Burning Out? The Smart Corporate Athlete

Part one: Chill. Play the long game.

Now might not be the time to be exploding out of the 2021 starting blocks, doing all that positive self-talk stuff and pushing, struggling and striving to keep our high-performance jets on full power.

“I’m tired of ground-hog day.”

“I’m struggling. There’s too much going on, my health is suffering.”

“I can’t seem to find my mojo. I’m firing on 3 of my usual 4 cylinders.”

“I’m going to allow myself 2-4 weeks to slow down.”

These are quotes from four senior executives with whom I’ve had personal conversations in the last week – each that lead in businesses worth over USD 1 billion. They are not normal confessions you would hear from top-performing execs who are known for being full-energy and eternally optimistic types.

Being a little selfish, hearing these words gave me a sense of relief! They made me feel ‘not alone’ in grappling to burst out the 2021 starting blocks on full power.

Luckily, I have a coaching toolbox full of techniques to instill the right mindset of optimism and enthusiasm. I also know how to put plans and habits in place to behave our way into form – to push through and around obstacles. Those confessions presented a wonderful opportunity for me to step up and coach these exec’s back onto top form.

But something inside me said:

No. Leave them, and yourself, for now.’

It came from that place I know I can trust. Nobody can fire on all cylinders all the time.

Those execs have carried much responsibility for many months, on top of work-from-home and longer work hours over and above what they were already putting in.

Considering all this, “I’m firing on 3 of my usual 4 cylinders” seems aligned and real.

We are preconditioned to explode into a new year –  full of optimism, enthusiasm and with plans for greatness. Yet, while the date may have changed from 2020 to 2021, in reality, many have not had a felt experience of an old year ending and brand-new beginning.

December was less like an ’end’ and more like a watering table break situated somewhere mid-journey of a marathon. Similarly, January was not the usual ‘burst out starting blocks for a new year’ experience, but a slower departure from that water table pause to continue the marathon. Many are experiencing the same mid-race tiredness a marathoner would.

The difference is that the experienced marathon runner expects to feel a little tired, they do not judge this tiredness as bad or wrong. They do not feel guilty about it. It’s normal. The smart marathoner doesn’t attempt to explode away from that mid-race water station firing on all cylinders, rather they pace themselves for the long game, burning energy at a rate that ensures they’re still in the race, and up front, by the end.

It’s totally OK and perfectly normal for corporate athletes to be firing on 3-cylinders, to not be operating at the new-year mojo levels they had hoped for. It’s important to not feel guilty about this!

Nothing is wrong.

Marathoners who win know they’re in the long game, and pace themselves accordingly. The expectation that we, or our employees, should enthusiastically be operating at full capacity is unrealistic.

Chill. Play the long game.

In part  two, I will share creative ways  for succeeding in this unique long game, including drawing experience from the world’s best.

One Comment

  1. Brian

    Great observation, Paddy. 100% with you on this. Just need to make sure the reason for not operating optimally is not an underlying health related issue. All athletes and business people need recovery time to come back stronger.

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