore. They are what your patient or student does and what your peers think about you. The reason is that you have limited control over these actions. So, why would you judge your own success by what other people do? It just wouldn’t make sense. And, it wouldn’t be fair.
The two areas that make much more sense are:
- What you know and understand
- Your level of skill
What you know and understand is created. You create it by investing in study, education and vocational training. You reflect on what you do, how well it works and what might work better. It’s the process of becoming competent and moving into reflective practitioner status.
Your level of skills is determined by how much you’ve practiced and adapted. Knowledge and skill are related. This is sometimes called your declarative knowledge and your procedural knowledge. And, how effective you are being is influenced by the combination of these dimensions.
Allocate some time to noticing your successes
The hope is that when you focus on what you understand and how you can get better, then it will have a stronger influence on people. People will find it helpful and say good things about you. But it is not guaranteed. Sometimes, it won’t work. And it does not help to focus on those as failures.
What works much better is to allocate some time to noticing your professional successes. It doesn’t have to be a long exercise and it doesn’t have to involve telling everyone. But, it is important that you at least notice your successes yourself.
When you are training, it helps to get a balance between ‘not knowing enough’ and noticing when you’ve done a good job. When you neglect to identify examples of when you’ve done something well, not only do you deny yourself the chance to feel pride, you also deny yourself the chance to get better at what you are doing.
When you’ve been in the job a while, your standards get higher. It’s easy to regard what you do every day as ‘nothing special’. You might think “that is what I am supposed to do.” And, so you downplay the success of it. But, if that action is what you are supposed to be doing and it is what you care about, then why not tell yourself ‘well done!’. What have you got to lose?
When you invest in your professional development throughout your career, it protects you against burnout. When you stop learning and developing, you can become stagnant. And when you stop moving forwards, you start going backwards. There is no such thing as standing still.
In this article, you have explored getting a balance. You have explored getting a balance between ‘doing’ and ‘slowing down’. Doing is what makes you better and helps you to make professional successes. Slowing down is what helps you to notice your successes, so you can build on them and revitalise your spirit. When you notice your successes, it shows you that you are on the right path. Try not to dismiss them. It won’t protect you from burnout, but noticing them can save you. Noticing them can help you thrive, which consequently, will helps others to thrive as well.
Thanks for reading this article, which is the 3rd in a series about protecting yourself against burnout. You can read the first article here and the 2nd article here. I’m taking some time off over the next couple of weeks to re-charge and have some fun. I’ll be back with the next article in this series in early September.
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