What my experience with burnout taught me about leadership

What my experience with burnout taught me about leadership


Burnout costs billions of dollars every year to our healthcare system and endangers the wellbeing of thousands–many of whom are women.

In fact, research shows that 23 per cent of employees feel burnout often– a crisis that often leads to disengaged employees, who cost their employers 34 percent of their annual salary as a result. It’s also responsible for a high rate of employee turnover.

As women and especially mothers, we often put others before ourselves. It can be subconscious – a natural inclination. It’s an experience I’m all too familiar with.

In 2007 I became the general manager of popular clothing brand, Sportsgirl. My usual role was head of retail operations, but I was covering the general manager for her maternity leave and, in the process, I became the proverbial headless chicken.

To say I was ‘busy’ is an understatement. With three children – Macey was just two, Trent nine and Jake ten – an average day was barely contained chaos. 

As my role evolved, so too did my busy lifestyle. It involved everything from raising small children, managing the day to day running of a house, interstate travel, to having days packed with meetings, appointments and leadership decisions.

I describe myself during this period as a Formula 1 race car – one that had not been refuelled, serviced, had its tyres changed or pulled into the pit stop in a very long time. Is it any wonder that I was feeling burnt out? I had just been going and going and going. I knew no boundaries and said ‘yes’ to everything, no matter how full my plate. I wanted to be the perfect wife, mother, friend, sister and daughter. I put everyone else’s needs before my own – and before my health.

No-one asked me to do all of this, mind you – it was just me. I have always been a people pleaser. My whole childhood was about pleasing my mum and dad and making them proud, and that flowed through to the way I lived my life. Making my boss proud… my kids proud… my husband proud… That’s all that mattered to me.

Until I couldn’t do it any longer. I was only 36 years old, but I was utterly burnt out. I hadn’t lost my passion – far from it. I absolutely loved my job and was so proud of what I’d been able to achieve in my career. I just didn’t have anything left in the tank. I had hit a wall… any cliché you can think of, that’s how I felt.

I was very fortunate to be able to take timeout. I pulled into the pit stop for a well overdue service, refuelled, changed the tyres and had the best lesson in self-care ever. Burnout was a gift in some ways. It taught me that I can only be good to others when I am first good to myself, whether that’s in my role as a mum, leader, friend or partner.

What I’ve come to learn in the years since is that my problem was a very common one among women.

That’s the thing about burnout or exhaustion, it doesn’t just affect us, it affects everyone around us. You are tired, cranky, emotional and sometimes even irrational. Your family, friends and teams around you don’t get the best version of you when you’re in this state.

I am sure there are many of you reading along who have experienced burnout previously, are in the midst of it right now or are on the slippery slope towards it. I wish I knew then what I know now; I wish I’d known the signs that very quickly creep up on you when you’re on that narrow, windy and bumpy road to burnout.

Signs of burnout show up in many different ways, and we need to recognise these warning bells before we get to a point where burnout takes over. Chronic exhaustion, concentration and memory problems, constant fatigue, irritability and lack of patience, lack of energy, sleep disorders or insomnia. 

Do any of these ring true for you?

I also wish I’d understood the importance of self-care and self- preservation. This is why I want to share my experience and failures with you: because I’m passionate about helping other women recognise the signs of burnout before they reach the same dire point I did. I want to empower you to be comfortable with putting yourself first, and to live a life of self-care and self-love – because when we do this, we have so much more to give others.

Burnout happens because you’re overwhelmed and exhausted – which is a by-product of an over-packed schedule and always putting others before self. It’s time for all women to embrace self-care and start taking care of the most important asset….you!


Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women’s Agenda in your inbox