This phrase is often used as a metaphor. As a teaching professional, I’ve heard the words “I’m praying for rain” from colleagues many times. I may have even whispered the words myself on occasion. The phrase “I’m praying for rain” is often used by someone who does not really want to do something that is soon approaching - (As in, Question: “Are you looking forward to the family reunion picnic next weekend?” Response: “No, not really, actually I’m praying for rain!”).
With a tennis professional, the phrase is sometimes used when, without access to indoor courts, and feeling tired, worn out, and generally unmotivated to teach another lesson or run a team practice, the opportunity of an afternoon or day off because of rain is relished! If this is happening to you too often, it might be time for some serious reflection on how you’re approaching and managing your career and balancing your work life with your real life.
While we all recognize the signs of physical fatigue, the question of burnout is a little different. According to the team behind the mental health and wellness website, HelpGuide.com, burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Burnout can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu.
In your daily professional life, whether as a tennis professional, club manager, business executive or employee - feeling lethargic or unmotivated can be an important warning sign. At a minimum, these feelings become a distraction, or result in you saying something the wrong way, or without first thinking. At its worst, burnout can threaten your long-term success and professional stability.
Burnout and how its symptoms impact your performance is not too different from what happens when you become dehydrated when exercising or competing. By the time you’re thirsty, it’s usually too late to quickly adjust and rebalance your body chemistry. Simply “drinking more water’ will not be enough - at least in the short term. If you keep exerting energy while remaining dehydrated, you can easily get hurt – even hospitalized. Burnout in your job is no different. Once you feel it, some major adjustments and re-balancing are needed before you hurt yourself - or your career.
Preventing burnout in your professional life requires that you be proactive. As a guide, I like to use as a comparison, the strategies used by high-performance athletes. The most successful athletes set realistic expectations and establish a balanced training and competition schedule, to help stay fresh and focused. The athlete’s schedule includes both high-energy ‘performance periods’ (competition) and planned non-competition ‘recovery periods’ (rest). This same approach will go a long way to ensuring that you do not start to suffer ‘burn out’ in your career to the point where you regularly ‘pray for rain.’
Sounds easy, right? That depends! Understanding the concept of work/life balance is easy. Believing the science and research that has proven the benefits of modulating high-intensity activity with periods of recovery, is easy too. Making a plan that includes time-blocking for rest and recovery is also a relatively simple exercise. Executing on all of the above is the challenge! Getting the mix right takes a conscious effort, a commitment to taking care of yourself, a commitment to excellence in your career and life, and ongoing monitoring and adjustment. Here are some tips on how you can stay fresh and focused:
Seven Tips to help you stop praying for rain - (aka; Avoiding Burnout)
1. Make a Plan: Plan your day, your week, your month and even your year within the context of your overall career pathway. What’s next? Where are you today, and where are you headed professionally? Be detailed as you make your plan. Understand that working 7 days a week or 14 hours even 2 or 3 days a week is not a plan for long-term success and career advancement.
2. Work Smart: No matter how hard you work, there are no guarantees of success. Instead, try working smarter. Commit that you will be diligent, focused and industrious, but that you will also try to prioritize your time. Remain always willing to “go the extra mile” and embrace the spirit of “doing whatever it takes” - but commit also to working smart, and be proactive with your schedule to include scheduled periods for recovery.
3. Recovery: Follow the lead of the best tennis professionals on the planet - Roger, Rafa, Novak, schedule time for rest and recovery among your professional ‘competition’ time. Dr. Jim Loehr at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute has long advocated the importance of recovery after pushing hard for top-notch performance. The push-recover approach helps to build speed, strength, and endurance in professional athletes, allowing those athletes to expand the limits of human performance and endurance while avoiding injury. The concept is no different for you in your professional performance arena. Your plan needs to remain flexible, and include the natural flow of activity around your professional role on an annual, monthly and weekly basis so that your recovery periods sync with periods of lower demand for your time.
4. Take up a hobby: A study of 400 employees published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found marked differences between those people who engage in creative hobbies and those who do not. Having a creative hobby is associated with positive work-related traits, like creativity and a better attitude on the job. Other research shows that employees with hobbies are more satisfied with their jobs and have a lower likelihood of burning out. If that’s not enough of a reason, a hobby can help you professionally. Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying that having a hobby shows a prospective employer that you have passion and drive. In fact, it’s a question that I always ask potential candidates when completing Tennis and Racquet Sports Director search assignments for clubs.
5. Exercise: For some, this tip is considered fundamental, for others, a mountain to climb. This doesn’t need to include a drive to the gym, nor does it have to include a machine, a dumbbell or a class of any type. A 20-minute walk, with or without a four-legged friend at the end of the leash, can get the job done. In addition to all the research flaunting the medical benefits, regular exercise has been proven as one of best mood-boosters out there… and no one wants a professional in a bad mood!
6. Turn Off: Our ‘always on’ society has created unrealistic 24/7 expectations from customers, managers, and members. Performance expert Joe Burton recommends that you turn off the data on your phone at the same time each evening. You may be the most important person in your group, but your state of mind and emotional health play a big role in the healthy functioning of your family, your business and your life. There is likely nothing that will happen between 8 pm - 7 am that can’t wait for you.
7. Put on your oxygen mask first: We hear this message every time we fly. You can’t help the person you love if you don’t first ensure your own survival. Exercise. Workout. Walk. Stretch. Breath. Pray. Find your thing and do it. Make it a priority. No employer wants a tired, worn-out or worn-down team member. Take care of your body and your mind for yourself, for those around you and for those with whom you work.