There’s probably nothing harder to do than get up and head off to work when you’re burnt out.
All the things we’ve been talking about in the last two months: being authentic, conveying your passion, consciously projecting your most professional self … they become like mountains way too big to climb. When you’re at burnout phase, it’s like sitting at Everest basecamp and feeling defeated by the enormity of the challenges in front of you. You can’t imagine stepping one foot outside of your tent, let alone reaching the summit. It’s going to take all you have to shower this morning, let alone show up at work with a smile on your face. Trust me. I’ve been there.
I know how hard it is to take care of yourself when you don’t have the energy to. But here’s the thing: spending that small amount of energy doing something to refresh your body, mind or spirit will somehow magically create ten times more energy to do all the other things. And then you can get back to work being your best self. So how do you do this? Simple. I recommend that you find a hobby, a passion, or a side gig that you truly love. For me, that’s either travel or cooking.
Lacking an interest in anything else, I would definitely be one of those crazy workaholic people who never leave the office. Mostly because I’ve worked hard to build a career for myself doing stuff I truly love, but also because I’m one of those people that doesn’t relax very well. Unplugging usually requires traveling several time zones away, often to the other side of the world. But since that’s not necessarily a practical hobby to take on every single weekend, I cook.
When I can’t travel to Japan, I breathe in the earthy aroma of Soba noodles in a savory broth and recall the time I spent standing in silence at the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. A chocolate croissant can transport me to the time I spent in the French countryside, meandering through small villages without a care in the world. A simple homemade cappuccino sends me back to the morning I rushed through St. Peter’s square in Rome with all of the other hurried Italians on their way to catch a train. Digging my spoon into a ripe avocado, I recall the lazy days I’ve spent on Ambergris Caye, Belize - an island so remote it takes 3 planes, 1 boat and a whole day to get to. That’s my kind of unplugging.
So when I can't travel, I cook. And that is what refreshes me. The process itself refreshes me. It gives my brain time to focus on the immediate task at hand. The planning, the sourcing, the cutting and prepping - all these tasks require my attention. And it is because of it that I am better at work. Truly. There are lessons learned in cooking that I apply every day in my professional life; so much so that they are now an ingrained part of my own personal brand. Cooking has taught me the following important things:
Have a plan.
Part of the joy I get from cooking is the planning, the learning and the strategizing over what to make and when. I read cookbooks the way others read novels. I love trying to figure out how to make the most efficient use of my grocery budget and ingredients. If I make something with half of a sauce on Monday, how can I use it again on Wednesday in a different way? Is there a cooking class somewhere I can take to learn a new technique? How can I make my favorite dish just a bit healthier? This strategizing mindset obviously suits me well at work too. I’m always learning, reading and plotting. If I’m helping a client with a budget of X, how do we get the most bang for their buck? What do we do first, second, third? Can I learn about a new tool that might help us all do something in a different way than before?
Get it ready.
In cooking, this process is called mise en place and it’s just a fancy French way of saying “get your shit together”. If you’re making a risotto, which requires nearly constant stirring, you’ve got to spend the time in advance cutting, dicing, prepping and laying out all of your other ingredients. Doing so allows you to focus on making the final dish amazing, instead of focusing on stirring and chopping and measuring all at the same time. This process teaches us that the final dish is always better when we get all of our materials organized in advance first. It reminds us that multitasking isn’t always best. Sometimes it’s best to just focus on the task at hand, and have enough forethought to give yourself the ability to do so. When in doubt, make a list and start checking things off.
Expect the Unexpected.
I like cooking from recipes. They are my road map to a great dish. But sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. Maybe my produce is a little overripe or I had to sub a dried herb for a fresh one and the flavor is just a little different. Sometimes mistakes happen, like the time last week I accidentally put 2 TABLESPOONS of crazy hot chili powder into my tortilla soup instead of 2 TEASPOONS. Yikes. I like things spicy but my mistake rendered the dish inedible and it had to go down the garbage disposal. Thank goodness for having frozen Marie Callender’s Chicken Pot Pies from Costco in the freezer ;) At work, the same problems often arise. The package didn’t arrive on time. The client needs the work done yesterday. The file won’t open. Look, things go wrong. And if you just expect that to be the case, you can focus on being a problem solver and not one of those people who dwells on the fact that things didn’t go your way. Be flexible enough to go to plan B.
Break the Rules.
When things go wrong, like above, or maybe when things are going right and I’m just feeling a little adventurous in the kitchen, I love the feeling of leaving a tried-and-true recipe in the dust and entering unknown territory. Whether I’m troubleshooting a sauce that just won’t thicken or trying a new ingredient that I’ve never worked with before, sometimes I just let my creativity run wild. Who cares if everyone says the best way to make mac-n-cheese is to start with a roux? Maybe I want to puree butternut squash and add greek yogurt as a base instead? (Damn good, BTW.) Challenging the status quo is in my blood, both in and out of the kitchen. Oh, you say there’s no way I can make an amazing batch of brownies that are also vegan and gluten-free? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. You say I can’t buy a run down business, turn it around, make it a career and grow it like crazy? BRING IT ON.
Make it Beautiful.
All of the hard work that leads up to the moment a dish hits the table means nothing if it’s not Instagrammable, right? There is so much pleasure in presenting a beautiful plate that makes my husband say he feels like he eats at a five-star restaurant every night. We eat with our eyes first so I love plating as much as I love cooking what’s on the plate. Blame it on my Food Network obsessions but even when it’s just the two of us at home, I wipe up any drips or splashes from the edge of the plate, add a bit of garnish and make sure things are arranged just so. It just makes the whole thing an experience, even if it’s something as simple as grilled cheese and tomato soup. The beauty of the food is what gives me pleasure and allows me to be grateful at how lucky we are to have access to it all. At work, I spend the same time perfecting every last pixel, adorning the presentation with something a little extra or doing my best to WOW a client with what we’ve created.
All of this is to say that when you work all the time, as most small business owners do, it’s easy to get burnt out. You need an outlet. Work can be all-consuming. It can take over your personal life, affect your relationships, your health and your overall well-being. There a zillion upsides to being a leader but it does require balance in order to be your best.
So what do you do to refresh? Is it cooking? Is it knitting, or crafting, or racquetball? Are you a photographer, a cyclist, or an avid reader? Do you spend your free time volunteering at the animal shelter or reading to kids? Do you garden? Whatever it is, make time for it. Let it refresh and recharge you. Don’t do it for money, despite the urge to do so. You need to have something you do just because it’s good for your soul. And then, when you’re rested, get back to work. You and your personal brand will be all the better for it.