In Conversation With Celeste Harrington, On Moving Through Burnout

I’ve always found the concept of ”burnout” to be incredibly visceral. As though we’re so far past “well done” that we’re positively burnt to a crisp. Inedible. Sent back to the kitchen.

But the sad reality is that burnout and work so often go together like PB&J. Because they truly are old friends, the bastions of a patriarchal corporate culture – hustle culture. 

We do. We go. We push. We drive harder. We plan more. Strategize more. Do anything to max out on our goals. We detach from our intuition, our creativity, our being, our feelings. And our bodies and minds say “NOPE.”

I dive into burnout, its legacy, and how we can begin to move away from it in this week’s female entrepreneur interview with Celeste Harrington, certified Life Coach, Burnout expert, and Mindset Maven. From experiencing burnout herself to building a career on helping humans to move through it and to prevent it, Celeste brings an incredibly grounded and scientific approach to the work that she does. Read on for her entrepreneurial story and most impactful shifts for combating burnout. 

I want to start out with your story and your why. What’s been your entrepreneurial journey that has led you to where you are today?

I always had this vague idea in my head that working for myself would feel right. The problem was that, because I’m in the health and wellness space, it felt like the options for different business routes I could take were endless and overwhelming. My experience really runs the gamut – reproductive health, fitness, mental health, corporate wellness – so it felt honestly quite daunting to really nail down a niche. I was stuck.

It wasn’t until I completely burnt myself out and as a result found mindset work and self-worth work that I began down my entrepreneurial path. I found that loving yourself is really the foundation to success in every single area of your life, full stop, so that became the mission that I built my business around. In my coaching practice, I help high level professionals climb the corporate ladder, but the key piece is that I help them to do that without burning out. I help my clients create and hold boundaries and find self-care routines that work, so they can really shine both in and out of the office. 

Let’s talk about life coaching, as I know that this can seem like a vast umbrella that helps many different humans with many different services. What is life coaching, and what specifically do you identify with as a life coach?

Life coaching is SO broad, but I think that is really the beauty of it. Life coaching, health coaching, wellness coaching are all centered around helping humans to live their best lives. 

In my mind, coaching equates to change. If you want to make a change, you hire a coach. I think it’s important to note that nothing has to be wrong, bad, or dire to hire a coach. It’s about elevating your life because you want to, not because you have to. 

I’ve always felt drawn to teaching and guiding people in change. Whether it was swim lessons when I was in high school, women’s fitness in undergrad, teaching sex ed in grad school, and now as a mental health expert, I woud say I am a change maker. At the end of the day, I want to help humans harness their full potential during their lifetimes. 

Something that you work to dismantle is the idea of hustle culture – this patriarchal way of thinking and working that ultimately leads so many to burnout. I so often notice that folks are tying their self worth to their output, their productivity, their status as being eternally “busy.” Talk to me about burnout and its roots in hustle culture. Why do we need to be actively working against this in our businesses and in our lives?

We are conditioned to work til we die. Literally, people still say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Well honey, you won’t be sleeping, because you won’t be alive! 

I listened to a podcast recently about productivity, and its ties to the production factory era, when people punched a clock and were evaluated on the amount of work they produced. But the fascinating thing about that time is that they didn’t bring their work home like we do today. They couldn’t; laptops, cell phones, and wifi weren’t yet in existence. 

Where we are now is still this idea that our worth is tied to the amount of work we produce, but now the way we work has shifted so much with the digital age. Most of us can’t quantitatively measure our output like we could in a factory setting. Now it’s up to us to measure if we’ve done “enough.” And we don’t have a barometer for this. Our brains lack the ability to define what’s “enough.” We don’t celebrate our success, and we move our goal posts farther out so often that we are constantly feeling like we aren’t doing enough. When we work incessantly, chasing “enough”, we burn out. 

We also equate hard work with success. But if you’re not celebrating your successes now, how will you know when you are successful? If you want to be successful, and this applies to any area of your life, you have to celebrate your wins. Even the small ones. And know that you created that! Your work produced that win, and you might be surprised to find that it wasn’t that hard.

I always resonate with an approach that deals with a root cause not a symptom. How can we apply this functional thinking to preventing burnout and creating balance in our daily lives?

Here’s the quick and dirty way to think about it: What you’re doing doesn’t burn you out, how you feel about what you’re doing does. 

Your email doesn’t burn you out. Your boss doesn’t burn you out. Your commute doesn’t burn you out. Your thoughts about each of those things does. Your brain (and the way you have trained it to think) is the root cause to your suffering. 

Once you start to notice how you think and feel about the daily tasks in your life, then you can do the work to change the course of your life. It’s a simple and very effective way to take ownership of your experience on earth. Nothing is to blame but your brain and the amazing part is you have the power to change it. 

If you want to create balance, ask yourself what does balance look like for you. What actions do you need to take to create that balance? How do you need to feel to take those actions? What thought will create the feeling for you?

Something to consider when you want to make a change is understanding how you expect to feel when that change happens. For example, you think that if you had a different boss, you wouldn’t have to deal with your boss’s mood swings. Imagine if your boss didn’t impact your emotional wellbeing; that your boss could do or say whatever they wanted and it was like water off a duck’s back. You don’t have to change anything but the way you think. Also, you can’t fundamentally change who your boss is, please don’t even try! 

If we’re already experiencing burnout, what are 3 things that we can do to turn it around and bring us back to balance?

When you’re burnt out, you feel exhausted, fatigued, and drained. You can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel because you are so focused on what’s going wrong. So take a break, let your mind rest, and relax. Relaxing is the most simple and effective answer here. At the very least, just close your eyes for a few moments. Here are a few quick tips for my fried friends:

List out a few things that are going well for you right now. If that seems like a stretch, write out the facts about your current life. This is different than gratitude. I’m not asking you to be grateful for anything in your life. That doesn’t work when you are feeling like crap. Just write out what’s going well for you. The idea is to create a feeling of neutrality about your work, or your life. Read this list every day and see if you can add something to it every time you read it.

Use your calendar. It’s a life saver, and a time saver. Add even the smallest tasks on there like “check your email” and always block time for your self-care like meal times, workouts, and sleep. (Yes, block your calendar when you’re sleeping.)

Celebrate your victories! End each day with what went well. It’s the fastest way to show your brain that things are going well for you and that you are in fact, a total badass. 

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