This is a story of resilience, but it certainly didn’t start that way.
Part 1 outlined a massive learning – that stress is not only contagious, but that I’d managed to find a workplace that had it in spades. That I’d been exposed to the stress contagion for so long that I was worn out and my self-esteem at a real low point. And I didn’t like it, not one bit!
This sparked a massive change in circumstances. I ended up quitting my job without another one to go to. It was 2009 and I’d been working in Washington DC. When I quit my job the US government only gave me 2 weeks to leave the country – do not pass go, do not collect $200!
Suddenly I was jobless, about to be evicted from a city I’d grown to love and leaving the friends I’d made. My response was something along the lines of...f*$k!
In addition to these practical considerations, I was at a real mental low…you might even say an emotional and spiritual mess. My self-esteem had taken a beating and without a job to go to I felt a profound sense of loss.
Later I realised my habit of aligning my identify too closely with what I did for my job left me feeling uneasy, almost bereft, when it didn’t work out.
Now I know I’m not alone in this – have you ever wondered WHO AM I?
I speak a lot about my eventual burnout story and looking back now I can see all the signs of it brewing – the exhaustion, wanting to quit and run away and the crippling lack of self-esteem.
This was actually 7 years before my actual burnout ‘event’. Burnout doesn’t just happen – we sow the seeds early for what we eventually reap.
So I’ve quit, being evicted and showing signs of burnout. What to do!?
This is where the story really begins. I wasn’t ready to go back to Australia with my tail between my legs, so I did what any sane Aussie would do…picked up my backpack and decided to make the best of it.
Please check out this backpack!
I’ve always admired those that can fit their life into a normal sized backpack. Mine is almost as big as I am – not a word of exaggeration! The physical ache of carrying it around matched my emotional pain.
Now I’ve hinted this is a story of resilience, but we are not at that stage yet – not by a long shot. I took to the road on an unstructured search for meaning, my back aching and my emotions rubbed raw.
Despite some truly amazing sights and meeting incredible people, my mind was far from at peace. In fact, I was now the one who was miserable! I felt lost and lonely and still searching for an answer to that elusive question, ‘who am I outside of work?’.
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to put a life back together?
I have the answer…5 months! Well that’s how long it took me - you might do things a bit differently!
When I work with clients we look for those pivotal moments of clarity. Those shining, bright lessons that change our course in life. Sometimes they are a course correction, sometimes an entirely new direction.
Ah the backpack is a metaphor!
As my back started to grow strong and ache less, so too did my emotional state. I didn’t notice at first (as stories of resilience are often prone to go).
My moment in the sun came on a beach in Nicaragua – at San Juan Del Sur. I’m still not sure how I ended up in Nicaragua, but after 5 months on the road it was starting to feel like home. My poor mum was beside herself with worry over my being in a potentially quite volatile country, but I finally found peace in my own mind.
The memory is still so vivid. I was sitting on the beach, watching the sun dip down into a brilliant orange ball over the lapping ocean. (benefits of being on a Western facing beach.
It suddenly hit me…I had everything I needed in that moment. Everything!!! I’m not talking about my oversized backpack, I’m talking about internally. Yes I had finally tapped back into my heart and could answer that question that had so plagued me. Who was I without work? Easy…I was Sarah. And that was all I needed.
When have you felt a moment of complete clarity? Of peace and alignment with yourself?
You may need to think about when YOUR moments of clarity have been. Maybe it’s….
Memories where you felt strong, empowered, aligned with the world around you.
Within the company you keep who build you up high.
An inner contentment that you can tap into at will.
These are our moments of resilience. I define this as moments of empowerment, connection and a strong sense of identity. Feeling perfectly in tune with who we are at our core.
Riding the resilience continuum
Now here comes the really valuable lesson I learnt from this experience…
In theory a resilient person has strong coping skills and finds ways to manage the situation they are facing. What is sometimes not obvious is it’s not all or nothing – it’s not that you are either resilient or not. It’s a continuum and we feel different levels of resilience over our lifetime, depending on the circumstances.
We can build the muscle that moves us toward feeling high resilience.
What I felt in that moment was a powerful sense of my own resilience kicking back in. My time in the sun had allowed me to feel back in control and regain my foundational confidence.
At last my head was clear and my heart felt healed. I was ready to re-join life back in Australia. Yes it took 5 months, but the next time it was a much quicker journey back to self.
Resilience is a powerful internal resource
Over the years this sense of resilience became a resource that I could draw upon when needed. That moment on the beach was a visual memory that triggered a sense of empowerment, connection and identity.
So this story has a happy ending! It set the foundation for carving off my identity and self-worth from my job, but unfortunately that was a lesson I had to traverse again when burnout hit.
What did work well was a deep repertoire of memories I’d built that could trigger resilient thoughts such as, ‘I’ve done this before and can do it again’ or ‘Take it up a notch and stop sweating the small stuff!’.
I now treat that feeling of resilience like a muscle, flexing and building strength through repetition. Doing my resilience reps that keep me on the high end of the resilience continuum.
So where are you on your own resilience journey? Or more importantly, how do you move yourself up the continuum – feeling empowered, connected with self and in-tune with your core identity?
> Missed out on part 1? You can read it here.
5 ways to be more resilient
1. Accept that things change – Change is a constant in life and often out of our control. What you can control is the way you feel about it and the actions you take to address the change.
2. Look for the big picture – In the moment we can get stuck on the minutia that’s right in front of us which often doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things. Take your viewpoint up a level - remembering where you have come from and where you are going next - your overall goals in life.
3. Collect evidence of past resilience – Memories of times when you felt strong, empowered and aligned are often all you need to develop a strong sense of your own resilience. Keep these memories close for easy access.
4. Build a supportive team – Have people around you who help you tap into the best parts of yourself. Allow yourself to give freely to the important people and let them help you in return.
5. Take care of yourself as a priority – Deciding that self-care is a priority is just smart business. Develop the habit of regularly checking in with your needs and feelings.
Sarah Vizer is the creator of Beyond Burnout.
As a Leadership and Performance Coach she supports our top professionals unleash their talents, feeling and operating at their best.
She offers individual and team support for you and your organisation.
Find out more at www.sarahvizer.com