Have you ever experienced burnout? How did you feel during that time? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Hopeless?
The feeling of burnout is becoming more common in our society according to a report by Indeed. In this report, 52% of all the surveyed workers in the US are feeling burned out, which shows that employee burnout is on the rise. That shouldn’t come as a surprise with how the last couple of years have been for workers dealing with the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which led to an overnight change in the workplace.
There are many reasons behind this burnout, from adjusting to the work-from-home culture to balancing one’s professional and personal life, but is there more to it? Is the COVID crisis the only reason people have burnout, or does the issue run much deeper than that?
Our guest today is Jonathan Fields, and he thinks that the latter is true. Jonathan is an award-winning author, host of the acclaimed podcast The Good Life Project, and the founder and CEO of Spark Endeavours. He believes that the root of this burnout crisis is that most people don’t feel fulfilled with the work that they are doing. Each of us has something that fulfills us and makes us come alive when we do that work, but sadly, most of us don’t recognize this.
“Until you cultivate the ability to say no to the things that fill your life but not your soul, you’ll never have the space to bring into it the things you desperately want to say, ‘yes’ to.” – Jonathan Fields
It’s so good to have Jonathan Fields back on The School of Greatness after almost eight years. In all my years of hosting this podcast, I have come across numerous people who have neglected the work they were meant to do for the work that they are doing. Today, Jonathan will help us understand why burnout is becoming more and more common in today’s society and how to shift the narrative for ourselves and find joy in the work that we do.
Jonathan Fields is a man on a mission to spark purpose that creates possibilities and unleashes potential. He is the host of one of the top-ranked podcasts of the world — The Good Life Project — which has been featured everywhere from O Magazine to The Wall Street Journal and even at Apple’s annual product event.
Jonathan has founded multiple companies focused on maximizing the potential of humans, his latest being Spark Endeavours, where he is the chief architect behind the “sparketype.” The “sparketype” is an online assessment system to help individuals and organizations identify, embrace, and cultivate work that makes people come alive. Jonathan is also an author of best-selling books like How to Live a Good Life and Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel For Brilliance.
Jonathan has been featured widely in the media, including The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Guardian, and more. He finds his ultimate purpose is giving insights and solutions that inspire people to do more with their lives and find their spark.
This episode is for everyone, from individuals to teams, because the threat of burnout affects all of us. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to understand how burnout happens and how you can deal with it by finding your spark.
The last two years have been hard on the global workforce. With the shift in work from the office to the home, the delicate boundary between the place of work and the place of rest has diminished. This imbalance is definitely one reason for the most recent rise in burnouts, but is it the only reason? Jonathan says that’s not all.
“I think that’s not the whole story. What I think we are missing is the fact that it is not a new problem. Burnout has been on the rise for the last 10-15 years. … [COVID] has just brought it to the surface, but there is an underlying issue. The average person tends to wake up in the morning to do something that is not necessarily well aligned with a fundamental impulse for work that would nourish them in a deeper way. Over time, that level of misalignment turns into an outright conflict, but we never really deal with it.” – Jonathan Fields
Many of us have experienced a lack of boundaries in the workplace where there is no balance between work life and home life. This has caused a sort of existential crisis where people are working way more hours than they should and they are doing things that really don’t nourish them. Jonathan shares his experience with burnout:
“I was working as a lawyer in a very past life, and I was working insane hours, sometimes never going home for a couple of days at a time. There was a huge amount of stress because I was a securities lawyer at a big firm, and the stakes were massively high. You had to be perfect — that’s what we got paid for — and I ended up doing that until basically, my immune system fell apart. A large infection kind of exploded in the center of my body, eating a hole through my intestine from the outside and sending me into emergency surgery. … It was beyond burnout. It was sort of like I had nothing left inside of me, and that was a huge wake-up call.” – Jonathan Fields
As a serial entrepreneur and somebody who just works really hard, Jonathan has trained his mind to a point where his brain can actually take a lot. Even when the world around him is spinning, his mind still remains functional. Still, if his physical body manifests an illness or pain and he doesn’t listen, eventually it brings him to his knees. So working on aligning different aspects of his life helps him overcome his mental obstructions and his physical limitations.
