Who Keeps Moving Your Finish Line?

Uncategorized May 26, 2022

(First appeared in WRAL Techwire.)

Okay… I’m not a long-distance runner. Never have been…never will be. Marathons are built for a special kind of person. But as I continue to interview executives for my series on burnout, one analogy keeps coming up.

Imagine you’re running a marathon. You’ve trained for months, and you’ve made it through arduous hours of running. And then… just as you approach the 26.2 mile marker, just as you think relief and a glorious shower are ahead, you discover… oh, God no… it can’t be…

Somebody has moved the finish line. 

Shoot me now!

You already knew running 26.2 miles was going to require everything in you, and now you have to keep running. You have no idea where the new finish line is. You don’t have a clue when you’ll get to stop. And what the what?! Other runners are sprinting past you!  How did this happen??

Your legs feel like lead. You want to collapse on the pavement into a puddle of tears because there’s no end in sight.

This is what burnout feels like, friend.

But here’s the thing: nobody can run forever. Even if you’ve trained well. Even if you’re wearing excellent shoes and drinking your water. Even if you’ve been slurping down those gross gooey energy gels and you’ve got cheerleaders holding up signs for you at every mile marker… you still can’t run indefinitely.

Because you’re not supposed to.

“If you don’t want to burn out, stop living like you’re on fire.”

You’re nodding your head? You’re like, Jes, that’s exactly how I feel – where’s the off-ramp? How do I get out of this never-ending race? Well, we have to start with this question:

Who’s moving your finish line?

Think deeply before you answer this. Yes, in some instances, it is you. It’s normal these days to take pride in our world-record pace – wearing it like a badge of honor. But in most cases, it’s not. Often we see the leaders in our workplace adjusting the race ribbon.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve referenced what I’m calling a ‘people-centered movement.’  Like never before, leadership is now expected to reinvent themselves in order to stay connected to the needs of their teams –  not the other way around. Addressing unclear expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics and a moving finish line is the responsibility of our leaders.

Creighton Blackwell, Chief Community and Public Affairs Officer at Coastal Credit Union said, “Leaders need to assess this moment and acknowledge that they are feeling the same pressures as their staff and colleagues. Supporting people from a place of vulnerability and shared understanding is true leadership.”

Bottom line, burnout management is the responsibility of many. The good news is that at the end of the day we’re still positioned to adjust our own pace, build in our own checkpoints or choose a less demanding race. There’s hope… always hope.

Next week we’ll talk about a tempting off-ramp that might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Until then… I’m cheering you on and holding up a sign that says, “Slow down…enjoy the views along the way!”


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