• Susanna Williams

After the Fire: Why You Should Hire Someone Who Has Been Through Professional Burnout

I left my last job in July when I realized two things:

1) I’m a go-getter who is ready to activate, and the organization wasn’t ready for the speed at which I was moving.


2) I was burned out.

Burning out feels like an emotional wildfire. I felt seared, exhausted, easily sparked, internally desolate. It feels vulnerable to talk about burning out as a professional. It’s admitting that some part of me is soft and tender and that part of me was in pain. I wisely sought help through my organization’s Employee Assistance Program, which connected me with a therapist and provided five free counseling sessions as I extricated myself from my role. The work I did through therapy set me up to be deliberate about my sabbatical time.

Wildfires, however, clear the way for new growth. I am now ready to return to work. I’m re-energized. I’m restored. I am centered in a place of deep discernment. Wherever I work next needs to be the right fit. It needs to be an organization where my catalytic energy will be welcomed, with colleagues who are ready to move fast while prioritizing kindness.

And this is why you want to hire me- or any other organizational leader who is willing to talk about their experience of burn out: I am fully committed to making sure that the next organization I join is the best work experience I, or my colleagues, have ever had. There will be no “throwing people under the bus” or “stabbing people in the back” under my care. I simply will not allow my colleagues- or myself- to be treated with anything less than professional respect.

One of my best former bosses opened an all-staff meeting by telling us that we had three priorities. Our first priority was ourselves, because if we weren’t healthy in body and soul, nothing else mattered. Our second priority was our families. And our third priority was our work. And, under his leadership, those priorities were supported. In that order.

As an organizational leader, I will model healthy boundaries. No emails after work hours. Trust that my team members will be responsible for executing their work to the best of their abilities and if they run into problems, expecting that they will seek the help they need as soon as they know they need it. Transparent communication and decision making. Inclusive leadership, where everyone knows their voices will be heard.

Organizations are the result of the collective efforts of individual human beings. Organizational success depends on the success of the people who drive the work of the organization. Supporting those people is the most essential dependency. When people know they can show up as whole humans and grow while being supported and safe, great things are possible. And because I have been through burn out and taken the time I needed to fully recover from that, I am in the best possible position to ensure that the organization I lead next is a work environment where people- and the work they do as a result- thrive.