As humans, we are often faced with situations that overwhelm us, but our alignment and commitment to our goals can help us overcome these obstacles. Once we have an alignment with our mission, our career, or our business, we then need to learn how not to sabotage this space. The question is, how?
“A lot of it has to do with wisdom, like personal learning, commitment to growth, and inner practices, and whether those practices keep you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually healthy, focused, and present. [This enables] you to be resilient and to respond, rather than to react.” – Jonathan Fields
Jonathan also stresses the importance of “external scaffolding” or creating systems in your life that can run on autopilot. This helps prevent decision fatigue during tough circumstances and helps you increase your capacity.
“Katy Milkman talks a lot about this in her work and her research on behavior change. She says it’s not just about self-control or willpower. There’s a whole bunch of inner and outer scaffolding that you can create that makes it so that you don’t have to wake up every day and use all this cognitive bandwidth to make basic decisions. [There are always certain actions] that you do want to be intentional about, but there are also a lot of things that we can put on autopilot. This will help us make the decision or take the actions that we want to take by default, without even having to think about them.” – Jonathan Fields
For Jonathan, one of the anchors in his life is daily meditation practice which changes his physiology and state of mind. He found that over the years, this practice created a baseline level of equanimity that allows him to be more intentional about the way he goes through his day. Another thing that he suggests is to zoom the lens out a little bit and take a macro view of the thing that is causing this feeling of stuckness. This will help you understand that there’s something bigger going on, and if you can address the bigger thing, then everything else will start to fall into place.
When you feel stuck in your work and it starts to feel meaningless, you end up stressing over this feeling of unfulfillment. If not checked, this often leads to unhappiness and a drop in your productivity. But how can you turn this feeling around and start identifying meaningful work for yourself?
“The first way to understand how to find meaningful work is to realize that meaningful work matters. Most people don’t look at a job and are like, ‘Is this meaningful for me? Will this opportunity or project actually give me the feeling that it matters — that I matter?’ We’re not even using that as criteria to judge what to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to.” – Jonathan Fields
Suppose you’ve climbed the proverbial corporate ladder — you’ve got the money, the job, and all this stuff that you want to check off on your achievement list. But even so, you might be sitting there and thinking that you don’t feel the way you thought you would feel. Now that you’ve gotten everything that you wanted, you don’t know what your next move is. Do you wonder why that happens?
“The answer is because those things aren’t actually the things that matter in life. There’s got to be something deeper in the context of your job. … If it doesn’t get out, or if it doesn’t get expressed in some way, shape, or form, then that feeling of emptiness never goes away.” – Jonathan Fields
It’s almost like you need to chase more power, fame, money, and prestige to try to feel something, but then it’s never enough, and it might lead to an existential crisis. The thing about an existential crisis is that it is not a crisis of money or power. The crisis is about you questioning the meaning of your existence because you show up at a certain point in your life and something inside of you says, ‘I don’t matter.’ When you cannot find something that gives you the feeling of meaningfulness, you experience a profound sense of loss, and that can lead to really dark places. But when you really find your spark, you can turn around the narrative and move on down the path of fulfillment.
Guys, this episode with Jonathan Fields was just so powerful. I hope this allows you to understand how and why burnouts happen and how we can lift ourselves out of our ruts. I could not fit in the entire conversation in this post, and there are many other things that Jonathan and I spoke about, so I highly recommend that you watch the rest of the episode here.
At the end of the conversation, I asked Jonathan about his definition of greatness, and this is what he had to say:
“ To me, greatness is not a state of being that we arrive at, it’s a path, and the ability to close that gap between felt and expressed potential.” – Jonathan Fields
If you want to know more about Jonathan’s story and achievements, please feel free to check out his website. You can also check out his podcast, The Good Life Project, and follow him on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Thank you so much for listening to this episode — I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, then please do me a favor and tag Jonathan, @jonathanfields, and me, @lewishowes on Instagram, with a screenshot of your greatest takeaways from this episode.
I’m so grateful you took the time to invest in yourself today. Now it’s time to go out there and do something great!