Talking with my client Jon, a senior physician at an academic hospital, about his Burnout to Leadership coaching experience. We discuss Covid and the reality of burnout, his reluctance to reach out for coaching, impatience for results and some of his discoveries on the journey, like learning to give himself grace.
Hi everyone. My name's Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout to Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Welcome to the podcast, Jon. For our listeners today, this is one of my clients who I've been working with for quite some time, and I really wanted to interview Jon today about his experience with coaching. I'm gonna let him introduce a little bit himself and then, basically, tell me whatever he'd like to tell me. So, Jon, over to you. Tell us about you. Thanks, Dex. Yeah, so hi everybody. My name's Jon Parsons. I'm a physician in the United States, in the Midwest. And I have a pretty high level job at the academic hospital I work at, where I'm in charge of clinical operations for a group of physicians... For roughly 700 physicians. And that particular job was busy enough, and then when the COVID pandemic became critical, front and center of my job was amplified and became much more intense and somewhat overwhelming. And so as I started navigating through that pandemic, the initial phase of the pandemic, I started to sort of notice that I was experiencing some burnout feelings. I didn't really recognize them myself at first. My family started to recognize some things that I was doing when I would come home from work. And we can talk a little bit and then get into those as we go on today. But, basically, the frustration, the anxiety, the stress, the constant worry, the constant... Never putting the job out of my brain just started to melt me a little bit to the point where I felt sort of like a shell of myself. I would go to work and I would be very successful and nobody at my job would know that I was having these issues, but when I... But my family did and I did and realized that I was burnt to a crisp in terms of my work life balance. And so that's when I reached out to Dex. And that process was interesting because I'm not... Most men aren't gonna wanna get onto a podcast with a guy they don't know and start telling him their... What's going on with them. That was an incredibly difficult barrier to sort of climb over initially, but, once I started doing it, Dex was extremely disarming and it just became part of my daily routine. And, as Dex mentioned, I've been working with him for over a year. And so that's sort of a quick introduction of who I am and what I do and where I am today. Thanks, Jon. And what do you think was the specific thing that you thought you might achieve with coaching or that you wanted to achieve? You know it was a lot of... I didn't really know, to be honest with you. I was such a... I was so lost. When you get into this burnout phase, you don't even know where to look or to... And you don't even recognize it sometimes, it's just sort of it surrounds you and it's all encompassing. But one thing I quickly started to think about is, a way too much of my... Way too much of my self worth and my identification of who I was as a person and my contributions of my life were tied up in my job and a lot of the satisfaction I would get and a lot of the... I don't know... Ego boost. But a lot of the things that drove me to be ambitious and to be successful were things... Or feedback and successes I would have at my job. And I started to realize as I got older, I'm almost 50, that I can't work forever, and what am I gonna do with myself when I'm done with my job. And so I realized that I needed to start building other aspects of myself, my self worth, and things about me outside of my job are the biggest things to start. And when you came to talk to me the first time, what were the... What reservations or doubts or fears did you have coming in? Wow, there was quite a few. Well, the first one was that you weren't gonna be able to help me. That I'd... Probably the big... I was going to invest my time and resources to work and it was gonna be... It wasn't gonna be successful. So I had pessimism in my brain that this wasn't gonna work. And also the intimacy of the conversations we had. You can't get to the... You can't break things down until you are allowed... You allow... I allowed you to come into places where I haven't allowed a lot of people to come, and we chatted about things that weren't comfortable. So then that that was probably the biggest one, and then being afraid, I think. Being afraid of what I might feel or might recognize about myself, and maybe feeling guilty about the things that I wish I would have done if I would have been able to sort of navigate myself 25 years... Would I have been able to have a more fulfilled experience if I would have been able to use these tools that I use now, so... I think probably people are gonna... Listening might relate to some of that. Well, what do you think... What was your experience then? When you began coaching, what was your experience in those early weeks? Do you recall what that was like for you? Yeah, I... So I remember the first time we talked to one another, I was like, "Hey, this guy is a cool dude. I mean, he's got a cool accent. He's nice. He wasn't too probing. We just sort of chatted, and then it was sort of a disarming conversation." And then what went... That was my consent call. And then, when we agreed to work together, the first few weeks I had like some... Not homework assignments but some exercises to do to sort of work through some initial thoughts and you need to do that. It feels like you are doing the homework, it can sometimes it feels like you're doing chores. And I was like, "Why the hell am I doing this?" And then it starts to get easier and you start to use the tools. You're like, "What is this gonna do for me?" And then you... A couple, first couple of times you use it and you're