Episode 49: The Burnout Epidemic: Prevention and Recovery with Michael Levitt
Episode 49: The Burnout Epidemic: Prevention and Recovery with Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is the founder & Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout media firm. In this week’s episode, Michael and Alyssa talk about the silent killer: Burnout. Michael shares his story of how he almost lost his life from toxic stress and burnout. He now spends his time trying to educate others on how they can recognize the signs of burnout and seek the help that they need before it is too late.
Burnout Proof: How To Establish Boundaries To Avoid The Negativity Of Stress https://amzn.to/2JkbKxQ
369 Days: How To Survive A Year of Worst-Case Scenarios: https://amzn.to/38Zd807
Alyssa Scolari [00:23]:
Hello friends, good afternoon, good morning, good evening, good night wherever you are, whatever time it is. Hello and welcome to another episode of the Light After Trauma Podcast. I am your host, Alyssa Scolari. Today we are here to talk about another juicy topic. I love this topic. Again, I know I say that all the time, but this topic I am very passionate about. We are here to talk about B-U-R-N-O-U-T. So no I can’t sing, but yes I’m going to anyway on this podcast. For those of you who struggle with spelling, that spells burnout. I’m really, really excited.
Our guest today, who really has made his entire career and his biggest passion about burnout prevention, his name is Michael Levitt. Michael is the founder and Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto based burnout media firm. He is an in-person and certified virtual speaker, a certified NLP and CBT therapist, and is one of the world’s leading authorities in burnout recovery and prevention. He is a Fortune 500 consultant, a number one bestselling author, and host of The Breakfast Leadership Show, a top 200 podcast on iTunes. That’s so exciting! He is a former healthcare executive, CIO and CFO overseeing $2 billion budgets, so he has truly seen and done it all. Hello Michael, welcome to the Light After Trauma Podcast. How’s it going?
Michael Levitt [02:14]:
I am awesome. I’m looking forward to our chat today.
Alyssa Scolari [02:17]:
Me, too. I have to ask you from reading your bio, you’re on the West Coast?
Michael Levitt [02:23]:
I split my time between San Diego and Toronto, and actually at the time of this recording I’m in Toronto. With the U.S. Canadian border closure they’ve closed it to non-essential travel, and apparently I’m not essential. So I get to stay here, which is fine.
Alyssa Scolari [02:23]:
Michael Levitt [02:40]:
I’m a dual citizen so I get to vote and screw up two countries, and I’m comfortable either place. Plus the weather now in Toronto is nice, so it’s not bad. You should talk with me in the winter, I’m like oh, why am I here.
Alyssa Scolari [02:40]:
Michael Levitt [02:53]:
But things are opening up. I anticipate by the fall of this year that it’ll be easier to travel and all of that, and I’m looking forward to it.
Alyssa Scolari [03:06]:
Yeah. So Toronto to San Diego?
Michael Levitt [03:10]:
Yeah, it’s a five hour flight one way, anyway. If you’ve got stops, then of course it gets much longer. But it’s about a five hour flight, and obviously a little bit different temperature during the year. Right now we’re about the same because I have the weather out on my phone for both locations, and I always look at them like oh wow, we’re actually warmer than San Diego today, interesting. But that doesn’t happen a lot. But in the summertime it does, but not so much when that crinkly white stuff’s falling from the sky. It’s like you don’t tend to see that too much in San Diego. In the mountains yes, but not by Gaslamp or anything like that.
Alyssa Scolari [03:52]:
No, not when you’re hanging out at the San Diego Zoo.
Michael Levitt [03:55]:
Exactly, yeah. The polar bears might be happy, it’s like finally we’ve got the weather right.
Alyssa Scolari [04:00]:
Right, at last.
Michael Levitt [04:03]:
Alyssa Scolari [04:04]:
Well, that’s actually really cool. Obviously I’m sure it comes with its frustrations, undoubtedly. But I don’t know, that’s kind of neat to essentially have lives in two different countries. We’re here today to talk about burnout which as I stated earlier is one of my favorite topics, definitely getting more attention as we were talking about, but there’s not a lot of action. First it’s like acknowledging that this is a problem and then it’s like okay, maybe we should start thinking about taking action. I’m going to turn it over to you, the burnout expert. What is burnout? What does that mean?
