An Existential Perspective on Work and Career Development

Existential career counseling assists and supports clients in exploring and reflecting upon the direction, purpose and meaning of their lives and their work.

Existential career counseling helps clients to deepen their awareness and perspective, to feel more connected to their experiences, their emotions, and their relationships.

Existential career counseling guides clients towards being more fully present in their daily lives and to feel more authentic and confident in their decisions, choices and actions.

  • Burnout: Time to Re-Connect with Oneself and One's Values

    10/20/2020

    Burnout is complex; it differs in intensity, duration and experience from person to person. The number of people who experience burnout continues to increase as we blur the boundaries between our work time and the rest of our lives. We prioritize and culturally value time spent being constantly available and on-call. The result is less and less time to regenerate, reflect, be peaceful, be full of fun and spontaneity.  

    Burnout is revealing, it has meaning. It is a strong physical and emotional beacon for change and re-orienting ourselves.

    Burnout calls to us to re-think time, to begin re-prioritizing time so that we can be fully present, connected with ourselves and to our deepest values.

    Signs and symptoms of burnout

    I see many clients with myriad manifestations of burnout. Physical signals can range from intense exhaustion, a persistent lack of energy, disruptions in sleep patterns to changes in diet and chronic headaches (and these symptoms should always be checked by a physician to exclude any underlying or chronic medical condition). These physical signals are often coupled with emotional fatigue, a severe lack of motivation, feelings of emptiness, boredom, stress and anxiety. Other expressions can include apathy, a lack of focus, disengagement, loss of orientation, not being nourished by work, being lost in work, cynicism, negative feelings towards others and hopelessness. Burnout can feel insurmountable and personal resilience often feels inaccessible.

    I hear clients express further stress, anger and frustration for even experiencing burnout. They feel anxious and discouraged that they cannot simply cope and carry on with the physical and emotional exhaustion they are experiencing. I listen to clients who feel shame and guilt for not being able to work. I see clients who are constrained by the tyranny of the shoulds; a mix of attitudes and narratives both personal and internalized from the broader work culture. These include uncompromising directives to do better, work harder, be more efficient, be more productive, make no mistakes, be the best, be at the top of one’s game, be perfect.

    When the balance in our lives tips substantially - and for a prolonged period - toward the functional, the duty-laden, the obligatory or when we are overwhelmed by the tyranny of the shoulds, we lose the purpose and value of our participation in and commitment to our own lives. When we live for goals that are primarily fueled by extrinsic motivation – social acceptance, recognition, respect, money, career advancement, self-esteem – we lose our connection to personal involvement, motivation and striving. We lose the felt experiences of personal engagement, we lose inner connection and meaning, we are unable to feel the value of what we are doing. 

    Being disconnected from what is personally meaningful - an existential perspective on burnout

    From an Existential Analytic perspective, we experience burnout when we are disconnected from what is personally meaningful, deeply valuable and intrinsically motivating. We are disconnected from how life feels and from our own experiencing. We are disconnected from the intrinsic value of what we do and therefore from the inner joy and personal satisfaction that is often a by-product. Experiencing and feeling the intrinsic value of what we do is an important buffer to burnout.

    Now of course no one’s life is immune to stress, difficult transitions, complex work, disappointments, mistakes, and periods of exhaustion. But when we feel connected to ourselves, connected to our lives and to what we value, when we feel ourselves present in what we are doing and experience its intrinsic meaning and purpose, we develop resiliencies that we can access and rely upon. When we are open, cognizant and experientially aware we develop the capacity muscles to integrate, process and manage the natural stressors that accompany life. 

    Experiencing imbalance and disconnection over extended periods of time opens the door to burnout. We begin to experience physical and emotional breakdown and a life that lacks fulfillment. Once again from an Existential Analytic perspective, experiencing fulfillment comes from Inner Consent. This is a personally felt and authentic positioning, a confident affirmation or “YES” to our choices and decisions. Inner Consent is an alignment or congruence between our subjective (inner world) and relational (outer world) experiences. We feel this alignment, we feel the value of our lives, we feel being fully ourselves. These experiences build our capacities to be committed, responsive and engaged in the present moment and in the world with our whole selves. Being fully ourselves in authentic engagement, being connected to our intrinsic values and motivations offers us a strong antidote to burnout.

    A sample of some personal questions for reflection:

    • What is deeply valuable to me?
    • Do I like what I am doing? Do I feel personally connected to what I am doing?
    • Do I gain something meaningful from what I do?
    • Am I driven by a goal, an accomplishment, or am I driven by a personal value?
    • Have I ever experienced exhaustion from work? If yes, what were the triggers? What was difficult for me?
    • Do I often feel exhausted – weekly, monthly? Do I understand the context(s) that contribute to my feeling exhausted?
    • What are the stressors in my work – what consumes my energy? Am I aware of, and do I feel, the shift from manageable daily stress to exhaustion?
    • Do I know what helps me manage stress, and from burning out? Do I receive support from others, do I monitor my sleeping habits, do I get regular exercise or follow a meditation practice? Do I set aside time to digest the work week, allow myself time to reflect?
    • How well can I relax? What are my personal experiences of relaxation? Do I know what helps me to relax? How long does it take me to relax?

    A sample of questions to reflect on about the work/organizational structures around you:

    • Is there too little or too much autonomy at work?
    • Are there interpersonal conflicts at work that are not dealt with?
    • Am I supported at work? Is there little support?
    • Do I feel valued for the skills and experience I bring to my work/role?
    • Do I understand what is expected of me? Are those expectations too little or too much?
    • Am I surrounded by good communication? Am I able to communicate easily with colleagues/superiors? Is there feedback? Is the feedback positive and constructive?
    • Is teamwork positive and constructive? Does each member of the team feel valued for what they bring to the work/project? Does each member understand what their role is?
    • Do I feel isolated at work?
    • Are the expectations placed on me too high while the communication with superiors and/or colleagues is poor?
    • Is the quantity of work too much?

