The Relationship Between Burnout and Impostor Syndrome and How to Battle Both

If you’re experiencing burnout and/or impostor syndrome, there are some practical things you can do to get your energy back so you can lead powerfully.

Burnout is a pattern that’s happening globally right now. People are stressed, tired, anxious, and it feels like the marathon has no end. In this episode, co-hosts Richard Lindner and Jeff Mask validate this burnout you’re experiencing, explain how it causes impostor syndrome to rear its ugly head, and share some exercises you can do to refresh and re-engage.

Three Levels of Burnout

Leaders have to deal with burnout. Period. First, there’s internal burnout. You’re feeling it as a leader. Richard says impostor syndrome always builds when he’s burned out. “I’m not capable, I don’t have the skills to handle this.” He’s been feeling some of that embarrassment, shame, and fear lately, and he thinks this is a great time to talk about it.

Then there’s burnout in the people you’re in charge of leading. How do you know when to push them to do their best and when/how to give them a break?

Then what about when your leader/manager is experiencing burnout? If the person at the top doesn’t deal with it effectively, they push it down on everyone else. It’s cascading.

At least one of those levels is relevant to every leader on the planet right now, especially in these times.

Two Things You Have to Do

We’re in a season of funkiness and ambiguity right now. The more we label it as weird/difficult, the more we’ll flounder. We have to accept it, learn to be cool with it. It’s not going back to “normal.” We have a choice of how we’ll respond to it. This isn’t about putting a happy face on it; it’s about changing your mindset.

  1. Acknowledge it
  2. Change your mindset

What opportunities are available now that wouldn’t have been available before? New, unique, and trying times are where character is truly developed, where our best selves can show up. 

Dig deeper into changing your mindset. Get a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, and make two columns. On the left side, write down everything that’s frustrating you right now. There’s power getting it out of your head. Write down the crap, get it out, no filters. Let it sit, look at it, meditate on it, accept it. Then prioritize it. Weight it. Which things are affecting/frustrating you the most right now?

On the right side of the paper, flip it. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is there any good in this situation? 
  • Am I learning anything? 
  • Growing? 
  • Getting stronger? 
  • Increasing in humility? 
  • What can I be grateful for in that crap list?

Then look at those two columns, and ask yourself, “How am I going to choose to respond?” We totally have a choice how we respond to any situation, regardless of how difficult it is.

Richard says this exercise works, that Jeff has walked him through it before. Getting it out of our head and onto paper is so powerful. “Embrace the suck,” he says. Acknowledge it. Feel your feelings. How you react to that emotion is where the positive/negative comes in. We get to choose. But it takes reps.

Go Back to Your Why

Some other things you can do: ask, “have I already solved this problem in the past?” Ask: “Is this a season?” Sometimes we need to just stick it out. Acknowledge that the pain alleviation is coming, but it has to run its course. Maybe there’s nothing you can do but wait it out for three more weeks.

Maybe there’s no end in sight. Then what do we do? Say, “I don’t know when this will end, but I’m going to keep going.” We’re always talking to ourselves, so we might as well say positive things, or we’ll keep feeding ourselves negative self-talk and stories. Stop those tapes, erase them, and replace them with something more powerful and positive.

This is where step #3 comes in. Step #1: acknowledge it. Step #2: Change your mindset. Step #3: Remember your why. Go back to your individual purpose. Why do you exist on this planet? Then think about the purpose of your company. Dig deep and determine it. If you believe in a higher power, spend time there. If you believe in being in nature, get out in it and get your mind clear. What are your gifts? What energizes you? What activities drain you? When we lose our why, we lose our way.

Start With a Brain Dump If You Need To

Richard gets super honest at this point and says, “When I hear this and I’m in burnout, I think, just stop for the love of all that is holy. I have a to-do list 10 miles long and you want me to figure out my why?”

For the record, he believes everything Jeff is saying. He knows it’s true. But he still can’t start there. His brain doesn’t work that way. When he’s in burnout, the last thing he wants to do is pontificate, get introspective. “You don’t understand,” he’s thinking. “I’m stupid busy.” 

This is how he buys himself the focus to go through Jeff’s process, because he knows it’s impactful. It starts with a to-do list, a task list. His brain is a computer, and there are too many tabs open. He has to get out of that, before he can deal with the why.

Richards likes to start with a brain dump on a whiteboard. He writes out every single thing he’s doing, needs to do, everything that’s in his brain, no categorization. He’s even been known to use two whiteboards.

Jeff talked about a brain dump for emotions, and Richard’s is everything he has to do. When you see the overwhelm in physical form, you think, “Oh, of course I’m overwhelmed by all I have to do and think about,” and you can breathe in a sense of relief. 

The next step is to categorize. Not into home/work, because work/life integration is important, but a grid with four quadrants: Do, Defer, Delegate, Delete. Then you plot everything on the whiteboard into these four areas. 

Now you’re left with a couple of boxes to focus on. You cut it down to 15-20% of your To Do List that you should actually be doing. Look at that “Do” box and get a quick win for momentum to spark your confidence. Richard believes in two big forces in life—momentum and resistance. See: Steven Pressfield’s books, The War of Art and Do the Work.

Do What Works For YOU

Jeff loves that he and Richard shared two different approaches that work for them individually. There’s no one right way to lead—or to deal with burnout. You can do it the way that’s most authentically yours. That’s the beauty of marrying emotion and logic. That’s why Jeff and Richard are doing this podcast together. They want to connect with all kinds of leaders around the world with different personalities and ways of looking at problems. 

As leaders, it’s so important to admit our weaknesses and ask for help when we need it. From a coach, family member, peer, counselor, therapist. It’s critical that we as leaders have our hearts and minds right. We can’t lead others if we can’t lead ourselves.

If you continue to feel the burnout, stop the cycle. Acknowledge it. Validate it. Work on your mindset. Ask for help. Go deeper on your purpose. Change the cycle. The burnout happens when we stay on the hamster wheel with no end in sight.

If you don’t learn how to stop and breathe and take a break, it will never get better. Take some space. Know what energizes you, fills you up. Do some of them. Keep your battery charged. Once you’ve gotten yourself to a place of stability, once you’ve gotten your own oxygen mask on, you can keep serving and helping your people.

Richard and Jeff want to hear from YOU. What other practices have you discovered that help with burnout? What other questions do you have about burnout? Did they share anything you thought was off the mark? Email them here with your thoughts/questions: 



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