Michael Levitt [04:45]:
Burnout is when you have prolonged stress basically, to really narrow it down. It’s basically when you are completely fatigued, exhausted, you’re mentally and physically drained. You have no motivation to do anything, and it’s been over an extended period of time. Now for each person, that could be a different period of time. Some people can burn out pretty quickly, and others it could take several years for it to build up depending on what’s going on. But that’s the thing I see with everybody that is actually at that burned out state is they’re just done. They don’t have any motivation, they’re fatigued, they’re living life in a fog, they really can’t see things clearly and quite frankly they’re almost numb to life, which is no way to exist.
Alyssa Scolari [05:37]:
Absolutely. I relate to that so well. I think that’s a really, really good description because it’s just like that sense of almost like you’re just going through the motions I think, and nothing really means much to you good or bad. It’s just kind of like, oh. Or on the other sense, I feel like sometimes it can also be like you’re the Energizer bunny where it’s like I can’t stop, I can’t stop, I can’t take a day off, I have to do this, people need me. People need me, I can’t take a day off, I can’t afford to, that type of mentality as well. I think it could maybe go either way.
Michael Levitt [06:12]:
It does, and a lot of people that I see that are burned out are what we like to call people pleasers, and they don’t want to let anybody down so they just continue working. Maybe they’re Type A personalities, very driven, very successful and have always put in those 12, 14, 16 hour days kind of thing, and they wear it like it’s a badge of honor. And it’s like no, actually you’ll end up having a different type of badge and it’ll be whatever they put around your wrist when you’re in the hospital, or a toe tag if you don’t take care of yourself. I definitely flirted with that with my burnout journey.
Alyssa Scolari [06:52]:
Yeah. It’s funny. As you’re speaking I’m like oh, I feel personally attacked right here because that honestly, it truly was me. It was chronic people pleasing, just working 12, 14 hour days. I think for me, I watched my mom get very, very sick and she almost died. We were told she was going to die. I think it was a result of her chronic people pleasing and her burnout that is the reason why she almost died, and to this day continues to have health issues. So I think that was a really big turning point for me. But I know you have an entire journey of your own with burnout. Would you mind talking a little bit about that?
Michael Levitt [07:38]:
Sure, I’d love to. Back in 2007, I was hired as a healthcare executive for a startup healthcare organization just outside of Windsor Ontario, Canada. I’m a dual citizen born in the U.S., immigrated to Canada in 2004 with my former wife and became a citizen in 2011, hence the vote and screw up two countries joke that I made earlier. But in this role, and anybody that’s ever worked in a startup, you know there’s a lot of work involved, there’s a lot of things to set up. I had to recruit physicians, hire staff, educate the community on why our clinic was better than the other clinics that had been in town for several years, and had a very proactive board of directors. Even though I was an employee, as a people pleaser or I identify myself now asa a reformed people pleaser, but as a-
Alyssa Scolari [08:37]:
I love that.
Michael Levitt [08:37]:
… former people pleaser I took it on my own and said, “Well, I’m going to act as if this is my company.” Which it isn’t, but I acted as if it was, and was driven and was basically working 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. seven days a week for a solid two years. During that time, when you’re working that many hours and you’re in an office type of role, you’re not getting any level of exercise to speak of, and I certainly wasn’t. Of course when you’re an executive and we all know this, who gets the real close parking spot to the door? The executive. So I wasn’t even getting 10,000 steps just because my parking spot was so good. I’d be lucky if I probably got 2,000 steps a day, because our clinic size was rather small at that point. So I wasn’t doing that.
My nutrition plan quite frankly was breakfast, lunch and dinner, ordering in a microphone, drive around the corner, paying for it and getting a brown bag handed to me. I just … Of course working those long hours, you tend to eat differently. So you’re eating later than you normally do so that of course, your body doesn’t have an opportunity to break that down before you crash into bed, which then your body’s got to break that down while you’re sleeping. And sleep is so critical in prevention of burnout, and people that don’t get good sleep it’s really problematic, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. But this went on for two years. Then finally in May of 2009 I had what I refer to as my year of worst-case scenarios.
I was mowing my front lawn on a Monday night, actually it was … The anniversary is this week, ironically. But I was mowing my front lawn, and we had a small lawn and gas prices were expensive back then as they are now at the time of this recording. I had an electric mower and this thing was really bulky to turn, it wasn’t light at all, it was really hard to turn. I mow the first row, and then I turned the lawn mower to mow the next row. I felt this incredible pain in the center of my chest. It really felt like I had pulled a muscle, and it hurt so bad that I couldn’t continue mowing the lawn. Then I went inside, I took some pain medication. The pain went away unless I lifted anything with my right arm. I’m left-handed so I don’t tend to lift a lot with my right arm, but occasionally I do. And anytime I lifted anything, that pain would be there. It was dull, it didn’t hurt badly, but it did have some discomfort. So that went on for a few days.
