Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout.”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gray Robinson.
Gray Robinson was a third-generation trial attorney, specializing in family law for 27 years. Burned out and emotionally spent practicing law, he quit in 2004 and spent the next 16 years doing research and training to help others facing burn out. In 2017, at the age of 64, using the tools and strategies he learned, Gray passed the Oregon bar exam and is again a licensed attorney.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Iam a third-generation attorney. My paternal grandfather was a judge in eastern North Carolina during the depression. My father was a trial attorney after going to West Point (class of 1945) and serving in WW2. My mother was the daughter of James A. Gray, CEO of Reynolds Tobacco Company. My childhood was affluent and public.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My parents expected me to become a lawyer. I wanted to pursue a career in outdoor behavioral psychology, they insisted that I become a lawyer. Truthfully, I did not want to be a lawyer, I was simply pleasing my parents.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My father certainly was an inspiration and a mentor. Even though I was not passionate about being a lawyer, he lived, ate, and breathed practicing law. When I was a child, my father was always bringing me and my twin brother to the office on the weekends. He hired me out of law school and again later.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I quit practicing law in 2004 due to burnout and vowed never to practice again. The money just wasn’t worth the stress and anxiety. I spent the next 12 years researching what happened and how to avoid burnout. In 2016, I was offered a job conditioned on having a law license. I accepted the offer and took the law exam in Oregon when I was 64. Even though I had not practiced since 2004 I passed. The job opportunity was withdrawn.
I suppose the lesson is never take anything for granted and be grateful for everything, the good and the bad. It certainly was encouraging that after applying all I had learned to become a lawyer again; I was able to get my license again. Now I help lawyers and speak to bar associations about burnout and stress.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“Life is what happens when you have something else planned.”
This resonates with me because most of the events of my life have been different than what I expected.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I founded Lawyer Lifeline © to help lawyers who are struggling with stress and anxiety. I also help other professionals (doctors, bankers, medical) learn how to deal with stressful situations and heal their suffering. I speak to Judicial conferences, bar associations, and other professional associations about dealing with burnout. I also have written dozens of articles published in a number of national legal journals, including the ABA Journal, Family Lawyer Magazine and other divorce journals.
I am convinced that lawyers are not properly trained to deal with the stresses of being a lawyer and in fact many of the reasons that drive us to be lawyers cause stress and burn out. In many ways practicing law can be just as traumatic as active military service or first responders. I am passionate about helping lawyers and other professionals heal the causes of their stress and have happy, successful lives.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Establish Rapport. All business and attorney-client relationships are based on rapport. Without rapport, assumptions are made, expectations can be unreasonable, and no trust is developed. Attorney-client conflict always arises from a lack of rapport. I was very successful with developing rapport with court personnel. It was a lot easier to call a friend in the courthouse than trying to research procedural issues. A lot of attorneys did not take the time to develop rapport with court personnel which could result in mistakes that affected the results of the case.
- Recognize the value of people. When you value the people you work with, they will value you. Some lawyers take staff for granted, and it makes the high-pressure world of the practice of law so much more difficult. When you recognize the efforts of others, it positively reinforces that effort. I had to let go of a secretary once who was not performing well enough. We are still friends today. That is the nature of valuing others.
- Manage the details. One of the things I truly admired about my father was he left no stone unturned. I was constantly impressed at how detailed he was, even when it seemed the detail was not relevant. What I learned was to keep asking questions about everything and you can find out small facts that often add up to the difference between a good result and a great result.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
In 2004 I quit practicing law primarily because of the emotional and mental exhaustion I was experiencing. I no longer could handle the pressure of a trial practice. Since that time I have researched, studied, and learned at the feet of specialists about how to be happy in stressful situations and what to do to be emotionally, mentally and physically healthy.
I became master certified in Neurolinguistic Programming, Hypnotherapy, Coaching, Reiki and other modalities which help people heal trauma and stress. I have been published dozens of times in national legal journals and magazines and interviewed numerous times as an expert on burnout.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
Burnout is the mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion experienced from extreme or repeated stress or trauma in practicing law or other career paths.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
I believe the opposite of burnout is resilience. Resilience is the ability to put stress and trauma in proper perspective, and the ability to bounce back from unexpected results with a positive outlook.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some skeptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
Burnout can be a minor annoyance, or it can be a major life-threatening challenge. Lawyers have committed suicide over loss of hope and depression due to burnout. Burnout oftentimes is exacerbated by neurological or medical conditions, including addiction. Unfortunately, some believe that burnout is a result of weakness. In my experience it is inevitable under commonly occurring situations.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
Burnout is usually the result of trauma that is not adequately healed, either mentally, physically, or emotionally. Lawyers (and others) can be predisposed to burnout based on childhood experiences, lack of confidence or understanding, and lack of self-awareness. Burnout can also be caused by a lack of balance between mental, physical and emotional life. Some other reasons include substance abuse, addiction, and overthinking.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
Anyone experiencing burnout must get help. You cannot do it by yourself. As Albert Einstein once said, “you can’t fix a problem with the same thinking we used when we created it.” In fact, thinking is part of the problem. Or more precisely, overthinking is part of the problem.
In my experience, there is no list of things to do by yourself to reverse the effects of burnout. Certainly, there are some things you can change that will help lessen the effects, such as:
- Get a blood test. Many symptoms are caused by hormonal imbalance or improper nutrition.
- Get more rest.
- Talk about it with a trained professional. (me)
- Get therapy.
- Uncover the root cause of your struggles. (me)
Find the lessons of the events in your life and focus on them, not the problem.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
Strongly recommend that they seek help. Talk with them. Let them know they are loved and supported.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
I offer programs for employees to understand the causes of burnout and how to manage them.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
All employers should offer training to employees to manage stress and burnout. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Train human resource personnel in the warning signs of burnout and mental/emotional exhaustion.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
They don’t address the subconscious beliefs and biases which can create the scenarios of burnout. If you subconsciously believe you are a loser (based on childhood experiences) you will always have conflict with success. I work with the subconscious mind to bring it into alignment with their conscious goals.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Teach people how to love themselves.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love some time with Dr. Anthony Fauci. He needs to learn how to make his message more believable.