I used to think I just needed to toughen up or push myself harder. “If I was just more courageous, all would be well.” There was a flaw in that plan. I’ll explain the lessons I learned from burnout and recovery, especially relevant for other introverts and highly sensitive people (HSP) like me.
I recently pieced this together about my own journey, about how my early efforts to be tough and courageous, which seemed like good ideas, were part of leading me to burnout. I now think of genuine courage and success in a different way, that works better for me and my nature. (Success without burnout!)
I’ll explain what happened and how I now think of courage.
My Courage Journey in 4 Brief Chapters
Part 1: Growing up.
When I was young, I felt very risk-averse, to say the least. Or so it seemed in my head.
But I was also tired of feeling so fearful and reticent. So at age 17, I challenged myself to go on a wilderness hiking trip for a week in the mountains of Colorado to push myself.
It was just the thing for growing my confidence, in many ways. That challenging trek helped me find my inner courage which gave me a good kickstart for college and my early work life. It was life changing. I’m so glad I did it.
Now that I had tapped into courage, I thought maybe I was all set because that was the big problem I was always trying to solve. And then…
Part 2: Bold first jobs > burnout.
I pushed myself hard through college, spoke up more and more, followed my passions, and took on a big job (teaching!) right out of college. And that job eventually led to burnout. Same thing at another big job (human resources), and even worse burnout the second time. What gives?
I was confused since these career choices seemed interesting and aligned with my skills and passions in general. It felt like important challenging work. But I was not feeling good inside on a daily basis. My stomach was in knots. And there were tears involved.
I didn’t get it. Was I “just” depressed, anxious, what?
Part 3: Getting help. Waking up.
In desperation, I got some career guidance and learned about my introversion and discovered how my work had not been aligned with my nature, even though most of it aligned with some of my strengths and my passions.
Years later, I also learned about being a highly sensitive person (HSP) and about more of my strengths that I hadn’t fully seen before. (FYI: Introvert or HSP, or what? How to know.)
Part 4: Landing in the right fit. (No burnout!)
As a result of soul searching and trying some new ideas, I eventually created my own work as a self-employed coach.
I’ve molded my work around my core values, my strengths, and my energy needs as an introvert and HSP. Phew. Yay! Still so good, over a decade later.
As for courage, I still do courageous things but I make sure they align with my values and strengths and energy needs. Otherwise, it’s being courageous for the wrong reasons, which leads to something I don’t even want.
For me, it’s better to use my courage energy for what truly aligns.
Realization: Courage to Burnout Connection
My new realization is that it was that wonderful wilderness trip that was part of leading me down a path that led to burnout. I hadn’t quite seen that connection before.
At that time, I thought courage or boldness was the main tool I needed to succeed. I thought, Problem solved! Nope. It’s not all you need.
It didn’t have to lead down that burnout path. It’s just that I didn’t take in some other lessons yet.
Apparently, in my case, I had to go through the burnout in order to understand the other pieces of the puzzle for me. In addition to courage, I also must align with my nature and my bigger core values (not just some passions). Thankfully I have done that now.
But you don’t have to go to burnout to get there. Please don’t if you can help it. That’s the slow painful path.
Finding All Your Puzzle Pieces
This journey has informed what I do as a career coach and in my Career Clarity Course — to help people understand ALL the pieces that are necessary to choose a life and work path that will be fulfilling and sustainable.
I find that people come to see me because they only have some of the pieces of the puzzle, and as a result they have hit a wall, with no idea why.
At first it surprised me, that figuring out those missing pieces with my clients is not that hard to do. It surprises them too. After they have struggled for so many years, it seems odd to them and me that it takes so little time to solve the puzzle.
Today I regularly share this key message in various forms:
- You are not broken.
- The world needs your gifts.
- There is a path for you, without overwhelm.
It’s Not About Pushing Yourself Harder.
At least remember this.
The answer to finding your way is NOT to push yourself harder, as people often think. That’s exhausting anyway, and it can lead to more resistance and stuckness.
The answer is usually that you’re missing some puzzle pieces. When you have all the pieces, you can see the picture and the path comes clear. You’ll naturally want to and be able to go down a truer path.
Have I mentioned how much I love my work? Ha. I get paid to help people see their true path. It brings me so much joy.
Courage Still Matters
I’m still glad I worked on courage and that I went on that wonderful hiking trip. It’s just that it wasn’t the full answer to success and happiness as I once thought.
I now see how pushing oneself too hard leads to burnout, but step-by-step perseverance towards a genuine goal works much better. It still takes courage. It’s about just the right stretch without overwhelm.