Then Thursday night of that week I went out to a local restaurant that had an all you could eat special, and I took them up on that offer. I had all kinds of fried sea … really tasty not good for you food and washed it down with a few adult beverages, and life was good. Went to bed, and then about an hour and a half after going to sleep I woke up again with that pain that I had on Monday night, but it was at least 10 times worse. It literally felt like an elephant was stepping on my chest. At that point I thought okay, this is what you get for eating all of that food. It’s just … You’re getting acid reflux or indigestion or whatever. So I got out of bed after I caught my breath, went into the bathroom, took some Tums, was able to fall asleep. So Friday morning comes. That pain that I’d been feeling every time I lifted anything with my right arm was persistent, it wasn’t going away.
So after working about 45 minutes and reminder, I’m working in a medical clinic, I decide to approach one of our physicians and asked him if he could take a look. Because I explained to him what had happened that week and he listened. He was going, “It’s probably nothing but we got the EKG equipment here, why don’t we run a test just to make sure there’s nothing going on because it sounds different, something’s weird. So I just want to check things out.” I’m like, “Okay.” I go back into the procedure room, so our physician is in there, one of our nurses and one of our admin/medical assistants were in the room. And all of a sudden they just start laughing hysterically, they can’t control themselves they’re laughing so hard. The reason being is because their boss is taking his clothes off at work in front of them, so they’re making all kinds of sexual harassment jokes. Now of course this is before Me Too and all of that, it wasn’t appropriate then, certainly isn’t appropriate now, but they were doing that. I’m as red as a tomato, I’m embarrassed. I’m not thinking anything else.
So after they had a couple minutes of conversations they said, “Okay, well let’s go ahead and get the test going.” So they hook up all the electrodes and they run the test and they look at the results, and they’re perplexed. They’re like, “This looks weird. You know what, let’s disconnect everything and we’re going to put new leads on and we’re going to run the test again.” So they did and they put the little electrodes which are basically little tape things with wires, and they tape them all over your legs and your chest and arms and all that stuff. They did it again and they placed it in different spots, and they got the same results. So they took the results and they faxed them off to Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor and Dr. [Gena 00:14:02] who was a cardiologist there at the time. Got the paperwork, and then about 10 minutes later called the clinic and said, “Tell Michael to get his butt in the hospital right now, and he can’t drive.”
I had a pretty significant heart attack that Thursday night. I had two blockages in my left interior descending artery, which is known as the widowmaker because if people have heart attacks with blockages in that artery they tend to die. Statistically speaking, most people do. I didn’t, thankfully. But that set off what I call my year of worst-case scenarios. So 17 weeks after that, I was let go from that job because they wanted to go in a different direction. Mind you, this is 2009. Remember the Great Recession?
Alyssa Scolari [14:46]:
Michael Levitt [14:48]:
I’m in Windsor across the border from Detroit Michigan where GM, Ford and Chrysler were drowning, and GM and Chrysler had filed bankruptcy and got government assistance to stay afloat. Ford wasn’t doing much better, but they were able to navigate without getting a lot of government assistance. Needless to say there wasn’t a lot of jobs around, and anybody that did have jobs certainly weren’t going to be leaving them. So it took me several months to find a new job. Ended up relocating to Toronto where I could find some work, and about two weeks into my new job, and this was in April of 2010, I get a phone call from my oldest daughter, who today is her birthday. Happy birthday, [Sarah 00:15:30].
Alyssa Scolari [15:30]:
Oh, happy birthday.
Michael Levitt [15:32]:
There you go. But she was little at the time. And she called me at work and crying, I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying, and then finally I was able to get from her that the bank had come and repossessed our family vehicle. Because when you’re on unemployment and anybody that has ever been through that, they know the income is less so you’re getting less money coming in. Obviously I wasn’t working because I was recovering from my cardiac event, and I was also taking heart medication that was $1,000 a month because I had no drug coverage. So food and drugs, not the fun ones but the ones to keep your heart alive were quite frankly, what we could afford. We had worked with all of our creditors and they had given us a pretty extensive grace period and I’m thankful for that, but unfortunately that grace period ran out, and the bank exercised their right to take back the car.
Fast forward to May of 2010, so almost a year after my cardiac event we find a place to move the family up in Toronto, I was commuting back and forth. We got everything unpacked from the movers, and we realized that we left our bunk bed ladder for our daughter’s bed back in the old house. I was going back there the next week to visit with family and friends and all of that, and I said, “Well, I’ll just swing by the house, grab that and anything else we left behind,” because we were going to be listing it with a realtor that following week, it was ready to put back on the market even though the market was horrible. It’s like we got to sell it, we can’t pay rent and a mortgage at the same time, that’s not going to work. But they were all … Obviously our mortgage payments weren’t being made either because of all the things that were going on.