like, "Wow! I guess I see it", and then it sort of snowballs on as you build the foundation of the things you could do. So I thought the first time we worked together where were I think this is our third or fourth session, I can't remember but the first session, a few weeks that we worked together, it was basically like chipping away at stuff and figuring out, getting to the root cause of a lot of the thoughts and stuff. And that takes time. And so that's also hard for people like me and for people like... Because we're not patient. And the work that's necessary to get the successes, you gotta, just gotta do it. So the first few weeks are... It's a little bit of a grind, to be honest. Yeah, I would agree. There is a big kind of tool set or a skill set to be learned in the beginning. So what do you think then, when you stuck with it through that, what do you think started to change for you in the first weeks or months? Yeah, so probably right out of the box, I stopped doing a lot of buffering behaviors that I was using to sort of, I don't know, numb or sort of just... So my eating and my alcohol habits and things that were using just as a buffering crunch were, they went down quite a bit. I started to look for things outside of work that I might like to do. I spent a lot more time with my wife and my two sons than I had been. I made dedicated efforts to do that and then I started to give myself probably the biggest thing, is I started learn to give myself some grace, that if everything hadn't been done when I left the office, it was, we are gonna live. We will come back the next day and we would start again, or if there was a mistake made or someone was pissed off at me, I would give myself the grace to understand that's just, that's their thoughts and their feelings, and I would accept that. And that takes a long time, that to get to... Even now, I mean I'm still working through a lot, and it's a daily thing where I have to give myself grace for things that happen in my life and not take them personally. So those are probably the biggest things to start. And then my sleep habits were... I wasn't getting enough sleep. Even when I was sleeping, my sleep quality wasn't great 'cause I would be laying in bed thinking about stuff and... The brain drain started to get better as I went through it. You kind of kept coming back for more coaching. What were the surprises or what were the achievements you made that made it appealing for you to keep going? Yeah, so when we were first... When our first session was towards the end, I wasn't sure I was gonna do it again because I felt better. But I still had no... Looking where I am now, I look back at that them and then I still had... It's unbelievable how far I've come from that point in time to now where I am now. And so, I basically said, "Well, you know, I had a really good experience with this and I feel a lot better, but I think, maybe, let's see what the next session could offer us," and then the next session was a little different, it wasn't like all the fundamental, foundational tools you'd have to have to work through this, but it was sort of refining those skills and refining those habits a little bit. And so, that one I remember was we talked about empathetic leadership, we talked about, more about grace for yourself, about life just being 50/50 and not everything is gonna be perfect, sometimes things suck, and it's out of your control and sometimes people are gonna be pissed at you and you can't make them not be pissed at you. And so then it started to like really take off at that point in time, and I started... People were asking me, "Hey! How are you doing? Something is different about you." And I didn't really even know what the hell they were talking about to be honest with you, but I just felt more calm and sort of more just confident and what not. The other big one I recall very clearly from that second session was when I would... In my job, I have to get up in front of people all the time, large groups of people. I also do a lot of media for the university, go on TV, and so, they keep asking me to do it because I think they think I do a really good job, but it would just be like this two or three day ordeal of stress and anxiety about what people are gonna think about me, how do I look? Do I sound okay? How did I do? And pretty much... That evolved into, I'm just gonna do the best I can, I'm prepared and I'm gonna be me, and if that's not good enough for them though, that will be fine, but I know that's fine for me. And that really was where it started to get... My self worth and my grace for myself really started to explode so. When you look back on it now, when do you think... How long do you think it took you to start coming out of burnout? Wow, it certainly was... It took at least one and a half of the sessions, that we... It means... I would say probably six months. I mean, and I would say at the minimum... Just to get yourself you know... It's almost like coming out of the ditch and getting all the... Hosing the mud off of you, and then you finally look at yourself, and then once you work through all that then you start to see where can I go from there, kind of thing. And so it takes I would say probably six months at the minimum. And it's one thing I have to say, it's not a passive process. It's like going to, if you wanna lose weight or you wanna get fit in the gym or cut your mile time down when you're running, you gotta... It's like an everyday thing, you gotta work. Not a lot of... Not all the time, like just a dedicated space of time each day to work on it. But it is not overnight, and I would say at least six months at the minimum probably. The that way... I think when you came to me, it was kind of that perfect storm of COVID that had been added to your professional experience, but when you think about that now, if something like that happened again, do you think you'd drop back into burnout? I don't think so. It's actually happening again