Embrace your Burnout and Release your Resilience

Do you think Burnout can be a transformational Experience?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Transformational Burnout - the road to resilience

Just to get you started on where I am coming from, here is a sneak preview of an article that I have just published.

Transformational Burnout – the road to Resilience by Paul Mooney

In this article on transformational burnout, Paul Mooney, an opinion leading author on the practice of resilience development, suggests the radical view that burnout is not only beneficial in personal learning, but it is crucial in the transformational development cycle of the human being.

Having suffered from a major burnout episode in 2006, he has transformed his experiences into a powerful programme called resilience4enterprise which is now delivered in Europe, the USA and the Middle East.

My own experience of burnout is well documented in my book “Your business is not worth dying for – releasing meta-resilience in your enterprise” published by the alchemism foundation as an e-book and also in hardback. In it, I describe my journey as a rise in corporate responsibility, followed by a period as a parallel entrepreneur, followed by a crash and burn period where I lost my business, my job, my marriage and my self esteem. It came to head in July 2006, when I had two near-death experiences in one weekend and I ended up in a local psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with reactive clinical depression.

After almost 12 months in recovery, I started to take some tentative steps in discovering what contributed to my burnout and in understanding why I met so many men and women just like me while in hospital. On that journey I began to realise that the very adversity which I was going through was one of the most important contributors to my learning. It gave me credibility for creating a programme to help others and in many ways, it was the core of my experiential awakening.

I realised that my suffering included some beautiful gifts and in those gifts was a richness that I simply could not find in any other way. My attraction to the term alchemy came about not as a result of studying Carl Jung, but when I recently read his words “creativity is the alchemy of making art out of suffering”, I was delighted to feel in such august company when I founded the alchemism foundation in 2007. For me, the journey that I took, helped me to create a credibility and rapport between myself and my new clients that simply was not there between my psychologists and myself when they were chatting to me while I was in the care of the mental health community.

Over the past few years, as I got the opportunity to speak to other people who were facing burnout, my experience made them less afraid of me, and then less afraid of themselves and resulted in a significant change to the way that I had done business in the past. I found that I was able to help fellow travellers to see their suffering and pain or burnout as transformative and helped them to face the truth and to imagine a new purpose for their pain. I have even come to realise that without burnout, that purpose may never be uncovered.

I discovered that in helping others and being compassionate with them, that it helped to ease my own self consciousness and negativity and made some of my own pain tolerable. In discovering my own resilience, I was able to free myself of some of my suffering and I discovered a larger context for my survival which made sense to me.

My own story of burnout and resilience contained ugly and painful abuse, trauma, loss and betrayal, but it was all followed by inspirational resilience which is now the core ingredients of the resilience4enterprise programme which I have developed ; namely help, hope and meaning.

I now help people who are high achievers to develop flexible coping strategies and adaptive attitudes to their burnout. Where once I would have tried to help people to avoid burnout, I now help them to embrace it for the learning that it contains and the richness that it brings.
In some ways, my transformation began in the middle of my terror and when I eventually began to structure my thoughts, I began to see that my life had potential meaning greater than my story of surviving a few near-death experiences. My optimism began to grow. My persistence began to improve. My efficiency began to increase. I began to be able to use my adversity as a way of learning and my openness to change began to reveal new opportunities to help, heal and create a new field of transformational burnout.

I realised that during my life, my personal resilience was affected by low self esteem, lack of self determination and hopelessness in some of my personal relationships and business relationships that eventually brought me down. Many of the factors that grow resilience were missing in my case.

I was not having positive engagement with challenge, I was facing setback after setback. I did not see that my efforts were working and if I ever felt that I was pushing a rock up a hill, I was certain that there were people on the far side, pushing it back down on top of me.
Resilience requires kindness and love and I saw very little of that. It requires self respect and enough return for me to give more. I had very little of that. Resilient people understand their pain and they turn it into meaning combining compassion with power. During my burnout, I experienced very little of that too.

I fought for a long time with myself. I fought against change. I did not realise that I had to die to my old identity in order to move forwards. When the change came, everything that I valued went with it. But it was only after the most excruciating pain that I realised that the values that I was living were not mine at all. They were someone else’s. They were taught to me, and I needed to learn what my real values were. In the end, change was not enough. That was only the motivation.

I realised that I had to change my attitude and it took a long time for that to happen. But it eventually did and in the end, it was not the mental health service that helped me, I transformed myself. I incorporated my burnout into my new identity without resentment and I developed a curiosity about burnout and depression.

The great expectations that I and others set for my career threw me off balance when my vision for what I wanted became more important than what was actually facing me. I fantasised about establishing and selling a mobile technology company. I got it from a standing start to a top-line revenue of €4m in three years. I got it valued at €7.6m on revenue of €96,000. It looked like it was going to work. But when my fantasy was taken away from me, I was flooded by resentment and self pity and my negative spiral began.

With no support at home and nowhere to turn, my suicidal ideation began and in a matter of weeks, I was a shadow of the vibrant entrepreneur that I used to be. What I was missing was the right opportunity to change. That opportunity was walking away from a 100 miles per hour head-on crash on a national highway.

Several months after my release from hospital, the value of my meaning began to appear and when I shared this meaning with others, it began to have even more meaning. I have realised in the last two years that I have had to recreate meaning in many new contexts and I have had to redefine my own meaning time and time again. In many ways, I have been able to modify my lenses and filters and that is what has helped me become resilient in ways that I did not think even possible a few short years ago.

