I’ve worked with a lot of clients who have burned themselves out. Long automobile commutes and too much time spent sitting at a desk in front of a computer can lead to hip, back, and neck problems. Too much stress can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, and even adrenal failure. Too little sleep or eating on the run can cause digestive issues.
So how do you know when enough is enough? For most people, there are clear warning signs, known as “signposts”, that it’s all becoming just too much. And too often, these signposts are ignored, because we all think we can power through. Sometimes it takes a full-blown crisis to make us slow down and take a clear look at what’s going on. And what do we call it when that happens? Burnout.
A signpost by definition is a noun:
1. a post bearing a sign that gives information or guidance.
2. any immediately perceptible indication, obvious clue, etc.
Signposts come in all shapes and sizes and can be anything depending on how you look at it. For example:
- loss of someone or something
- a rare circumstance or situation
- a word or phrase that keeps popping up
- a person you keep bumping into
- missing a promotion for the 2nd or 3rd time
- a part of your body that gets sore around the holidays
- a new manager or merger
- a new idea or project/challenge
Signposts don’t have to be simply physical either. Sometimes, grace just taps you on the shoulder but it’s your choice as to whether you follow or stubbornly stick to what you’re supposed to be doing.
If you keep getting similar signposts perhaps it’s time to start paying attention!
I first learned about signposts right after my brother passed and someone suggested I read Cheryl Richardson’s book, “The Unmistakable Touch of Grace”. She’s a pioneer in the coaching industry, author of several books, was a regular on Oprah, and was recently inducted into the ICFNE (International Coach Federation New England) Hall of Fame. The book completely changed my perspective on everything and I’ve been recommending it ever since!
One of my personal signposts is my lower back. If I am in the car for too long or sit for too long for weeks on end, sciatica starts to kick in. I take that as a signpost to exercise and stretch more regularly. Often times I’ve noticed when my lower back is aching it’s due to lack of self-support and that I am spreading myself too thin. Anytime I’m not taking good care of myself, my lower back starts to nag me. Time for a massage, reiki, self care, spa day, etc! The message is clear that I need to take care of myself. When I listen, the pain goes away within a day or two. When I don’t, I can end up feeling crippled for weeks. And if I don’t give myself some down time every once in a while, my body will do it for me in a really spectacular way! Have you had a similar experience? Have you been noticing a theme, message, or signpost in your career or life?
It is common to have signposts happen in a series of significant events in your life. Could be positive and/or negative, all depending on how you look at it. After reading the book I viewed my brothers death as a signpost, I didn’t recognize at first how the book helped me to better cope a little more.
Something else I learned and are commonly missed as a signpot are intestinal symtoms which quite often are triggerd by stress or emotional upset. So, if you find yourself contending with intestinal pain whenever things get rough at the office, there’s a good chance it’s not just the cheeseburgers!
Learn to recognize your signposts and respond to them with compassion. You don’t always have to be the superhero. Except when you are Is the job you’re dying to get to really worth the pain to your body or the daily headaches that come along with it? Is the paycheck you get from your corporate position really worth that peptic ulcer? Is running your own company really enjoyable if you’re living on four hours sleep a per night? If the answer is no, it might be time to consider making a change before burnout forces you to. At least that way it will be a change you choose and not one that’s chosen for you.
In the end, it all comes back to balance. There’s no reason you can’t handle a long commute, an angry boss or a crazy schedule if (and it’s a very big if) you take the time to baby yourself when you need it. If you need further justification for self-care, studies show that workers who are under stress work at only 60% of their maximum capacity. If you think about it that way, taking an afternoon off to recharge can actually make the rest of your week more productive!
This week, try to identify your common signposts. Maybe it’s:
- increased irritability at work
- a physical symptom
- that person you’ve been talking with about starting a new venture
Then, make an effort to care and set yourself up appropriately when these signposts present themselves.
Feel free to share your signposts and the lessons they’ve taught you below. I’d love to hear from you!
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