So I went down there, had the good visit with the family, and then I went by the house to grab the ladder and whatever else we left behind. Opened up the screen door on the front of the house, I saw the largest padlock I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve never seen this padlock at Home Depot or anywhere else, and there was a small sticker on the door that said, “Foreclosure.” Now we never got any notices from the bank saying that we were that close to that happening. I’m not sure what happened, but we didn’t get the notices. So basically over a year I had a heart attack that should have killed me, lost my job during the Great Recession, had my car repossessed and my home foreclosed.
All of those things happened because I was burned out. My burnout created all those scenarios. I wasn’t taking care of myself, I was making mistakes at work. I was constantly in a fog and I wasn’t motivated to do anything in life. I certainly wasn’t eating right, wasn’t sleeping well, and all of those things, all those dominoes came tumbling down. Thankfully, I survived it. But it was obviously not a fun period of time, and I see so many people that are burning out or approaching burnout, they’re flirting with their own year of worst-case scenarios and it scares the crap out of me. So that’s why I do the work that I do.
Alyssa Scolari [18:38]:
Now at what point was it when you saw that padlock with the foreclosure sticker on it, did that hit you? At what point did it click in your brain that this is what it is, this is burnout? Because I think a lot of people who may not necessarily be aware of burnout tend to go down this other thought path of, why can’t I catch a break, why do all these bad things happen to me, I’m just that guy or I’m just that person that I just get shit on all the time.
Michael Levitt [19:12]:
Yeah. For me it was during that 17 week recovery before I had lost my job was I did a lot of deep … Because I had plenty of time and wasn’t working, just deep review of what in the world happened, how did I get to this point? Why am I having to take a nap at 2:00 p.m. every day when I was 40 years old at the time? 40 is a little young to have a cardiac event. But we’re seeing-
Alyssa Scolari [19:43]:
Yeah, that’s really young.
Michael Levitt [19:43]:
… We’re seeing a lot of people now. I know a lot of people in the healthcare industry, there’s still a lot of people that are starting to have heart attacks even before 40. That’s not good because unless you make some dramatic changes, you could have 30 or 40 years of having to take medications, who knows if you had any … Thankfully I didn’t have any long lasting impact from mine, but I know some people could have strokes, or partially paralyzed or inability to work. It’s not something you want to mess with. But during that time I did a lot of reading, which is something that I had stopped doing. When I was younger I read a lot, and then college and university my reading switched to textbooks and things like that. But after getting out of college I didn’t read for pleasure, I hadn’t for several years and I loved doing it, I just got away from it. So during that time I rekindled my love for reading. I would read different types of books, leadership books and inspiration books and comedy books, just to read and relax.
I realized that leading up to my 369 days, I forgot how to relax. I didn’t know how to relax. And a lot of people I think are in that boat because they’ve been going so much, they’re so driven, Type A, people pleasing, they never let up off the gas. And when something happens and there’s a lull, they don’t know how to react so they have to grab something quickly to fill that “void.” That’s no way to live. For me, case in point yesterday I was supposed to be on two different shows yesterday, and both of them had to reschedule for whatever reason. Basically that cleared out a good chunk of my day. Did I fill it with anything? No. I listened to some music, I sat out on the balcony so the weather’s beautiful now. So just relaxed, just kind of eased into things, and that’s an amazing way to fill time. Because automatically we look at that long to do list that we all seem to have and we go, “Oh, I can tackle this and this.” You could. Should you? Or should you if you’re not-
Alyssa Scolari [19:43]:
Michael Levitt [22:08]:
… Yeah, if you need that time to just … Do it. Don’t worry, that stuff’s still going to be there. Don’t worry about that.
Alyssa Scolari [22:17]:
Right, it’s all going to be there, and I think you speak to something so important which is something that I up until recently, have truly struggled with my entire life was this concept of well, when there is a gap. For me, even a couple years ago if there was a weekend where I didn’t have anything to do, I was crawling out of my skin, crawling out of my skin. Those are just your big red burnout flags of okay, I can’t be still for even a hot minute. So for you to now be at this place, where did that transformation come? At what point did you go, “Okay, I am reinventing myself and now actually going to make this my career”?