right now. We're in the midst of another surge of COVID, and I basically am telling myself, we're gonna do it whatever we can do, and we're gonna be as prepared as possible, but I'm not personally responsible or are gonna be... Hold it against myself if everything doesn't go perfectly. We're just gonna do best we can, and so I'm like, "We're in the froze of it now, I'm pretty chill" and part of that's just because of the skill sets I've been able to work through a little bit and then having more transparent relationships with my family and my co workers too. I've talked to you about this, I've not hidden that I've been doing this coaching from my co workers. I've actually referred some folks to Dex to be... It would look like they're struggling with burnout. So that sort of freedom of expression has really been helpful too. And speaking about that and about relationships, what changed for you outside of work? Yeah, that's a complicated question. I used to be... I had, and I still do, but maybe not as badly as I used to, social anxiety, you know, I didn't have a lot of close relationships with people, probably because I'm so busy, but I would avoid things, the risk and intimacy or friendships and... Because I will be like, "Well, maybe they're not gonna like me." I've had a complicated relationship with my family. It's not... That sounds negative, it's just complicated. And I would intrinsically blame myself for a lot of those issues and realized that I can only control who I present myself as, and that their perception of me, is their perception of me. And so a lot of my relationships have become calmer. My wife and I don't barely ever have any major arguments anymore, because that cauldron of frustration and anger that you have from your job, it doesn't need to bubble out. A very transparent relationships with my two boys who don't know that I've been doing this work for over a year. And my relationship with my family, and my parents and my brother, it's pretty chill right now. So, all those things I really sort of give credit to this work because I'm not judging myself in those relationships like I was before. Yeah, and you did make reference to doing the work, and my observation is you really have put in the work that you... That was gonna propel you on your journey. You've really shown up for yourself at quite a high level, and it's been... It really has been a pleasure to work with you on that. So I'm just curious now, while we've been talking about some of these things, maybe things have popped into your mind, are there other things that you might like to say about your coaching journey? Yeah, I think one of the most important things about anything that you... This is kind of a journey is that it's not a continuous journey. There are gonna be some spots where you're gonna have some setbacks. And so one of the things Dex and I talked about quite a bit when I first started was this concept of the stop light, where basically, you're driving down a road, occasionally, a red light is going to be in the intersection, you're gonna have to stop. And then you can keep going in the same direction. So there will be times where I would have a bad day, or a couple of bad days. And that didn't mean that I was derailing... The whole thing was derailed. It just was the reality of human existence and then... When those would first start happening, I would blame myself and have no grace and think I sucked, and that I was a failure because of it, but then I realized, that's just the reality of who we are. And so everyone's gonna have a bad day here and there, and I would wake up and I can keep going. And then the other thing is, I've really started to look at helping other people with these similar problems. I am in no means a coach, but when you've seen, when you've gone through this yourself you start to recognize signs of stuff like this in other people, and so I've connected with some people at work and in a way that I never would have before by talking through this some of this stuff. And as I mentioned, a few of them have started to work with Dex. And I think the last thing I would say is probably the hardest. And it sounds counter intuitive. You really have to love yourself first. If you don't take care of yourself and make sure you were doing the... Being true to yourself and you're giving yourself love and grace, you can't be successful giving it to other people, and if you have a terrible self image. And that took me forever to figure that out. And then it'll never be super easy for me, but I recognize that all the time, I'm saying, I just gotta give myself grace here, and that's not my fault. Shit happens, just gotta keep moving through here. It's probably the big ones, to be honest with you, that I can think of, of top of my head. There's others, I'm sure, but... And anything else that you wanted to add before we close off today? Only that I would say that there's probably a lot of you out there that are type A, you know go, go, go guys, who probably are a little closed off in terms of your willingness to discuss your struggles, emotions, burnout, whatever, but it is a really... It's a disarming process, it's not stressful to talk to Dex or to any coach, frankly. And I would highly recommend, and it's really... It has not affected my ability to do my job and be successful here, but it's totally transformed my ability to enjoy my life as I'm doing it. That's probably what I would end with. Wow. Well, thank you so much for being here today, Jon, because I think it really helps people to hear your story and your experience. I myself have had a burnout experience and can relate to a lot of what I'm hearing from you, so I think it's tremendous that you have been here, and thank you so much. Thanks again, Dex, appreciate you. If you're in burnout, ready to recover, come and join my Burnout to Leadership program. You can book in to talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you and let's make a plan to fix it.