The Importance of Getting Away: A Perspective on Perfectionism and Burnout

I recently read of a Japanese journalist who literally worked herself to death. At 31, the journalist died due to heart failure after a month that involved 159 hours of overtime (in addition to her normal hours) and only two days off (read the story here).
Many of us feel the need to push to the limits of our biology, to continually ask more of ourselves, but this drive can add unnecessary stress and fatigue to our lives. And instead of stepping back, we continue to add to our responsibilities. For instance, we may add more to our sports training schedule or assume more work-related tasks. Often, we do this to the degree that our only focus is getting it done, which leads to burnout.
I recently found myself in this unfortunate position. As I search for ways to grow my business, I am simultaneously trying to raise a healthy toddler, work another full-time job, be a great husband, and find time to work out. In addition, I often try to do all of these things with 100% effort, 100% of the time. In striving for perfection across all fields, I noticed certain qualities were sacrificed and discarded and unnecessary. While I was still able give my patients the best care and service, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I lacked motivation to write blogs and expand my business. I was stagnating, which (according to any Business 101 course) is a career killer. With the tip of burn out leading into my family life, I feared the consequences if I continued down this path.
I ended up taking myself out of the world for a while. I hiked the foothills trails in South Carolina for several days and then moved on to hike parts of the Appalachian trail. In nature, away from the distractions of work, I realized I was burned out. Granted, I knew the signs and what to expect, but I didn’t take the time to care for myself. I was too concerned with the expectations of others that I never assessed how my routine was affecting me.
When I returned from my hikes, I realized I needed to change. I needed to assess how I could manage the varying demands of my routine and make time for myself. So, how am I changing? It’s a difficult question we need to ask ourselves. When we sacrifice so much for those around us, what are we willing to sacrifice of ourselves? And how can we find balance? For myself, I realized I needed to stop being obsessed with perfection. Perfection causes me to shut down and avoid my responsibilities because I’m so afraid of getting it wrong. Take this blog, for example. I avoided writing a post until I found the perfect topic, which took three weeks. Similarly, I experience the same paralysis in advertising and outreach: if it’s not perfect, I avoid it or put it off.
I realize that I have to prove to myself that perfectionism and expecting more from people (specifically, those unwilling to put in effort) is unattainable, especially if I want to focus on my business and my personal needs. This realization required me to change my business model. I’ve reassessed my priorities. I’m focusing on what made me want to get involved in my field in the first place: helping others achieve that ah-hah! moment, making them see that, no matter their level of expertise, I can help them achieve their goals. Part of this requires that I differentiate between the clients who are willing to listen and those that aren’t. My services are designed to support those who seek and strive for results, and I got lost along the way trying to please everyone and force the unwitting ones to change.
What I learned in several miles of hiking and camping boils down to this: What are your needs to move forward? And what can you do to less your stress and drive toward happiness and success?

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Getting Away: A Perspective on Perfectionism and Burnout

  1. This is so true and probably too prelevant in driven populations. Thanks for sharing and being vulnerable enough to speak from experience— it’s reassuring and speaks volumes.


  2. I had an epiphany recently about not putting so much energy into clients that don’t want help or want to change. This definitely helped! Thanks for all you do!


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