Michael Levitt [23:06]:
For me the reinvention started initially during that 17 week recovery period, and then of course after losing the job then my full time job was to find a full time job. That took several months to do so, and that was where my focus was, and I basically had boundaries on it. It’s like okay, from 9:00 to 5:00 Monday to Friday I’m going to research and look for opportunities. On the weekends, I’m not. I’m not going to look for jobs, I’m not going to do research. I’m just going to watch sports, do something with the kids, run errands, whatever the case, and just live life. So I started getting in the habit of getting some time blocks around when I work. Then when I finally found the new role which ironically was in healthcare again, my parents wanted to have me committed. They said, “Are you kidding me? You’re going back into the field that nearly killed you? Are you that stupid?” And I’m like-
Alyssa Scolari [23:06]:
Do you have a death wish?
Michael Levitt [24:06]:
There’s quicker ways to do this, not that we want you to and please don’t, people. But they were quite beside themselves. I said to them, “Look. I’ve done a lot of work on me over these last several months. I want to give this another shot and I want to approach it differently, completely different than what I did before.” And I did. I stayed in healthcare for another … Do the math here, that would have been almost eight years. But during that time for, I guess from 2010 to I’d say 2014, was just working on myself and working. I was getting really successful and doing things in the healthcare space, I was on boards of directors and all this kind of stuff, so going back to that people pleasing thing and giving back and all of that. Then I realized in January of 2015 I was like whoa, my calendar. I don’t like what this looks because I started color coding my calendar and meetings I always used the color red, which I think a lot of people see red when they have to have a lot of meetings. But I used that one for not good meetings, just a work thing.
So I look at my calendar and I just start … Digital calendar of course, and skimming back and forth. And I’m like, I’m seeing a lot of red. I said, “That’s not good.” So I looked at it and I started counting the number of meetings that I was going to have in the first part of 2015. And in January I had 57 different meetings. And I said, “Okay. Let’s not do this again.” So I immediately resigned from two boards of directors, and withdrew from a handful of committees at work. I said, “No,” switched the team meetings from monthly to quarterly, and just by March it was like I had six meetings. So I went from 57 to six, and was like okay, why did I do that, then I kind of revisit. I’m like, “All right.”
Then I started talking with my colleagues and noticing wait a minute, there’s a lot of people that are flirting with burnout in this sector and this is healthcare. So I started talking with them about it, not really sharing what happened to me but saying, knowing what I had known and the studies that I’d done. And well, I’m just going to work through it, which is the common answer a lot of people think on how they’d beat burnout. It’s I’m just going to work harder, I’m going to work through it.
Alyssa Scolari [26:39]:
Right, or it’s like I’ll wait until the summertime, and then once summer comes then I’ll be able to take a break. Or it’s like once I just get through this real big project that I have going on at work, then everything will be fine.
Michael Levitt [26:51]:
Right. Well, it isn’t. Because we’ve seen studies. I know The Hartford just did a study, indicated that 61% of people working are identifying as burning out. Deloitte did one as well that said that 77% of the people they surveyed have been burned out in their current job. Seven, almost eight out of 10 people. We’ve got a huge, huge challenge with this. So for me, when I started seeing this and everybody was saying well, I’m going to work through it, I’m like, “That’s not going to work.” So I just started doing a little bit more research on burnout, a little bit deeper dive. Even back then six years ago, there was some conversations happening but not as much as what we’re seeing today. But there was still a lot of material and a lot of research and the stuff that, the Maslach stuff out in California and Dr. Freudenberger who wrote a book that was published in 1980 called Burnout. 1980, okay?
Alyssa Scolari [27:54]:
Michael Levitt [27:56]:
Yeah, 1980. The phrase burnout, he was the one, a German guy, died about 20 years ago, I guess. But he first coined the phrase burnout in the public forum in 1973, so this is not new. But it’s getting worse because what’s happened is, and I’ll use this example. My iBinky, that’s the nickname gave my brother gave me, my iPhone because if I don’t have it, I’m like a little kid without their pacifier or their binky, not happy. So he’s like, “Can you put down your iBinky for a minute?” And based on the number of hours I spent on it, the answer is not likely. But these devices, the smartphones, the laptops, they’re great devices because they allow us to work anywhere at anytime. But the disadvantage is we can work anywhere at anytime. And we’re horrible of establishing boundaries around when we work and when we don’t.
