2 min read

Using a challenge to take on burnout

We think burnout only comes from overwork. But there’s something else that creates conditions for burnout.
Using a challenge to take on burnout
Photo by Luke van Zyl / Unsplash

Sustain issue #56 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

I’m transitioning into a new role at my company that involves a much bigger challenge. More on this later. I’m building something from scratch, working to align many stakeholders, and leading a team.

It’s more difficult and less clear than my last role. In my last role, I was tweaking and optimizing an established system. It started to feel fairly repetitive. The work was meaningful but it wasn't challenging me as much as it did when I started.

With this comes working a few more hours, doing deeper thinking to plan strategy, and navigating more people issues. As I ramp up, I’ve been more taxed and a little overwhelmed painting on an empty canvas.

But it may surprise you to hear me say this is a good thing. I recognize that I’m in an uncomfortable period that’s leading to growth. I know this is a short-term period that will have long-term benefits. I’m being challenged and that’s important. And I’m finding a lot of meaning.

I really questioned taking the role since I was in a place where I could be successful with little effort. That’s hard to give up. But I also know there’s a risk of coasting for too long.

Too little impact

There seems to be a common understanding that burnout comes from overwork. Crazy hours clearly factor in, but there’s more to it as author Liz Wiseman explores.

As an executive at Oracle, she was cruising along in her job which came fairly easy to her. But then she hit a major bout with burnout. She tried scaling way back but that seemed to make it even worse. She didn’t want to change jobs for fear it could deplete her even further.

Finally, a mentor suggested that a new job could actually be energy-restoring, not energy-depleting. She so tried that. While she was working slightly more hours in her new job, she had more control and could more directly see the impact. And it seemed to be just the change she needed as the burnout started to wear off.

The need for a challenge

Wiseman’s research points to the fact that as humans we generally want to be challenged. She found a strong correlation between being challenged at work and being satisfied with your job. But, like with many things, there’s a fine line when we talk about a challenge. If the job is too difficult, job satisfaction plateaus.

From Wiseman: “Make sure you get a steady diet of meaningful challenges – projects with visible impact and a scope that will invite you to stretch but won’t leave you strung out.”

Don’t be afraid to take on the right kind of challenge for fear that it will burn you out. Doing so might just be the thing that wakes you back up.

Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to eliminate burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it even though I never found a playbook for doing so. So, I'm writing it myself.

✉️ Want my top tips? I share my full step-by-step playbook in How I Quit Burnout, my premium newsletter. Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >

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