How this healthcare executive beat burnout and found joy in her job again
Allison Walsh is a seasoned executive, philanthropist, speaker, professional consultant, and Miss Florida 2006. She is the founder of Allison Walsh Consulting, serving as a two-time CEO for successful coaching companies, and is Vice President of Business Development and Branding for Advanced Recovery Systems (ARS).
It was on New Year’s Eve 2021 when I realized I was burned out. On the outside everything looked like I was thriving. On the inside, I was so anxious that I could barely function. I’m a mother to three kids, a part-time brand and business consultant, and I have a full-time job as a VP at a major behavioral health treatment provider.
While I work in behavioral health and have been trained to see and speak about symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout, it took me getting to this painful point personally to identify that I was in deep need of change, and quickly. If it was hard for me to identify, I can only imagine the challenges others are feeling during a time when burnout and stress are rampant.
The pandemic has turned the world that we know upside down with increased daily stressors alongside increased work loads that have become consistent and indefinite. Zippia reported in a survey this year that 86% of employees who work from home full-time experience burnout, while 51% of remote workers feel they don’t have support from their employer to deal with burnout issues. In 2021, Mckinsey published a report that found half of employees were burned out, but that the actual number is likely far larger, because people with burnout are less likely to complete surveys, or have already left the workplace because of it.
Burnout manifests itself in many ways
I am a high achiever—enneagram 3. I find joy and fulfillment from making an impact and winning. When I started feeling the symptoms of burnout early on, I didn’t recognize them and I thought that if I put my head down and worked harder that I could get through the pandemic and come out on top. We all know that is an entirely ridiculous mindset and not sustainable. However, at that point, none of us knew when this crazy time would end; we still don’t. I continued to put extra “crowns” on to help those around me, and I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of myself.
Burnout manifests itself differently for everyone, but Mayo Clinic has identified physical and emotional/mental symptoms of job burnout: being overly cynical or critical, lacking in energy and productivity, feeling unsatisfied, changes in sleep, headaches, stomachaches, and other physical discomfort, sadness, anger, and more. Burnout will look different for everyone, but the main indicator is clear: feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, and stretched thin, no matter what you’re doing or working on.
I eventually discovered that the root of it was twofold—I was exhausted from not taking care of my mental health as the pandemic required so much from me, and I was already panicking about returning to “normal.” The pandemic opened my eyes to what I was missing—time with my kids, my husband, my parents, and myself. Things had to change.
How to pivot when you’re burned out
Certain areas of my life were easier to change than others. For example, I restructured my packages on the consulting side, became more selective with my clients, and brought on additional team members to handle some tasks. As a result, I instantly felt better, and I loved my time working with those clients.
But my corporate job was a much bigger mountain to climb. I had placed so much of my self-worth in my role, and I took extreme pride in what I had built; however, hindsight shows me that it was largely ego-driven and fear-based. I was the VP of business development and had been there since the very beginning. I was so worried that if I rocked the boat, the company would take a hit. I was petrified that I would be replaced if I didn’t just keep pushing on.
A lot of people told me I should just quit.
Instead, I expressed to my boss that I could no longer mentally and emotionally continue the way things were going. I was exhausted but I still loved my job. I wanted to be a part of the next growth stage, but I had to get my joy back. They were incredibly gracious with this conversation, and I felt better immediately just having had it. I am very aware that this difficult conversation could have gone poorly, but I am so glad that my bravery showed up for me at that moment. If I had continued on that path without trying to fix it, I would be doing a dangerous disservice to everyone involved, especially myself and my family.
Working with my boss, we transitioned some of my team members to new supervisors, delineated responsibilities, and allowed the dust to settle. And with these changes, I was able to find joy in my job again.
We have to be champions for ourselves. We have to be honest about what’s going on and recognize that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we chip away at our quality of life and lose sight of what’s most important. Lastly, we have to make a daily commitment to take care of ourselves and not be afraid to do a “checkup from the neck up” to make sure we’re thriving, not just surviving.
Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.