After getting my MBA from Stanford and spending almost a decade working in finance, I got to a point in my career where I was “successful” by all external standards; yet, I felt lost and unfulfilled. I climbed to the top of the ladder only to realize Crap! Wrong ladder.
My job had me completely exhausted and burned out. I did a lot of soul searching, had a bit of a breakdown — what my coach kindly called a “spiritual awakening” — and realized there was a different way to live my life. I discovered some incredibly powerful tools for creating success with greater ease.
I now teach these principles to high-achieving women who want to learn how to lean in without burning out, and today I’d like to share seven ways to do just that.
1. Align with your values and be authentic.
In order to have sustainable success, it’s critical that you're clear on your values and make choices that reflect who you really are. Women in particular struggle with authenticity in the workplace as the role models for leadership are often male and the culture may not naturally lend itself to whole-being alignment.
When I worked in investment banking, at 9pm I would leave my suit jacket on the back of my chair, take the stairs up a level, and catch the elevator out of the building — all so no one would know I was leaving “early.” This was not how my authentic self would choose to work.
If you're in an environment that doesn’t support the lifestyle you desire, consider changing environments or making some requests. Ask to work from home one day a week, or travel less, or exercise during lunch — whatever will support you the most. Get clear on what's important to you and set boundaries to protect your needs.
2. Treat yourself compassionately.
If you truly practice self-compassion, it's virtually impossible to burn out. Self-compassion involves being kind and gentle with yourself. Learning how to give yourself a pep talk after making a mistake is the key to success. Most of us grew up believing that we need to be hard on ourselves to do well, but the opposite is true. The next time you hear that self-critical voice in your head, shift to a positive message; after all we're only human, and everyone messes up now and again.
3. Envision your future self.
Envisioning your future success is one of the best tools for leaning in without burning out. Many Olympic athletes incorporate this technique, and yet corporate athletes are completely underutilizing this tool. If you want a promotion, see yourself already in that position. If you want to find your soul mate, picture the toasts that will be given at your wedding. You will draw in people and opportunities that lead you toward your ideal life by visualizing it and feeling the feelings in your body as if you already have that life.
4. Try mindfulness.
“Be”ing is more important than “Do”ing. Being busy has somehow become a sign of prestige. We have it completely backward. Being still and quiet is the key to success. Research shows meditation improves creativity, increases focus and decreases stress and anxiety. Too busy to meditate? Join this free 30-day meditation challenge to receive a short (less than five minutes) guided meditation each morning for 30 days. If you get still before you get going, you'll make wiser choices.
5. Practice gratitude.
If you’re anything like me, your default setting is to focus on what’s missing, what’s wrong, and what still needs to be done. We search for flaws everywhere. It's exhausting to see the world as a constant to-do list!
Energy flows where attention goes. By focusing your attention on what is going right and appreciating what you already have, you will see that things are better than you realized and more will come in. Think of one thing you've done well at work right now, and notice how you feel afterward.
6. Listen to your body.
I pushed myself really hard for many years in my career, and I made choices that weren’t aligned with my deeper truth. It left me emotionally and physically exhausted. The best tool I’ve learned for leaning in without burning out is to listen to my body.
Your body is an amazing compass. If you take the time to listen, it will always give you a signal about whether something is in the flow, or if you will be pushing the river upstream. Listen to those signals and make choices that cause your body to feel good, this is the key to success with ease.
7. Get a support group.
Brigid Schulte, New York Times bestselling author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, recommends that you “find a network of support that will help you as you steer your own course, take a breath and set your own priorities. It’s so helpful to have others who are encouraging you in making these new choices and reflecting similar values back at you.”
One way to do this is to form a group with other women who are committed to leaning in without burning out. This is a great way to create a strong support system with like-minded individuals to share resources and hold each other accountable.
From my experience, groups of six to 10 people that meet at least once a month and commit for a minimum of six months have the most impact. It helps to have a facilitator who creates the agenda, a secretary who takes notes, and a timekeeper to ensure the group is staying on track. These roles can rotate each session.
There's incredible power in getting a group of people together to support each other in making their dreams a reality, and if you form or join a Lean In Circle, I believe you will see a noticeable shift in your life.