Burnout, Winter Snowstorms & A Surprise Elopement

White Christmas 2021, Truckee California

For many including myself 2021 was a difficult year. I have never worked so hard in my life. I had two kids in college and five jobs. I taught leadership classes at UC Berkeley and six leadership classes for girls in my community, I mentored, I coached, I staged houses, I organized closets, I helped people pack and move, I ran Ocean SF, I hired seven interns and so on. I literally worked from 5:30 a.m. in the morning until 10:00 p.m. at night. This is even beyond sunrise to sunset.

By the end of the year I was literally exhausted, but even then I couldn’t stop. I threw Christmas parties, slept 4 or 5 hours per night, graded dozens of college papers and closed out the year by skiing five days in a row with my kids at my second home in Lake Tahoe.

Not surprisingly, I awoke one morning and could not get out of bed. I had slept for an unheard of 12 hours. My body was aching, my head pounding and chills ran through my body.

On top of this a snow storm was raging beyond my window, and my power had gone out. I listened to one click-click after another as I tried each light switch hoping for illumination. The ski resorts were closed. It was a whiteout. It was also my wedding anniversary. Or, it should have been.

My late husband and I had eloped to Lake Tahoe. It was his idea, but I made the travel arrangements to North Lake Tahoe. We packed and drove holding hands past the open Martis Valley where our second home would eventually be built. We were married in our ski jackets and jeans under the stars. We hired a witness and put our bottle of champagne in the snow to cool while we took our vows. Nothing could have been more romantic. After that, Lake Tahoe would continue to be the scene of many of our happiest memories.

Without power I spent the day reading, taking cold medicine and snoozing. I had not had a day to do this in all of 2021. As the storm raged on I made hot tea and sat by the fire watching the snow fall.

Later, as evening fell my two daughters and I lit candles and talked by the fire. Our phones were dead and we looked at each other in the dim light. They always want me to tell them funny stories they’ve not heard before. On these occasions I go back to the farm where my sister and I grew up. We would name the sheep we bottle fed and raised after our baby sitters. Our favorite was the especially tame and gentle Shirley. Eventually, Shirley ended up in the freezer, but we didn’t know that then. We were told that Shirley had eloped and was now happily married living on another farm.

I drank a warm cup of Theraflu and went to bed at 8:00 p.m. dreaming of the farm that I grew up on, and the elopement of both Shirley and myself.

In a few days I was feeling much better, the clouds cleared, power was restored and I skied another three days in a row with the kids. As the days unfolded and I recovered I did sleep in and I stopped to rest along the way before coming home to start my very busy January.

This experience made me wonder why I wouldn’t tuck myself into bed at 8:00 p.m. and stop and rest when I am simply tired and not ill?

One of the things I teach my leadership students and those I coach is that we have a personal responsibility to our own trajectory in our career and life, and this is especially true in how we manage burnout. I know that feeling of pushing myself beyond what I thought possible and how good that can sometimes feel. However, it is not sustainable and going the extra mile until we drop is not especially useful—to anyone and least of all to ourselves.

Burnout is the number one problem for employers today and often it can be difficult to come back from. It is also contagious harming everyone around us. I was forced to slow down, but one of my goals for 2022 is to voluntarily care for myself in a way that honors the natural need for my body to rest. I’m lucky my illness was temporary as others are not so lucky. Our health is our first million and without it nothing else really matters.

Honoring our mind, heart and body should the priority of 2022.

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year.

Love and blessings.

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