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How to beat burn-out and find your authentic self.

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Matt O'Connor

Burn-out is real. In May 2019 the World Health Organisation classified Burn-out as an 'occupational phenomenon' under the International Classification of Diseases.

 

Way back when…

Before graduating in 2002 I had a clear idea of what the future held. I had ‘a plan’. Since I was 13, sat at the dining table with my brothers, drawing (and endlessly redrawing) pictures of Super Ted and Garfield – I knew I wanted to work in the creative sector.

My family business was and still is, insurance, something I knew I wasn’t interested in and didn’t want to pursue as a career. Fortunately, whilst offspring in a similar situation may be ‘pushed’ into the family business, my parents were incredibly supportive in my decision to create my own path.

 

Carving out a career path

After nearly a decade working through the hierarchical ranks of the region’s creative agencies, working initially as a creative, before quickly moving into account management and brand strategy, in 2008 my trajectory was struck by an uncompromising ‘brick wall’. I’d burnt out.

It’s taken many years to work out ‘what happened?’, however, as I reach the grand age of 40 next year, I’ve had time to reflect and work out what factors combined for my body and mind to simply shut down.

In 2010 I took the decision to leave ‘agency land’ and pivoted into the world of Further Education (FE), where I was programme lead for the graphic communication courses at one of the UK’s top FE colleges – this certainly wasn’t on ‘the plan’. However, I loved it.

Teaching certainly has its highs, and even more certainly has its lows, however, being in a position to impart knowledge, understanding and skills onto the next generation of ‘creatives’ was a great privilege. It was whilst I was in New York with nineteen college students, touring some of the Big Apple’s top creative agencies, that one of the students asked:

 

What do you look for when you’re employing graduates?” – the response was pivotal – “20% talent and 80% attitude”.

This completely changed my approach to teaching and my own way of working, realising that I needed to focus on attitude and approach as much, if not more so, than skills and knowledge.

 

The logical next step

Fast-forward to 2014 – six years after my ‘burn out’ – having left the creative industry and lecturing, I took a role at a Sunday Times Top 100 Company as a department manager – my first foray into ‘management’.

Working for such a large organisation was a huge leap of faith, however, in my mind, it was the ‘logical next step’ on the career path. It was only now that I started to realise and piece together some of the niggles that had been rattling around my head about my burn-out in 2008.

The organisation was passionate about colleague wellbeing and had created a supportive culture unlike anything I’d experienced before. Staff development, employee benefits, corporate healthcare, flexible working, personal development plans and clearly defined objectives which were aligned to business goals – this was a new world.

Line managing a team made me realise and appreciate that employees are the lifeblood of any organisation, without them, the business fails; it really is that simple. No one employee is more significant, or important than any other;

 

We all have impact and we’re all accountable for the success of the business.

 

Me, on the left Dec 2017, on the right Dec 2018 – 12 months after rediscovering my true self and beating burnout

Me, on the left Dec 2017, on the right Dec 2018 – 12 months after rediscovering my true self and beating burnout

Stepping into the arena

In 2018, following in the footsteps of my father, I took the life-changing decision to go it alone and set up my own business. I’d woken up and regained my confidence to get back on the horse (it took a decade to do so). Whilst my parents and both my brothers have been running their own successful business for years, this was new, an unknown, scary. I knew I wanted to make a difference, I just wasn’t sure what that difference was and how I was going to do it. With nearly 20 years of experience, I wanted to put this to good use – the highs and the lows.

The first thing I did was to book some sessions with a counsellor, someone totally neutral, someone with no judgement, no prior knowledge and no real opinion. I needed someone to hold a mirror up to my face and say, this is your purpose.

Through the twists and turns following my ‘burn-out’, I was striving to be something and someone I wasn’t. Conforming to a particular way of working, or a management style that was aligned to an organisation, rather than the individual. My passion for the creative sector had been all but lost – I’d lost my authenticity.

Since launching my own business, I’ve surrounded myself with great people and learned from them, rebuilt my confidence and above all, remained authentic to myself. I’ve realised that purpose changes, however, passion doesn’t.

 

I’m passionate about working with organisations to embed a positive, performance-driven culture, underpinned by brand values, a clear business strategy and purpose.

 

The second image is me, 12 months apart – the left image is when I was working for a company and the right is 12 months later running my own business. I’m not sure about using it, so I’d value your thoughts.

 

Putting people front and centre

Employers have a responsibility to their employees to create a culture that allows individuals to thrive in the workplace and truly impact on the success of the business.

Businesses need to embrace individuality, provide colleagues with a safe space to develop and grow, make mistakes and share experiences. Work is tough, life is tough, overwhelming at times, we have a responsibility to support employees to be their best and create the impact they so willingly desire to make. We need to celebrate differences, open up about what drives us and also what drains us. Create space for failure and mistakes. Treat every colleague with respect and give them a voice. Be open to change and embrace different viewpoints and ways of working. 

 

I’m now privileged to work with some of region’s top businesses and the UK’s most prominent brands, supporting them to align their purpose, brand and performance – organisations who are leading the way by putting their people at the heart of the business.

 

Written by our October guest:

Neil Bestford – Authentic, Creative Producer and Culture Strategist
Authentic, creating cultures with purpose.
www.be-authentic.co.uk