Category Archives: change

How to Beat Workplace Burnout Like a Marathoner

Hidden in the canyons of Mexico’s Copper Canyon lives a shy tribe of people called Tarahumara, or the Running People. The Tarahumara live quiet lives, growing corn and beans and living in family groups in huts and caves often perched precipitously on the mountain cliffs. They are also all ultra-runners.Marathon-Runners---Black-Silhouette-Sunset

At social gatherings and celebrations, the Running People will conclude the festivities with a friendly footrace. A footrace up to 200 miles, that is. For a guy like me that is out of breath after four miles on the treadmill, the thought of these people running through mountain passes in handmade sandals sounds more like a mirage than a reality.

In Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, he marvels that in the midst of a 100-mile ultramarathon they, “churned up the slope like kids playing in a leaf pile.” Laughing. Smiling. Somehow enjoying a 100 mile run. For the Tarahumara, running wasn’t a chore—it was a time to connect with their world and with one another.

Now lets step back from the Copper Canyon and into your city, your home and your workplace. You’re fed up with the job you used to love. Coworkers you’ve collaborated with for years are grating on your nerves. Projects that excited you in the beginning seem stale and dusty. Like the American runners racing against the Tarahumara, you’ve burnt out, and you’ve got 150 miles left to run.

How do you return to the blissful state where you began? Mental toughness.

I know, I wish I had a different answer too. But oftentimes the only element in our day that we can actually control is our attitude. And, when the boss is happy and the workload is light it’s easy to stay upbeat. Throw in an irate customer, a missed deadline and some extra rush-hour traffic, and then you have a training ground for mental toughness. Here’s a few tips from the Running People themselves

Take Shorter Steps—your burnout might be the result of overextending yourself. Instead of focusing on everything you need to get done this week, focus on the five things you need to get done today. Break larger projects up into small pieces and knock them out one at a time.

Lose the Shoes—After researchers studied indigenous groups like the Tarahumara, they discovered these groups experienced far less injury than Westerners with hi-tech and cushy running shoes. At work, sometimes the very things we think we need are the things creating problems. Have you gotten bogged down in party planning drama or chasing down someone by email instead of picking up the phone? Maybe it’s time to pick up speed by simplifying your processes. Lose the shoes.

Look to your elders—Would you believe that among the Tarahumara, the best runners are often the oldest!? Though it seems contrary to nature, it’s true. The runners with years of experience have honed their speed, footwork, diet, and strategy. The same is true of great leaders in any industry. If you want to avoid burnout, begin to note the habits of those a few years down the road, and a few rungs up the ladder from where you find yourself.

Never run alone—In Tarahumara culture, racing is a means of bringing the community together. How would our workplaces change if we viewed collaborative work in the same way? Sure you might feel like the project is about as fun as running uphill in the boiling Mexico sunlight, but there is some solidarity in enduring it together. Find at least one person at your workplace who you know you can lean on during a particularly tough day. But be prepared to return the favor.

Mental toughness is choosing these attitudes and practices over the feeling of burnout. It doesn’t matter if you’re running 100 miles or just trying to make it through the last 100 days of school with a rowdy classroom. When nothing around you seems to be changing, change your attitude. After all, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

Free Your Cares and be Carefree

The older I get (the half century mark is approaching very fast and that older looking man in the mirror won’t leave me alone), the more I realize just how much “stuff” I tend to hold on to that really negatively impacts my quality of life. In fact, I am starting to feel more and more like Rocky in his last movie.  Did you see it? I think it was called “Rocky 18”. Not really. It was “Rocky Balboa”.

In it, an aging Balboa is drawn back into the ring, as he puts it, “To get the ‘junk’ out of his gut.”  You see Rocky had been holding on to some stuff in his life– cares and concerns that were dragging him down. And these cares were preventing him from moving forward and truly enjoying life.

