I was constantly exhausted and irritated. I felt like there was no joy left in my life. I was snapping at those I cared the most about—my family. My team members started to notice and remark that I sounded tired all the time. I felt that I no longer had what it took to be successful at work and started contemplating taking a sabbatical.
In all this, I could not put my finger on what had gone wrong. For the longest time, I didn’t even acknowledge that I had a problem. But I finally realized—I had burnt out!
Back in 2020, I’d shared my journey of growth and fulfillment at Deloitte. 18 months down the road, I found myself struggling; despite a great team, highly supportive leaders, a plethora of opportunities, and recognition. Nothing seemed to have really changed on the surface, yet somehow, I found myself in a place where I felt like I could not go on.
I asked myself, “How did I get here?” Saying that the pandemic contributed to it would be stating the obvious, but there was more. With businesses around the world forced to go fully digital, our workload increased significantly. This combined with “the great resignation,” put even more pressure on our teams and us. Besides delivering projects at a fast pace, by somehow trying to get people to work on multiple projects, there was just a lot to manage. Dealing with people leaving mid way and trying to hire and assimilate new hires into the practice and the projects made it more challenging. Without realizing, I kept taking on more and more. At one point, I was serving seven different clients across different industries and technologies, in addition to driving several other initiatives for the practice. I had spread myself too thin. That combined with the mental strain of the pandemic, my children being out of real school being on-screen for a prolonged period of time, with no outlet in terms of vacation or socializing, also took its toll. I guess, it was just a matter of time before things became completely unsustainable for me, and then they finally did.
Once I acknowledged my burnout, I decided to ask for help. I set up time with my leaders and spoke openly about how I was feeling. They showed tremendous empathy and helped me realize that it wasn’t just me. It was also the situation. They coached me to focus on fewer and more important things and helped me my teams do more. When I said, “No one forced me to do anything—I took all this up on my own, and yet I ended up here,” a leader gave me an analogy, that resonated with me. He said that I had a table for collecting wonderful things, and I kept collecting them, until there was no space on the table. My table had reached a point where things had started to fall and crash. I needed to take a hard look and let go of things that were no longer needed.
Before I created a plan to get things back on track, I needed to reset and get mental space. So, I decided to take a short break. I took off for a week with my family to a place where I could spend time outdoors and completely disconnect from work. The break really helped, I came back to work more clear-headed and ready to tackle my challenges.
My first move was to create an inventory of everything I was doing. After a series of discussions with my leaders, we agreed that I will not take on anything new, no matter how tempting, for the next few months. We also identified things that I had to let go of completely, and things that I needed to continue doing but with much less involvement. I then created a detailed plan, identified people to transition to, had some candid conversations with my direct reports, and started to set things in motion.
After weeks of sustained effort, my work started to evolve from a frenzied, frantic, and chaotic state to a more steady and manageable state. I started to reflect more on what I was doing and how I could create a higher impact without burning out. I thought about reconnecting with my passion which revolves around helping companies grow by leveraging and growing my marketing knowledge, while also helping people grow professionally.
To stay true to my purpose, I had to learn to say ‘no’ more often, ignore FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and resist the temptation of taking on something new and exciting that didn’t quite fit within my top priorities. This change in perspective ensured that I work with the right people and invest in them so that they could manage things, instead of needing constant direction from me. The time I was able to claim back, I kept trying to reinvest it in building and using my marketing knowledge and coaching people.
I found my enthusiasm and energy levels going up again. I started to feel in control and found myself coming up with new ideas. I learnt to focus on fewer things at a time and push myself to do more intense and potentially impactful work instead of easy and busy work. I am still learning to embrace the philosophy of doing more with less. What may not be obvious from my experience is that I was fortunate to get the right environment of trust, empathy, and support that empowered me to take these actions. Had that not been the case, I may have been one of those who quit their work during the pandemic.
As I shared my story with my peers and team members, I realized that several others were struggling too. Over the next several months, the topic of burnout became a leadership priority, and there were open discussions on multiple forums to set things right. Many people came forward to seek support, enable change, and ended up consciously changing the way they worked.
As I came to terms with and turned around my experience with burnout, here is a summary of what I learned from this experience:
Finally, you may want to know, while I may have rediscovered my joy of work, am I more successful with this new approach?
Well, only time can tell. Stay tuned for part three of my story in another year or two to find out!
The views expressed here are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of her current, former, or future employers or any organization with which she is associated.
Neha Verma is a Senior Manager within Customer & Marketing at Deloitte Consulting India Private Limited. Neha is focused on growing marketing capabilities and is experienced in delivering omni channel marketing and campaign solutions for clients, to drive their branding and revenues. Neha is passionate about “elevating the human experience” by orchestrating engaging campaigns across channels such as Email, Search, Social, Display and others.