KNOWING WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
Here are five ways to combat stress and burnouts at work,
writes MATIAS DALSGAARD
During my time as a consultant with McKinsey & Company, we half jokingly, but half seriously classified ourselves as "insecure overachievers". McKinsey & Company is the most prestigious consulting company on the planet. It attracts young people who are both extremely talented and ready to work extremely hard to combat their biggest fear: Failure.
This combination of traits creates the insecure overachiever. Beyond McKinsey, this profile is common in most places where big money, success, and careers are at stake for young and talented people. Consulting, investment banking, and successful corporations all attract the like.
While being an insecure overachiever can be tough due to the constant self-inflicting torture of fear and big ambitions, the insecurity often is a true driver for success. We often tend to think that great success-stories are created by self-confident people. However, insecurity is a strong motivator to obtain results and personal affirmation. You need these things because of your fundamental insecurity, which can make you self-absorbed in your never-ending quest to deliver results.
If you happen to be an insecure overachiever, there is no reason not to embrace who you are and to live this life. You want to obtain things in life—and you are ready to work hard for it. So go live this life.
However, be careful! The insecure overachiever is also fragile. The eagerness to be successful leads to so many hard working hours that the insecure overachiever is at a high risk of burning out at work.
Here are 5 suggestions for how those with the lofty ambitions can avoid burning out.
1. Work hard
A source of joy for the insecure overachiever is working hard and achieving results. If life becomes nothing but work, you will of course need to take a step back and consider your lifestyle. But periods of hard work and excitement should not be avoided - but rather enjoyed. Hard work is part of your life, and you should rather embrace it than being afraid of working too hard.
2. Stimulate your imagination
Instead of emptying your mind outside of work—"fill" it with fresh ideas. Read books. Watch movies. Enjoy art. Practice, or study religion. Study history. The strongest remedy for burnout is being so rich in knowledge and imagination that one can always rise above the situation. Most burnouts result from being stuck in a simple perspective on life and not seeing the bigger picture. Life becomes honed in on work and mere survival on the job. Rich interests and imagination keeps one going when the going gets tough.
3. Make bold decisions
People burn out when they feel that they’re just another cog in a big machine. Making bold decisions at work puts you back in control of your life. Now it matters how you handle the situation, because success over failure depends on you. This might sound stressful, and it can be—especially to the insecure overachiever whose biggest fear is making the wrong decision and failing. But this decision-making is also invigorating. You move from a life run by others, to becoming the one running your life. The energy that this will give you, by far surpasses the extra energy that you will now have to spend.
4. Take time off
Everybody needs to take time off, but this doesn’t necessarily mean a taking a holiday. What is important is that you find time to let your thoughts, imagination, and emotions run freely. This can happen every day—while enjoying a cup of coffee, in the shower, etc. It doesn’t depend on any specific spare time context. If you are not able to find these moments in life, it is a sign that your insecurity has taken too much control of you.
5. Have a sense of humour
If you are able to be humorous amidst hard work, the work and your fear of failing will never control you. It is important that you maintain a higher level of mental life - a level that surpasses the plain problem-solving level of your job. Humour is exactly this higher level. The humorous person sees things from another perspective, taking himself (and work) less seriously. He doesn’t produce mediocre results, but he isn’t run over by work. By rising above and is not ruled by his work, the humorous man is playful in problem solving. When you feel that you can live and work with a sense of humour, it is a sign that your insecurity has not taken a destructive control of your life.
You can read more in my recently published book Don’t Despair – Letters to a Modern Man which describes ways of preserving oneself in an environment of pressure and ambitions.
Matias Dalsgaard is an author, Ph.D. and CEO of the successful Danish online company GoMore.