What is the Cure for Exhaustion?

What is the Cure for Exhaustion?

I conducted a webinar this week with 100 leaders in the health care sector. During the webinar, we conducted a poll asking these leaders what one word best described how they are feeling at work right now. Over sixty percent chose one of these three words: exhausted, tired, frustrated. And the #1 choice was exhausted.

Given the current COVID crisis, this was not too surprising but the magnitude of it really stood out for me. The choices we gave them were: Excited, Engaged, Centered, Tired, Frustrated and Exhausted. I wonder how you would answer that question as a leader? Also, it’s worth asking how your people might answer?

I’ve Got the Cure for Exhaustion

So, if you are feeling exhausted right now, one might wonder what the cure is? I’m guessing your first response is probably the obvious one: Rest. Since we associate exhaustion with a depletion of resources, surely stepping back is the solution. But what if the cure for exhaustion is not to step back, but to step in?

Years ago, I heard a Catholic monk say that “The cure for exhaustion is not necessarily rest, sometimes the cure is WHOLEHEARTEDNESS!” To me this word is about having our whole heart in what we are doing. It’s about bringing all of the “self” to our work. It’s about having a deep sense of personal purpose that makes all effort worthy.

My grandfather was a ship builder who spent long hours at the docks working on ships. He used to talk about having a “good tired” at the end of the day. A “good tired” is when we have spent all our energy, but it feels like we spent it in a way that left us more alive.

Now is the Time to Lean into Purpose

This is a time when we are asking more of our people than ever. There are lots of changes they need to adopt including a shift to virtual business dealings. The economic conditions mean having to stay nimble and open to innovation. There is fatigue about the COVID virus and all the daily precautions that have made life stressful. All of this means now is the time to step in towards your Purpose.

Frederick Nietzsche once said, “A person can endure any how if they only have a why.” Research has shown that people and teams with a sense of purpose perform better and stay more resilient during challenging times than those without it.

Stepping Towards Purpose in your Work

So, what does it mean to step into purpose right now as leaders?

  • It means taking the time to remind our teams why our products and services matter, including telling stories (and making space for telling stories) about how we are really making a difference right now
  • It means communicating your own personal purpose and reminding everyone that during a difficult time we can make a difference for team members, customers, and even strangers by showing up with optimism, compassion and hope
  • It means doubling down on our personal purpose. Every day reminding yourself what your purpose is and finding ways to live it all day long. It means celebrating at the end of the day and recognizing the ways you got to live it
  • It means that companies with a purpose bigger than profits focus on really being there for customers, team members and communities RIGHT now so that we are proud of how we engaged with this moment

The Soft Overcomes the Hard

On the web session with those health leaders this week, I reminded people that purpose may seem like a soft thing. But as Lao Tzu the Chinese philosopher once said, “The soft overcomes the hard, everyone knows it, but few practice it.”

This is the time to step towards purpose not away from it. While rest is important, it may just be that we need wholeheartedness even more.


Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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