It’s so easy. I mean, for many of us our laptop’s probably just sitting open all the time at a table somewhere, or if we got a computer we just go … Or the phone is literally two seconds, unlock, go to it, answer that text message or answer the WhatsApp message or the email or the Slack message, or all the notifications we get on a daily basis from these things. We don’t shut down. I think back to my dad, he used to work years ago at General Motors, and he worked on the assembly line for the most part, but towards the tail end of his career he worked in the engine assembly plant. And he drove a forklift, so he would deliver engine blocks to the assembly line so they could put engines in the cars and continue building them. I never remember seeing a forklift come home. He never brought it home. I’m sure the emotions and stress of working in the auto industry which was up and down, he did bring that home. But he never worked on anything at home.
Well for the majority of us we can work at home, on the beach, on our vacation, all these other places. You see these images on Instagram, oh look at my office today. And it’s like you see this ocean or mountains and things like that. Yeah, it’s cool that you can work in a beautiful setting, I get it. But are you taking time to actually experience that beautiful setting, or are you just plugging away? If you’re not enjoying that time, I’m going to save you several thousand dollars right now. Don’t go on that trip, have your background image on your computer of those mountains and just work at your desk, because that’s basically what you’re doing.
Alyssa Scolari [30:40]:
Right, and save your money for all the health bills that are going to come when you eventually suffer whatever illness befalls you because you’re not truly taking the time to unplug, relax, unwind.
Michael Levitt [30:57]:
It’s critical. I mentioned sleep a little while ago. Lack of sleep impacts your cognitive ability, your awareness, how you digest your foods, pattern recognition, problem solving skills. But the thing of it is when we don’t get good sleep, the lack of clarity, the fogginess, all that, what happens is then you start making mistakes at work, or you have to work harder and longer on things because you’re not able to flow through things. So if you get a bad night’s sleep and we’ve all had that, we know how we feel the next day. If that’s consistent over a period of time, then that’s when you start having all types of mental and physical ailments and issues, and you can end up with clogged arteries or a stroke or hypertension or chronic diseases, you name it. Over two dozen of the chronic diseases that we identify as chronic diseases have stress as one of the contributors.
Alyssa Scolari [32:00]:
A thousand percent. Even I would dare say a lot of autoimmune diseases as well, not all but a lot of them are related to chronic stress.
Michael Levitt [32:11]:
Yeah. Because your body and your brain’s going I got this stress, this is a toxin to ourselves, I need to send the energy to go fix that. So it’s using energy that could be used to help prevent all kinds of different things. I don’t know, like maybe COVID for example. People that are stressed out, I haven’t seen anything on this, but I’m certain that your stress is going to lower your immunity to be able to fight off things. That’s why when you see people stressed, they get coughs and colds and whatnot. Well, you don’t want to be flirting with COVID either, so again that’s so important for you to get a good night’s sleep and do the necessary things to keep your stress at a minimum. Because if you don’t have prolonged stress, you won’t burn out. Burnout needs the stress. If you don’t have the prolonged stress, you won’t burn out.
Alyssa Scolari [33:05]:
Exactly. I know when we first connected, you talked a little bit about the work from home burnout because of COVID, and I think it’s interesting because I see in my practice and then the people in my life, the people who are truly thriving from working from home like my husband, he’s genuinely thriving, have incredible boundaries with themselves where he opens up that laptop at 7:00 a.m., and at 3:00 p.m. it is shut. His phone is gone, and we don’t even talk about work. But for the most part like you said, a lot of us don’t have great boundaries with ourselves, which I think is probably why the work from home is really, really causing major burnout in folks.
Michael Levitt [33:56]:
It is. I mean and also the, I have to do everything. Well spoiler, you’re not going to be able to.
Alyssa Scolari [34:03]:
Michael Levitt [34:04]:
So many people became full time schoolteachers during this pandemic as well. So, and we know the school time tends to coincide with when many of us work. Well, you’re trying to do two things that are completely different at the same time. It’s not going to work, so that’s why you see a lot of parents getting up earlier and they’re doing a little bit of work, and then they’re helping their kids with school and making sure they’re on the computer doing the schoolwork and not on their PlayStation 5, and then after dinner they’re working again. These long days are not sustainable. The healthy organizations have recognized this and said okay, we need to focus on what we really need to do right now for our customers, and do that. And the other stuff, we’ll get to it if it needs to get to.
But unfortunately, there’s a lot of organizations that have micromanaging managers that were micromanaging before that have completely lost it because they can’t physically see you, and they’re like, “I don’t know how to manage people if I don’t know how to see them.” So that’s why you hear all those horror stories of you need to stay connected on the Zoom call all day with your camera on. I’m like, “Am I six?” [crosstalk 00:35:21] I approach these managers and I’ll ask them, “Why do you do that?” “Well, I don’t trust them to do their job.” “Okay, wait a minute. You don’t trust your employees?” “No.” “Then fire them. Right now, go.” “I can’t do that.” “Why?” “Well, I need them.” “But you don’t trust them?” “No.” “Then why did you hire them?” It’s the managers lack confidence, training, maybe sometimes there’s a personality issue, but for the most part it’s confidence, a lack of training in how to manage because no one gets the proper training on that or leaders, for that matter.
