Finding Margin in Business and in Life

The Other Side of Burnout

A few years ago I found myself at the point of burnout.  I was physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually exhausted.  At the time I was serving on the executive team of a small company; in many ways my dream job.  Over time, however, the challenges inherent within the organization’s frenetic culture led to a perfect storm within, leaving me completely, utterly spent.   After several years of living on adrenaline all day every day, I knew something had to give.  And when I was asked to take on even more responsibilities at work, I knew that meant leaving a position I had always dreamed about.


It was then that I came across a book written by Pastor Wayne Cordeiro entitled Leading On Empty.  Within these pages Cordeiro shared his personal story of burning out and his journey of personal restoration.   It struck such a chord with me and served as a catalyst for figuring out what was going on inside of me.  God created us with different internal systems that require care and nurturing to be fully healthy.  When any one or more of these systems becomes significantly deficient (or bankrupt), we struggle in all areas.   And if you can’t see it, just ask your spouse.  He or she will certainly let you know.

A short while later, I picked up a copy of  Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming The Way We Work and Live written by Tony Schwartz.  Tony and his team provided a phenomenal look into how we, as humans, work and just how interrelated our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives are.  It is rich with research and practical insight and gave me substantive steps I could take to apply action to the principles and priorities important to me.   Embedded within the research is the important concept of rest and recovery.  Both of these by necessity require margin in our lives.

As a Christian, my faith is central to my life and in order to live out who God created me to be, I needed to create margin in my life.  This margin would allow me to attend to certain areas of my life that had long been neglected.  That required change and change is hard.  Especially, when your tank is on empty.  For me, the road from burnout required me to take the following steps:

    • Identify what is not working and why – This may seem rather obvious, but it is super easy to misdiagnose a symptom.  It requires absolute honesty and transparency.  It is best to get the help of a spouse or close friend to really get this right.
    • Visualize the optimal end result – Ultimately you need to define what is best for you, your family and the legacy you want to leave.  No one else can define it for you.  This is where your principals and priorities become foundational guidelines in ordering your next steps.
    • Identify options to address the problem – Sometimes the fix is simply, respectfully saying “No” to someone, maybe even your boss.  Perhaps, it means negotiating for something different.  Be reasonable and be open.  We tend to make up our minds that we have no options.  It’s not true.  There are always options.
    • Ignore negative reactions – Any time you push against the status quo, it creates friction.  The business culture demands more of employees than of any time in history; in many cases far beyond what is reasonable.  There is little consideration for sustainability of present employee workloads, much less determination to alleviate them.  So, take a deep breath, smile and push through the negativity.  Don’t react in kind, but treat those around you with dignity and respect.

Eventually, I resigned the executive position and have since started a small accounting practice, which has shed 20 hours a week off my workload.  It has required some financial changes for our family, but the exchange for more quantity and quality time with my wife and kids has more than offset the pay cut.  I love what I do and who I work with in my business.  I get to make a difference in my own unique way.  A few years on the other side of burnout, my energy and passion has largely been restored.  And most days, you will find me running a few miles with the sun and a big smile on my face.

Are you flirting with burnout?  What steps are you taking to restore your energy and your passion?

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. Tod eland says:

    Great post chuck. I believe there are many more chapters to add to this post as God reveals himself to you.

  2. Jim Bond says:

    Hi Chuck,
    Great article. It was very timely for me. I am on my way to Phoenix for a physical inventory. I come back on Sat and leave on Sunday for Haiti. I am so loooking forward to seeing my friends in Haiti and some quality down time with the Lord. My daughter is leading this trip. I promised her to be the definitive difficult mission team member :).

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