Creating Space to Re-energize the Self and Business

Learn to deal with burnout as a form of change.


In this piece I talk about burnout and change, as I see interconnectedness between the two. Burnout is an internal experience, linked to the external world. It changes motivations, energy and passions, leaving us depleted, sapping energy and devouring motivation. That’s one form of change. But change is also what turns this around. Change—the decision to act on our burnout—creates paths to renewal and transformation. Change cuts both ways.

Our interests, needs and experiences are likely to change over time. The Mayo Clinic examines burnout and talks about change: “Creating work-life balance is a continuous process as your family, interests and work life change.”

I submit that a two-fold question is a constant in the presence of burnout as unwelcomed change:

  1. Do we recognize it and recalibrate?
  2. Or do we entomb it, keeping on the same trajectory as before? Eventually, however, recalibration becomes an imperative.

The literature on burnout is extensive, and definitions describe it, for example, as the experience of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (distancing) from one’s work. The analysis of burnout was partly catapulted to broad audiences in the 1980s with the book “Burn-out: The High Cost of High Achievement,” by Herbert J. Freudenberger with Geraldine Richelson. They said that burnout means to deplete oneself, to exhaust one’s physical and mental resources.

Job burnout is not unlikely if we’ve been driving our businesses intensely for a long time and with high expectations.

Explore the Signs
Freudenberger offered useful questions to detect work burnout, and they remain relevant. Upon reviewing the Mayo Clinic’s discussion about the topic for this article, I found they offer pretty much the same questions as Freudenberger did in the 1980s. Here are some:

  • • Do you feel fatigued rather than energetic?
  • • Are you increasingly cynical and disenchanted?
  • • Are you often invaded by a sadness you can’t explain?
  • • Are you seeing close friends and family members less frequently?
  • • Are you suffering from physical complaints (aches, pains)?
  • • Have your accomplishments lost meaning?
  • • Have your aspirations for businesses lost importance?

Self-reflection is Critical
I return to the topic I discussed in my article on self-reflection. In the case of burnout, self-reflection can help us redirect and/or reaffirm our purposes.

When unfavorable experiences caused by burnout are present and persist, pausing to acknowledge and reflect on them is critical, not only for work, but also for our health. Pushing the reboot button is a much better option than allowing burnout to take over and continue to undermine us. But even if it does, there is always a juncture at which to intervene and redirect our energies—and it often begins with introspection and the acknowledgment of needing change.

The break from nonprofit consulting enabled me to relax and re-energize, and even start a new small venture. I was not even sure whether I would return to consulting, and that was OK. However, as my mind and spirit opened up, so did my vision for consulting work, choosing to integrate two equally important aspects of my life: nonprofit consulting and the arts. Now, I dedicate time to my artistic projects, and I recently decided to consult for arts organizations, in addition to those engaged in social justice, which had been the dominant thread of my work.

As Buddhism postulates: Nothing is permanent. Everything changes.

One more important lesson for me is that I figured out how to integrate two important parts of my life into a continuum. That’s an important change in perspective.

Now, I make art appointments with myself and put them on my calendar, treating them as I treat business meetings. I say no to board service invitations—with one exception, the local hospital—and other offers. Simultaneously, I network with colleagues in the art field, both to learn about exhibits and shows and, yes, to market my consulting business. In essence, I learned to conceptualize and create a new vision and plan for my life. I also learned that in life as in science, nothing is lost; everything is transformed.

Burnout uncovered a hidden gift: the opportunity to acknowledge my limits, pause, reflect and gain motivation to start again, refreshed. Interestingly, one important thing happened as I resolved to return to consulting in the last couple of months: Writing for Latin Business Today represents an opportunity to share recent experiences that transformed my life and write about issues that are relevant to us, Latino entrepreneurs, as well as to learn from others. In my next column, I plan to write about how the U.S. economy can greatly benefit from eliminating the educational gap that currently affects Latino students.

Related articles:
Finding our Entrepreneurial Seeds Through Self-reflection

About the author

Mara Perez

Mara Perez, Ph.D. As Founder and Principal of Mara Perez, Fund Development and Planning Services, Mara provides fundraising and strategic planning services to non-profits. Mara has helped over seventy organizations obtain funding, design innovative work strategies, and execute growth plans. Mara holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago.  Community service includes:  2010-present Board Member of Marin General Hospital; 2002-2012 Board Member Canal Alliance, twice Board President; 2005 Spirit of Marin Award, Business Person of the Year; Coro Leadership Community Fellow.  She has published articles about immigration, social change, and fundraising.  Born in Argentina, Mara resides in California.