Alyssa Scolari [36:07]:
Yeah, and I think it also can be burnout on the manager’s end. When you get to the point, and they even say this in the therapy world, when you get to the point where you feel like you can’t trust other people and you have to micromanage folks whether it’s your clients, whether it’s your employees, whatever it is, you need to check yourself. That’s a sign right there, we need to step back.
Michael Levitt [36:29]:
Yeah. It’s a thing of … I implore people. I had great, great bosses earlier in my career and throughout where I engaged with them. And the great ones gave me all the information that I needed, I had all the tools that I needed to do to be successful in the work that I was doing, clear instructions on when I need to do it and when it was due, then they got out of the way. They let me do my job.
Alyssa Scolari [36:54]:
It’s a beautiful thing.
Michael Levitt [36:55]:
Yeah, and I remember the first day I worked for a company, Rick, one of my bosses back two decades ago, yikes, time flies. But it was 3:30, I remember it vividly. I’m sitting in my cubicle, he comes up, it’s my first day, we already chatted earlier in the day and all that stuff, we had lunch and whatnot. And he said, “Okay, just some ground rules.” I’m like, “Oh, here it comes.” He looks at me and he says, “I don’t care when you get here, I don’t care when you leave. As long as you get your job done, we’re good. You okay with that?” I’m like “Yep, I am.”
Alyssa Scolari [37:29]:
Michael Levitt [37:29]:
I worked for him for three years. That was during the dot com era too, when everybody was switching jobs every two months because the recruiters were saying, “I know I just placed you for this job and paying this. Well, we can give you an extra $25,000 if you go over here.” Okay, let me grab my knickknacks. Okay, let’s go. Because it was just a zoo back then, but you had to take advantage of it. But I didn’t when I was there because I’m like no, this is good. This is a good place for me.
Alyssa Scolari [38:02]:
Sometimes that’s priceless, having a good boss. Sometimes you can’t put a dollar sign on that.
Michael Levitt [38:06]:
Nope, it is priceless. It makes you feel like you’re being listened to, you’re being supported, you get to work in your sweet spot with the things that motivate you and all that. When you do that, work flies by and it doesn’t stress you out. Even though you may have busier periods, you may have some big workloads, you come home and you’re like okay. Yeah, that was a long day, it was tiring. But you don’t feel completely wiped out because well, you enjoy what you do. I think that’s a big thing for everybody to look at as well, is rekindle what you enjoy doing. Sometimes I know with people that are burned out, they don’t know what they like. They don’t know what brings them joy. How do you not know? Well, you got to ask yourself. I know why they don’t know because they’re completely fatigued and wiped out. So rekindle that-
Alyssa Scolari [38:58]:
And put everybody else before themselves.
Michael Levitt [39:01]:
Yes. And self care is not selfish. Although it is, but it’s a good selfish, it’s-
Alyssa Scolari [39:08]:
It’s a good thing.
Michael Levitt [39:10]:
… you got to take care of yourself first because then that way when you do choose to give to people, they’re getting a much better version of you than they would before.
Alyssa Scolari [39:18]:
So much better, so much better. Absolutely, it gives you better connections with everybody at work and personal.
Michael Levitt [39:28]:
Alyssa Scolari [39:28]:
So you have now made … This is your entire career is burnout prevention and intervention. You have your own podcast, right?
Michael Levitt [39:39]:
Yes, The Breakfast Leadership Show, yep.
Alyssa Scolari [39:42]:
The Breakfast Leadership Show. You are a speaker, so I assume you speak basically all over the world.
Michael Levitt [39:53]:
Yep. Last year, lots of virtual events because of the pandemic. But I spoke at over 30 different conferences last year across the globe. Every industry, you name it, I’ve spoken with them because burnout doesn’t care what industry you’re in. You would think yeah okay, healthcare, education, legal, yeah, it’s like those are all there. But admins and single parent groups and engineers and automotive, you name it, I spoke at their events. My original career was public accounting, so I was an auditor and I did audits for all different types of businesses, so I’m familiar with most sectors so I can tailor my talk. When I go in and work with organizations, I know some of the struggles that they face because I used to be in those industries in an auditing capacity, so I needed to know what those businesses did and how they did it. So that decades ago career comes back and says hi, remember me? And I said, “Yeah, I’m going to grab the good parts of that and not the long tax season hours. I don’t need that again.”