I find the same thing happens to me if I am not careful.  Here are 5 strategies I have learned to help me live with fewer cares and be more carefree:

  1. Free your mind from worry. When we worry, we borrow cares and concerns from tomorrow and we drag them into today.  Once we get them here, they just ruin our present.
  2. Free your heart from hatred. This one is very similar to the first strategy only in the opposite direction. When we harbor anger, resentment, and bitterness toward someone for something that happened in our past, it is like handcuffing ourselves to them and pulling them around with us all the time so they can continue to ruin our present.
  3. Free you life from complexity. Simplify. Look for things that can be pruned out of your life. Are you so busy doing all those “good things” that you are killing yourself? Cut some out.
  4. Free yourself from greed. Many people tend to get caught up in two twin syndromes: the “get as much as I can” syndrome and the “hold on to it as long as I can” syndrome. When I fall prey to these two, I find myself going through life clutching tightly to all “my stuff “and worrying about it. Giving is a wonderful antidote to battle greed. It helps us take our eyes off ourselves and focus on helping others.
  5. Free yourself from expecting perfection. To put it more simply, expect less. No one is perfect. People are going to mess up—including you. My bride is going to disappoint me…so are my kids…so are my colleagues at work…so is the gate agent at the airport and the kid washing my car. When we expect perfection, we can only be disappointed (or neutral at best). But when we don’t expect it and we get it…it’s GREAT!

Implement these strategies and set yourself up to live a life full of pleasant surprises…it is way more fun.

Going to the “Dark Side”

For those of you who have been following my blog (hi, mom and dad), today, I thought I would share with you a recent blog posted by my daughter Lindsey. Lindsey is an amazing young woman who is quite a gifted communicator. She is a Junior in college, majoring in English, with an emphasis in writing.

I enjoyed her take on “change” and wanted to share it with you…enjoy!

I Think I Just Joined the Dark Side

How in the world did I get here? I thought as Elise dipped my head back into the sink. My hands death-gripped the sides of the chair as she shampooed my hair.

“Ok, I’m starting to see how it looks now!” Elise exclaimed gleefully. A few other cosmetologists-in-training peered down at me. “Big change” one murmured, “going from a 10 to a 2”. I didn’t know what “going from a 10 to 2” meant. It’s hairdresser language. But when I sat up from the sink and looked at my hair in the mirror I understood. I had just transformed from almost platinum blonde to espresso brunette.

After 20 happy years as a blonde, why would I decide to make such a drastic change (aside from the secret hope that I would somehow resemble a less-tan version of Megan Fox?) Why wash away what’s been working for me?

Change is always a little uncomfortable, whether it’s your hair, location, or job. It seems like human beings instinctively fall into ruts (or as most of us prefer to call them, habits and routines). Most ruts are helpful, like brushing your teeth every day, or making your column deadlines (a rut I almost swung out of this month!). There’s really one main problem with ruts—change inevitably finds it’s way into our ruts and forces us to blaze a new trail. We can resist change, avoid change, become paralyzed by change, or view change as the opportunity for adventure.

More than anything, change teaches us about ourselves. Since “going to the dark side”, I’ve really struggled deciding if I like my hair. I know you might be shocked , but I don’t resemble Megan Fox now any more than I resemble Conan O’Brian. By changing my hair, I was forced to get out of a few other ruts too. For example, the way I apply my make-up (I’ve looked like a ghost for almost a month, and the humidity is not helping). The colors that look good on me have changed a little bit too. I’m a brunette stuck with the closet of a blonde. Life is just different as a brunette. I can’t even blame all the stupid things I do on my hair color anymore, I actually have to take responsibility for my gullibility and lack of coordination! Then again, I’m forced to ask myself, is it the color of my hair that’s bugging me, or is it the fact that this decision forces me to get out of my comfort zone, out of my rut, and try something new? Will I view my hair as a kind of “cosmetic adventure”, trying new kinds of make-up and colors? Or will I view it a big, brown disaster and shave my head immediately? That decision, like change, reveals more about me than my hair color ever could.

So I’ll keep you posted.