    Are you experiencing stress or burnout in your work? I offer 3 or 6 session coaching packages that help clients to better understand what they are experiencing and to discover and implement personally meaningful and empowering strategies for burnout prevention. For more information contact me at brittmari@brittmarisykes.ca 

  • The Challenges of Accepting Burnout

    10/20/2020

    “I don’t do burnout”! I have heard this statement from clients more than once. 

    Acknowledging and accepting that we are experiencing burnout can be quite challenging.

    We all identify with certain narratives and expectations about work, career and our own professionalism. These narratives and expectations are personally created, culturally constructed and very often a blending of both.

    If we see ourselves, for example, as the professional who always goes above and beyond, the worker who willingly puts in hours of overtime, the colleague available to work 24/7, jumping to take on additional projects, the experience of burnout can often feel like a crisis of personal capacity and professional identity.

    On the flip side, work environments also uphold their own entrenched attitudes and narratives that influence and shape how work is to be done. We are expected to adopt and execute these expectations for better or worse. And then there is technology, multiplying our expected availability. This has normalized a new work ethic: work life also means being constantly “on”. 

    As the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives become increasingly blurred, the openings for burnout also increase. 

    The experience of burnout is very real and very personal. Acceptance is necessary to step through burnout and acceptance is also a challenge in the face of these complex expectations and narratives around work.

    “Why can’t I simply cope”?

    When unmanageable stress and burnout hit, many clients I have worked with feel anxious and discouraged that they cannot simply cope and carry on with the extreme physical and emotional exhaustion they are experiencing. 

    I hear clients express stress, anger and frustration for experiencing burnout. 

    I listen to clients who feel further shame and guilt for not being able to work. 

    I often witness clients who are constrained by the tyranny of the shoulds; that mix of attitudes, expectations and narratives that are both personal and internalized from the broader work culture. These include uncompromising directives to do better, work harder, be more efficient, be more productive, make no mistakes, be the best, be at the top of one’s game, be perfect.

    How familiar do the following statements sound?

    “I am exhausted everyday, all day, but I have to carry on, its simply part of being in business”.

    “I feel increasingly angry and resentful. I know I am bringing this attitude to work everyday but what can I do? This is life, this is the way this job rolls”.

    “I have a good job, good benefits, I am better off than a lot of people. Being burnt out doesn’t make any sense, it isn’t logical”.

    “I am the consummate professional, I lead, this is what my employees see and expect. I can’t let anyone down. I can’t be burnt out”.

    “I have to work 16 hours a day – my job demands it. I have to be available by phone, text and email all the time. If I am not, someone else will do my job”.

    “I am stronger than this, I don’t get burnout, but why do I feel like bursting into tears almost every day now”?

    “It’s a weakness to have burnout. Business is tough, life is tough, get over it”.

    “I should be stronger, my emotions are getting the better of me. I need to try harder”.

    “I feel so flat. Everything at work feels hard. I should be able to handle this. What is the matter with me”?

    Acceptance and self-compassion are crucial in stepping through burnout

    Experiencing burnout may feel incongruent with how we identify as a professional, with the expectations we have of ourselves and how we work. 

    Burnout can be experienced as unacceptable. When we label as unacceptable what we are feeling and experiencing we take on a further emotional burden – “I am unacceptable.” This can be overwhelming and difficult to put into any perspective.

    Awareness and acknowledgment are first steps. Acceptance and self-compassion are crucial

    Acceptance of burnout does not mean resignation to it. Acceptance helps to reduce the energy we are expending to minimize, deny, judge and/or fight against what we are experiencing. 

    Acceptance is a continuous practice that includes:

    • not judging ourselves so harshly – not minimizing what we are feeling and experiencing
    • monitoring our fluctuating energy and motivation
    • offering ourselves a daily dose of self-compassion
    • integrating and managing our evolving experiences
    • staying connected to our lives and being flexible with ourselves
    • regaining personal agency and being active and decisive in creating and implementing healthy changes in our lives
    • exercising our reflective muscles and re-examining our internal narratives and expectations about work and our relationship to it.

    Practicing acceptance allows us to re-gain some much needed energy and perspective on our feelings and experiences. Acceptance opens space for self-compassion. It gives us the “internal” room to see, feel and create possible changes to our lives. 

    These possibilities include: 

    • re-examining the narratives and expectations we carry about ourselves
    • shifting our attitudes towards how we work 
    • making necessary changes, if possible, to how we work 
    • implementing appropriate boundaries between work and the rest of our lives
    • integrating appropriate, healthy and manageable strategies into our lives that benefit us physically, psychologically and relationally.

    Burnout has meaning and requires our acceptance

    Burnout is in fact a form of self-protection.

    Burnout is a beacon for change. It forces us to re-think time - our time. It forces us to take a closer look at our values, our internal narratives and expectations about work and career, about how we work and how connected we are to our lives, our feelings, our health and well-being.

    Each one of these items offers on-going information about how we are feeling, engaging, reacting, perceiving and contributing to our lives and to life around us. When we do not heed this information, our ability to practice the art of staying present, being mindful of, and engaged in, how we experience our daily lives and work is diminished. And this opens the possibility of our experiencing burnout. 

    When we can identify, acknowledge and accept the full range of our feelings and experiences without judgment we create preventive measures against burnout.

    Britt-Mari helps clients to create and implement positive and personally empowering solutions to stress and burnout. To book a 20 minute initial conversation or to inquire about coaching options please contact her at brittmari@brittmarisykes.ca