Alyssa Scolari [40:59]:
Right, I’m going to leave that.
Michael Levitt [40:59]:
Alyssa Scolari [41:03]:
Then you have two books that are out?
Michael Levitt [41:06]:
Yeah, I’ve got a couple of books related to burnout. The first one that I released four years ago, 369 Days: How to Survive a Year of Worst-Case Scenarios chronicles what I talked about earlier, about that year of loss and some of the lessons learned from that. Then my new book Burnout Proof covers what burnout is in greater detail, what are some of the signs, what are some things you can do right away to stop burnout. Because people think burnout is this treadmill that you can’t get off of, and you can. You make some simple adjustments. And I will say this, most people don’t need to reinvent their life if they’re burned out. In my situation I did because of all kinds of other factors and the way that I was living my life. I did have to reinvent myself, but most people that I’ve encountered don’t, they just need to make some adjustments here and there.
The deeper work, and you know this in the work that you do, is figuring out why you burned out in the first place because that’s important. You don’t want to … Because otherwise you have been burned out two or three times, well I was burned out once and it nearly killed me. So I’m not going there again, I don’t want to go to that trip.
Alyssa Scolari [42:12]:
Yeah, you literally don’t have the time to be able to do this again and again and again. Because it only takes one time, but it could end your life.
Michael Levitt [42:21]:
Exactly, and when you’re laying on a procedure bed in the hospital and Dr. [Morrisey 00:42:25] meets you and says, “Hello,” and he looks at you and he looks at your chart and he goes, “You don’t know how lucky you are to be alive right now.” I looked at him, and I was in pretty good spirits at that particular point and I said, “So, you skipped the bedside manner course, did you?” And he laughed and we all laughed, and we thought it was funny. But it’s like, I said, “I know where you’re going, I get it. I’m really lucky to be here. Okay, good. What do you need to do?” He said, “We’re putting two stents in.” “Got it.” And he did.
A nice little quick procedure thankfully, but needless to say it was a very, very important lesson for me to learn, and I don’t want anybody to go through that. No one should be laying on a hospital bed to have heart surgery basically when you’re that young, because it’s not good. You shouldn’t do that, so you need to make those adjustments and figure out why you get yourself into the situations you do.
Alyssa Scolari [43:26]:
Michael Levitt [43:28]:
Once you do that, then you can make the adjustments on that aspect of it, and then your life will be so much better for you.
Alyssa Scolari [43:36]:
Yep, absolutely. I do agree that there’s definitely an element of deeper work that I think people need to do where it’s like, how did I get to this spot in the first place.
Michael Levitt [43:46]:
Alyssa Scolari [43:48]:
Both of your books, are they sold on Amazon?
Michael Levitt [43:51]:
Amazon. You can order them on Barnes and Noble as well if you don’t like Amazon, then you can get them through Barnes and Noble as well. If you’re in Canada, you can get them through Indigo or Chapters. I know there’s a few other places that sell it, too. But those are the ones that people tend to flock to.
Alyssa Scolari [44:07]:
Perfect, okay. Then I have the links to everybody for the listeners out there because I know this is something that the listeners will really take to. I think burnout is something that a lot of trauma survivors suffer from because we tend to be chronic people pleasers. It’s something that I find myself talking about time and time again in my practice, something I’ve struggled with personally. So I am so thankful that you were able to come on and share your story and hopefully just continue to save lives because it really is what you’re doing, trying to save people from what you had to go through. Because not everybody … We don’t have to have a life threatening situation in order to check our burnout. We’re trying to get people before it gets to that spot.
Michael Levitt [44:59]:
Yes, I agree. Prevention is so much better than recovery.
Alyssa Scolari [45:02]:
Yes. Yes, exactly. Thank you so much for coming on today, it was truly a pleasure.
Michael Levitt [45:10]:
Thank you, happy to be here.
Alyssa Scolari [45:12]:
Thanks for listening, everyone. For more information please head over to Lightaftertauma.com, or you can also follow us on social media. On Instagram we are @lightaftertrauma and on Twitter it is @lightafterpod. Lastly, please head over to Patreon.com/lightaftertrauma to support our show. We are asking for $5 a month, which is the equivalent to a cup of coffee at Starbucks. So please head on over. Again, that’s patreon.com/lightaftertrauma. Thank you, and we appreciate your support.