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Books on Business: Battle burnout with balance; find joy in new world of work

Sunday, October 28, 2001

By Carnegie Library's Business Librarians

"Reclaiming the Fire. How Successful People Overcome Burnout" by Steven Berglas. Random House, 2001.

"Supernova Burnout" as envisioned by Steven Berglas is the paradoxical situation of achieving the trappings of success (wealth and power) while simultaneously experiencing major physical malaise and depression. Burnout sufferers perceive themselves as shackled by golden handcuffs to a life of been-there done-that ennui. "Reclaiming the Fire" illuminates the urgent need to change one's life or career, or risk hitting the bottom as you reach the top.

In a counseling practice where he treats depressed attorneys, corporate executives and athletes, Berglas sees a common problem: single-minded ambition in the pursuit of a solitary goal emptying many lives of family, friends and hobbies. These tough cases prompted the author to adopt some interesting approaches to treatment. One of his recommendations is that his male patients think more like women, whose propensity to stay connected with others can be an effective inoculation against burnout.

How so? The misconception that "vulnerability is a girl thing" has been the undoing of many successful people. They seldom see failure in their climb to the top and are unwilling to acknowledge any vulnerability or dependence on others.

Berglas provides two famous examples in which executives benefited in the long run by admitting and accepting major errors. John F. Kennedy immediately admitted culpability and defeat after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion launched under his watch. Robert Goizueta, the late chief executive officer of Coca-Cola, also reversed himself and admitted his error of replacing Coke with a "New Coke." He immediately returned to "Classic Coke." Both saw their popularity and approval skyrocket.

Berglas also stresses the importance of nurturing and change. The practice of cultivating a bonsai tree becomes a powerful metaphor in his argument.

A bonsai tree is one both enduringly beautiful and of great monetary value. Like the busy career of a successful manager and leader, a bonsai requires constant attention to ensure it remains healthy and strong; but in order to keep a bonsai tree in its unique state, one must trim its roots and repot at regular intervals.

To prevent Supernova Burnout, the careerists -- like a bonsai master repotting her tree -- must move from a constraining environment and find new places to grow. It is part of a process in which the successful person can achieve a psychological hardiness with a healthy balance of work and love.

"Thriving In 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work" by Sally Helgesen. Free Press, 2001.

Does spending time with family and friends often feel like a task instead of a leisure activity?

Sally Helgesen thinks that in spite of significant changes to the economy and the technologies that support it, we feel this way because we are still trying to live by the rules of the industrial era. In "Thriving In 24/7", Helgesen says we need to tame the new world of work, because it is where our environment is most intense. Advanced technology and other modern constructs have transformed that world and "dramatically accelerated a process that has been taking place since the start of the Industrial Revolution: the distortion of our human experience of time."

Our domestic lives also have changed in many ways. We have more choice in handling finances, choosing health care and raising children. The easy availability of affordable air and automobile travel causes time and distance to lose some of their meaning for us. These changes have led to a paradigm shift in our personal experience. Because we have so many options and are less constrained by time or location, making choices requires an immense amount of concentration, time, and skill.

The rapid pace of technological change constantly creates new needs and situations requiring new decisions as well. Furthermore, many people live "in ways that only rich people used to live" with no understanding of what that may mean for their psyche. Helgesen continues, "We know more, have more potential sources of information and take an activist approach to our problems," but concludes this takes up more of our time. As a result, our lives have become so demanding that we are less likely to recognize and enjoy the many benefits that could accrue from this greater flexibility in how we live and work, our diminished dependence on large organizations and our easy access to information.

Helgesen suggests six strategies. First, know your priorities, temperament, character and ambitions. Understand yourself better by confronting your personal history, locating your inner voice and assessing yourself periodically. Second, realize that there is no longer a predetermined pattern to our lives. Learn from the youngest generation, think in terms of projects and engagements and plan to keep learning all of your life. Third, create your own work, even if you stay in your current job. Try to adapt it to better reflect your interests and needs, creating a partnership with your employer.

Fourth, broaden your social circle by joining or starting a professional group, look up old and new friends and network every day. Fifth, create a strong, unique identity and project it in public. Sixth, slow down and develop realistic expectations by "connecting with timeless rhythms, identifying your sources of joy and cultivating mindfulness."

The author grounds these "new age" concepts in the good sense and familiarity of everyday routines, counseling that their best application lies in what we know. "Thriving in 24/7" does not promise the reader a new life, but rather suggests that his or her current one can be more richly lived by adopting new ways to think and act in familiar situations.

Also recommended are:

"How to Say it Online: Everything You Need to Know to Master the New Language of Cyberspace" by Kim Baker and Sunny Baker. Prentice Hall, 2001.

"The Quest for Global Domination: Transforming Global Presence into Global Competitive Advantage" by Vijay Govindarajan and Anil K. Gupta. Jossey-Bass, 2001.

Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money and work, at 412-281-7141 or at http://www.carnegielibrary.org/clp/libctr/business/.

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