Chasing the Ground: From Blueskies to Burnout
By Clare Hefferren
The stack of books never seems to get any shorter. I would pour over them in an attempt to heal myself. I spent a number of years reading Steven Kotler’s books on flow state, aligning my passions with a profitable business, and threading the needle of harmony between work and life - never making the connection. I sat with the problem for a very long time. 2020 was to be the year of action - of my professional development. The pandemic laughed in my face.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. We all have arcs - business and personal. While mine began separate and distinct, over a span of two decades it converged in (and on) purpose. This 3-blog series follows my path - an entrepreneurial startup story and how it has evolved to outdoor purpose through flow state. I invite you to come along on my journey with snacks and plenty of hydration of course, as it’s an adventure after all.
Tucked for a Garage Sale
It was a typical Colorado blue sky spring day. I had taken the afternoon off to ski with visiting family and what a treat it was (a perk of being a business owner). My niece and I were making our way out of Vail’s infamous back bowls to pick up her siblings and celebrate with a margarita at Los Amigos. Across an upslope cat track, we tucked and glided along with excitement at a seemingly 30mph clip. I approached a snowboarder who was inching along without the benefit of poles. As luck would have it, right when I was next to him, he lost his edge and clipped his board right in front of my ski bindings.
They call it a yard sale. The pieces scattered as I double somersaulted tumbling to a stop. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized I had 2 dents in my helmet - one in front, one in back, and a gaping hole where my visor had once lived.
As a result of the concussion and injuries, I was unable to work. I was told I could teach the work, but could not do the work. At Callosum, I am a deep thinker. Strategic planning and creative concepting is my sweet spot. Unfortunately, these skills engage multiple brain regions - like driving in sport mode. You guessed it - the check engine light was on! I was to rest. In the months and years to come, I acquired tremendous medical bills at a pace that a single entrepreneur couldn’t sustain. Ironically, I was forced to hire staff and the business thrived in a new way, yet I unknowingly dove into burnout.
Burnout is now recognized as a legitimate medical disorder by much of mainstream medicine and has been given its own ICD-10 code (Z73.0 – Burn-out state of vital exhaustion).
Coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, burnout typically refers to a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion (overwhelming exhaustion), cynicism (cynicism and detachment), and inefficacy (a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment).* Burnout may be triggered by 6 factors - yet only 1 is necessary.
• Lack of Control
• Values Conflict
• Insufficient Reward
• Work Overload
• Breakdown of Community
The high demands of running the business combined with medical advice “not to do” eliminated my sense of control. The sheer volume/complexity/urgency of work paired with the quickly mounting pile of medical bills created overload. With profound emotional exhaustion, I watched my job morph into negativity, often directed at clients. What felt like a never-ending series of failures resulted in feelings of professional incompetence. Was I losing my mind? Much like symptoms of depression, burnout will asphyxiate your ambition, idealism, and sense of worth.
Married To A Partner I Hadn’t Chosen
Like a mouse on a wheel, I could not work long enough, hard enough, thoughtful enough, as my brain was not capable. For years to follow, working 50-60 hour weeks became the norm. I knew I was in burnout. I could feel it. I just didn’t know how to get out. As my CRM reminded me daily how behind I was, my inbox overflowed. I didn’t sleep. My work consumed the weekend. My dating life ceased to exist. And even when I was “off work” my friends would say I wasn’t present. I was married to my business, yet it wasn’t the partner I’d hoped for and it was most definitely a toxic relationship.
Have you been there? Overworked. Tired beyond tired? Not sure how to save yourself from the avalanche barreling your way? Last year the universe gently placed the concept of flow state in my lap.
You may be familiar with flow state, commonly referred to as “being in the zone.” As a lifelong athlete, I knew the feeling of being in the zone and the dreaded ache after a life-altering event (marathon, triathlon, skiing a chute, etc). I learned to apply the same rituals which trigger athletic flow in my entrepreneurial life.
Recovered from burnout and now armed with a burnout-proof safety plan, I would love to share my experience and show you the way out of the overwhelming heaviness you’re feeling stuck in.
Clare Hefferren is a sophisticated tomboy, passionate people’s champion, and CEO/Founder of Callosum, a strategic firm that guides purpose-driven outdoor & mountain destination brands. Based in Vail, CO, and working with clients nationwide she’s committed to doing business for good - people, planet, profit. Equally comfortable in the backcountry and boardroom, she has proven successful in understanding the brand life cycle in the outdoor and mountain lifestyle industries. Let's climb higher together!
Away from the desk, she’s a lifelong outdoor enthusiast: Alpine & telemark skier, snowshoer, trail and road runner, road & mountain cyclist, hiker, backpacker, and river & reservoir stand-up paddler.
Take the Maslach Burnout Inventory: https://quiz.tryinteract.com/#/5ff8692ea989770016cbb2a0
Source: Burnout, the Cost of Caring by Christina Maslach