Burnout: How to protect yourself when pursuing an intense career

Burnout: How to protect yourself when pursuing an intense career

Burnout was one of the key concerns that came up from audience members during a panel session Women’s Agenda recently hosted with five female leaders in STEM.

It’s one thing to ‘future proof your career’, as our topic for the evening aimed to explore, but how do you future proof yourself when it comes to taking on everything that’s needed in a big career?


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How do you avoid the burnout that comes from years of hard work and intense focus on getting ahead?

During the session at the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, each of our five panellists shared what’s worked for them. They are strategies that can be considered by anyone pursuing a high work load, or trying to balance competing responsibilities, no matter what field you’re in.

We’ll share more from the panelists over the next week but for now, here’s what they had to say about ‘future proofing yourself’.

Let your values to determine what you take on 

For FOLO CEO Raji Ambikairajah, avoiding burnout comes down to protecting your core values. “Use your values as your true north to determine where it is you’re going to go, who you’re going to engage with, what it is you’re going to do,” she said.

It’s important to pursue things on a daily basis that actually give you joy, she added, and self care is a non-negotiable, which may mean finding ways to work at the times that suit you, if possible.

“It’s really about coming back to what is the essence of being human, and amplifying that in a world where automation and things are going to increase. Hold onto the essence of being human.”

Prioritise the essentials

Entrepreneur and inventor Hayley Warren, founder and CEO of HALO Medical Devices, also pointed to self care as being essential in future proofing yourself against burnout.

She said prioritising the ‘essentials’, like sleep, is a must.

From there, it helps to find an activity that gives you a mental break — like meditation, which she said is something successful people often highlight as a key part of their morning routines.

The ‘essentials’ could also include exercise — walking, running, swimming, a team sport — anything that enables you to take a mental break from your work and career and can become a regular part of your routine.

Play to your strengths

Associate Professor Caroline Ford, who leads the Gynaecological Cancer Research Group at UNSW, said that having followed a career path where she has had few female role models, she feels comfortable playing to her strengths, instead of trying to emulate the career or working model of somebody else.

She warns against spending so much time on your weaknesses that you’re unable to work on being exceptional at the things you already do well. 

“If you put a huge amount of effort into them [your weakness], you might become average at them, even if you work your entire life on it,” she said. “If you focus on your strengths, and put that combined effort into that, you’ll be absolutely outstanding.

For me, that’s been a really important lesson and it also makes it so much more enjoyable.” 

You career is more than your current project 

Antler Director of Technology Harini Janakiraman avoids burnout by putting things in perspective.

She constantly reminds herself that her career is more than the current job she has or the project she’s working on. “So on one of those days when you keep working on your project and before you realise it, it’s 9pm, it’s important to remember to … get out of your job and workplace to do something you like and come back to it later when you’re more refreshed.”

Make the minutes matter & be interested

When Michelle Wood returned to work after six months of maternity leave a number of years ago, she gained a new perspective on making every minute matter, in order to make the most of her time. 

Now the Director of Communications at Uber Australia and on a number of boards, she said people often ask how she’s able to do so many things at once.

“I think it’s because I became hyper aware of every minute mattering, and if I was going to go to work and spend 9 hours there, I really had to do something that mattered to me and made a difference.”

She added that it helps to be interested in the work you do and the people around you, at least as much as you can. “The idea that you go to work at 9 and leave at 5 is over,” she said. “We live and breathe what we do all the time and we do it in unconventional ways and as long as we stay true to the purpose, then we’re winning.”

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