Through the development of the resilience4enterprise programme, I have been able to transform a negative emotional state into compassion and new meaning. First, I was able to help others and then, I was able to let my old self die. I let my pain and adversity expand my knowledge and compassion. I created a space where I let the meaning emerge.

During my time of extreme stress and crisis, because I had built myself into an island, my disconnection was too big to bear and when I compared myself to others, the pain and grief took on new meaning and dragged me deeper into my depression. I wanted to disappear as a response to my shame and as a release from my personal responsibility. There is no doubt that I wanted to die. However, the universe had other ideas.

In one way, an old me died in that car crash in July 2006 and in that death lay my development. It was only at this point that my real freedom emerged. I found that my physical, cognitive and emotional capacity increased and I found new opportunities to break through into greater consciousness. I began to find new books that I would never have found digestible. I met people whom I never would have had the opportunity to meet. I opened my eyes and my heart and into that space appeared the unconditional love that I had been looking for all of my life.

The unconditional love started with myself but it also came into others. I lost friends and family along the way, but I also met people who have become dear friends and welcome supporters. I suppose you would call it swings and roundabouts. My own pain connected me to a particular kind of knowledge and compassion. That knowledge was in the field of transformational burnout and resilience and knowing how they are connected.

I used to strive for financial freedom. On that journey, I went from earning ten times the industrial national wage to having ten times the debt of the average industrial worker. The freedom that I experience now is to accept new suffering, to be interested in it for what it connects me to in terms of new meaning and new compassion. I find that I can now very quickly create a coherent and meaningful story from any misery that comes my way. I can turn hardship into helping. I can turn trauma into therapy and I can turn abuse into appetite for life.

Above all, I have realised that burnout affects everyone. It is not random and it does have something important to say. While it is a state of being and it will pass, the overwhelming panic, anxiety and suffering was like nothing that I had ever experienced. My ratio of giving to receiving was off balance, my toxic relationships were draining me of vital energy and I was blind to the shafting and abuse that was going on all around me.

I learned that it was a misalignment of fulfilment, balance and meaning. My old ways of doing things no longer produced results and my conditioning to avoid fear made me stuck. My circumstances had changed but I had not. My normal commitment was nowhere to be seen and I was left feeling confused lethargic, exhausted irritated and unable to cope.

Paradoxically, it was still the best thing that ever happened to me. I finally heard the cry of my soul to break free, to be true to itself in the world. I no longer wanted to be identified by objective criteria, and I heard the demands from my deepest source to find my true path. That path is clear now and I no longer struggle for meaning and joy in my relationships or in my work.

As an entrepreneur, my burnout was in direct proportion to my project. I made big plans and I fell hard from a high place. My significance, my nourishment and my self esteem were wrapped up in the success of my company. When it liquidated due to the betrayal of a business partner, this affected my self -image and the business failure was reflected back at me as a personal failure.

I was still trying to be Mr. Perfect, holding on but not knowing why. I was following the cheerleaders and engaging in risky behaviours. I escaped in my fantasies but I ended up in a psychiatric hospital; the ultimate nightmare.
Now, the resilience4enterprise programme that I have developed helps people bounce back from adversity. It prepares them for shocking events and develops a deeper understanding of their choices and position.

It diminishes negativity and toxicity and it helps to find the lessons in failure. It provides energy for success and provides the vigour to exceed expectations but on a transformational path to leadership instead of using the old rules and under the old paradigm. The programme helps high achievers to different levels of transformation, choosing to be a hero over victim, to cope over crumbing, to respond rather than reacting. It seeks authenticity over plasticity and thrives on hope over doom.

Resilient people make choices and they accept responsibility. They don’t blame others and they remain calm problem solvers. They retain their sense of humour and they are positive learners. They are totally present and they blend their positive traits in a paradoxical way to keep them curious and independent as well as empathic and emotionally self aware.
They are self motivated, self aware and they become powerful goal setters and questioners expecting change but relishing failure. While they are still daydreamers, serendipity happens more often and they accept that with joy and happiness. Resilience is a real buzz.

I have identified eight key factors in resilience development. Four of them need to be enhanced and four of them need to be diminished. The factors for enhancement are personal persistence, personal efficiency, experience of adversity and openness to change. The factors that need to be diminished are obstacles to adaptation, instability of environment, personal vulnerability and low self esteem. These factors form the core of our Meta-Resilience Factor Analysis.

It has been a strange journey but a journey nevertheless. The journey still continues but now I feel more prepared and more equipped not only for the failure that I will face, but for the success that I learn along the way.

Hail to transformational burnout. I encourage you to embrace yours so that you can release your resilience.

Paul MOONEY can be contacted on paul@resilience4enterprise.com or www.alchemismfoundation.org

First Posting

Today has been a good day. It sees the start of the Transformational Burnout Movement which is a concept that I shared with Tim Casserley and David Megginson just yesterday.

We were on a conference call to discuss their upcoming book "Coaching and Burnout" which will be published in October and when we discussed our various experiences of burnout and the transformation which occurred in our own lives and in the lives of our current clients, we just knew we had to do something about it.

We have proposed that we have an International Virtual Symposium on Transformational Burnout in November 2008.

The movement starts here. We want to hear from you and we want to know if you believe what we believe, that burnout can transform you.

The lines are open...

Transformational Burnout Movement