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The Myths of Burnout

By Donna Smith, Odonnata Coaching

With so many reports, surveys, articles and interviews on the topic of burnout ( especially nowadays!!), it baffles me how burnout is still not taken seriously by the majority of individuals and organisations alike, especially in the Legal Profession.

Burnout is ‘a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, caused by excessive and prolonged stress.’ (

It can (and does) affect us all!

So, in an attempt to try and debunk some of the myths getting in the way of taking this topic seriously, I thought I would share some of what I know, from both my own personal experience and from working with many clients on this issue.

Myth Number 1 – All you need to do to recover from burnout is get a good night of sleep.

This is simply not the case.  Burnout is a slow burn, literally.  It creeps up on you in a stealth like manner, over a period of time, getting progressively stronger.  Until it hits you full on, either physically or mentally, or both.  For example, my burnout showed itself in the form of losing the ability to walk for several days.  The mental burnout had been going on for some time but it was only after physically collapsing that I had to face the reality of how burnt out I had become.

Recovery from burnout takes time.  A good night of sleep is a good start but it is only that, a start.  Getting adequate rest is a key component of recovery from burnout from my point of view, and it is something that needs to be consistent rather than a one off.

Ask yourself – When did you last feel 100% energised? 

Myth Number 2 – To avoid burnout means not working hard.

When I work with clients on the Burn Bright Programme, I take them through a number of principles on how to Burn Bright, not out!  One of the principles is – ‘No’ is a complete sentence!

Out of all the principles, this is the one, without fail, that provokes the strongest response.  The sheer thought of having to say no to their boss, their clients, their family, fills people with dread as their thoughts spiral into:

  • What will people think of me if I say no? 
  • Will I jeopardise my career progression if I don’t say yes to everything that is asked of me? 
  • People will think I cannot cope if I say no to requests.

Interestingly, this is not what this principle is all about however it does flag up the conditioning faced by many in the Legal Profession that has the risk of leading us straight down the path to burnout.

The following quote by Arianna Huffington sums this up perfectly:

We need to change the delusion that we need to Burn Out in order to succeed.  The truth is, we are much more effective if we take time to recharge and refuel.”

Avoiding burning out is not about not working hard, it is about ensuring we take the time to recharge and refuel in order to work even better!

Myth Number 3 – It’s not my fault I’m burnt out, it’s my job / my boss / my workload…etc.

I fully support all the research out there that says organisations could be doing more to support the mental wellbeing and resilience of their people.  They could, and great steps are being taken to make that happen.  See the following as brilliant examples:

  • The Mindful Business Charter
  • Time to Change

However, (spoiler alert, you may not like this part!) I also firmly believe that whether you burnout or not, is a choice.  Your choice!

To put this another way, if you do not have clear boundaries for yourself around things like your working hours, your time switched on to some sort of device (be it a smart phone, tablet or laptop – or all three!), you taking regular breaks to eat / rest / play, then how can you expect those around you to honour those boundaries?  If you do not regard your time or your mental and physical health as precious, no one else will either.

One of the key complaints I have from my clients when we consider this concept is “I don’t have time for myself, I am too busy!”  This is simply not true.  If a loved one suddenly needed half an hour of your time every single day, and their life depended on it, we both know you would find the time, no matter what.

Well, guess what?  YOUR LIFE depends on you finding time every day that is just for you.  Treat yourself as you would do a loved one.  Surprisingly, the more you make time for yourself every day, the more the people around you will start to honour those boundaries and work around you. 

Try it next week.  Commit to taking a half an hour lunch break away from your laptop, every day.  See how much you benefit and how quickly those around you accept that that is what you do now.

There are more myths around burnout which I could share with you but for now, I hope these have given you a taster as to the small changes you could start making, today, to get you on the path to Burning Bright in your Legal Career!

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