I consider myself pretty lucky. I have a simple, yet effective method to combat stress and prevent burnout: spending a few hours with Harry, Sally and Teak — my English Labrador retrievers. They keep me energized. Of course, my family and friends are my bedrock and help keep me grounded as well. Without my support system of two and four-legged friends and family, I don’t think I would be the upbeat, optimistic person I am in my role as a university president.
But when I’m on the job — and Harry, Sally, and Teak are at home — there’s another method I use to help avoid burnout. I believe it’s critical to commit to a lifetime of learning. Everyone needs to refresh their mind from time to time, and learning new skills helps develop new talents that often lead to exciting new aspects of your career. As the leader of a university responsible for developing tomorrow’s leaders, I tell my graduating students that earning their degree is a tremendous accomplishment, but if they want to continue advancing then the learning doesn’t stop after graduation. Whether they plan to go on to obtain an advanced degree, they take online courses to learn the latest social media tools or brush up on the latest enterprise software, it’s critical to keep acquiring new skills. Keeping your skills current will energize you, stave off any potential boredom and show your employer that you are thinking ahead. Most importantly, it keeps you prepared for future opportunities that may arise.
For example, I never thought of my law degree as only a means to practicing law. I may have started my career as a lawyer, but I also had a passion for public policy that crossed education, environment and economic development. Over time I developed strong sales skills and became an effective facilitator. I learned to ask the right questions and to manage a diverse team. Decades after my first job at a legal services program for low-income elderly people in Virginia, I now find myself leading a top business university in Massachusetts. Who would’ve predicted a career track that has included posts in the non-profit sector, government, private practice, and higher education? Staying open to lifelong learning keeps you focused and challenged – and the new challenges have consistently helped me to avoid burnout.
For millennials in the workplace, it is in their DNA. Today these young adults make up the largest percentage of the U.S. workforce, outnumbering gen X and baby boomers. According to the global 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, one in four millennials would quit his or her current job to join a new organization or try something different if given the option. By the end of 2020, two out of every three respondents report that they hope to have a new job and only 16% see themselves remaining in their current position in the next decade. Clearly they understand the value of lifelong learning – and are wisely staying ahead of market needs so their value to employers continues to increase.
My advice to avoid burnout: Commit to lifelong learning and you will feel relevant, engaged, and vital for a very long time.