By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director

With a full house inside the large Sebastian K ballroom at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort during WCICON24 in Orlando, keynote speaker Paula Pant asked how many people present had felt some remnant of burnout during their career. Among the hundreds of attendees, nearly everybody in the room raised their hands.

As Pant, the founder of Afford Anything, noted, five of the top 10 most burned-out occupations in the US are in medicine. In 2021, 42% of physicians felt burned out. Only two years later, that rate has increased by 11%. More than half of physicians feel that burnout. Those numbers are not likely to decrease anytime soon.

“If that trendline keeps increasing, I’m afraid of what that number will be in 10 years,” Pant said.

But that, as she said during her presentation, leads to some interesting questions when you’re feeling the flames of burnout and you’re perhaps fantasizing about taking your money and your career and utilizing FIRE.

  • Do you want to retire, or are you simply tired?
  • Do you need a career change, or do you need a nap?
  • Are you burned out or just bored?

One can approach those questions in a few ways. When you have enough money to FIRE, where work becomes optional, retirement is only one of a vast array of options. Pant said you shouldn’t conflate the two (that FIRE equals automatic retirement), but that kind of conflation is an easy trap to fall into when you’re feeling that sense of burnout.

The real question that Pant put forth during her presentation took a different approach for how to think about retirement and burnout and the crossover between the two: How can you use your gifts, talents, skills, knowledge, energy, health, and ability to do something right now and make a significant contribution to the world? That should be the question you’re trying to answer.

Here were some of the tips Pant discussed:

  • Make work-life better, not just balanced.
  • When you’re not at work, don’t be at work.
  • You can take sabbaticals or mini-retirements along the way.

 

Changing How You Look at Your Work-Life Balance

Building a better work-life balance is one way to move forward, and one way to manage that is to be intentional with how you spend your free time.

paula pant retire or just tired

Pant pointed to a study done by a time-management expert named Laura Vanderkam who looked at how people spend their time by getting them to log their entire days in 15-minute increments. Vanderkam studied the time logs of busy professionals who objectively spent a similar number of hours working, commuting, and taking part in domestic tasks. Then, she compared the subjective feelings of those same people for how much extra time they felt they had throughout their day.

“If someone at the end of the day is so tired that the one hour they have when all the dishes are done and the kids have gone to bed, if they spend that one hour absent-mindedly scrolling Instagram, they still feel as though they don’t have an extra hour in the day,” Pant said. “But if they spend that time doing something intentional—playing chess, reading a favorite work of fiction—if they cultivate that time with intention, they felt as if they had more time even if, through a study of the time logs, they didn’t.”

That’s one way to make your work-life balance even better and how to feel as if you can enjoy each hour more. Outsourcing activities you don’t care about is another way to approach it. Or as Georgetown professor Cal Newport said: “If you service low-impact activities . . . you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities.”

But perhaps the question of how to find that better work-life balance is not what you should get rid of in your life; maybe the question should be what you absolutely must keep.

“What are the things you just could not bear to part with from your life, your calendar, your time. Those are the things that stay in,” Pant said. “Everything else you’re kind of meh about, that’s what goes. Expressing it with this framework—what must I keep rather than what must I discard—you flip the opt-in vs. op-out framework, and it reconfigures the way you spend your time, your energy, your focus. All of those are the most limited resources you have. It’s not money. It’s attention. Where do you divert that crucial asset of yours?”

More information here:

Young Investors Are Engaging in ‘Soft Life’ – Is It a Healthy Attitude or Could It End in Financial Disaster?

 

Don’t Be at Work When You’re Not Physically There

Pant brought up an interesting point, something I had never thought about before, when she called into question the age-old icebreaker performed by strangers who are meeting at a shared event.

“If you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks what you do [for a living], well, that leads to a conversation about work,” she said. “In your precious time off, the conversation turns to work. When you’re not at work, don’t be at work.”

When Pant is in that situation—say she’s at a Fourth of July picnic and somebody asks her what she does for a living—she’ll often play a game instead of giving a “here’s-what-I-do” spiel. She has two options.

med school scholarship sponsor
  • She’ll name three occupations, and the person who originally asked her has to guess which of her job descriptions is the correct one. More often than not, she said, the original questioner plays the game.
  • She’ll invent a job on the spot and then tell the other person that they need to ask a bunch of follow-up questions so that she can tell a convincing tale. It then becomes a game of improv.

“That’s one powerful way of not being at work when you’re not at work,” Pant said. “But when you are at work, the work you do should be rewarding in and of itself. Of course we need external rewards; we need income. But we also need to feel validated and acknowledged and we need to feel like we respect the people we report to. We need to feel as if we have a manageable workload and that our contributions matter. We need that community and that connection to the people that we see or talk to every day. That’s how we know the work itself is inherently rewarding.”

More information here:

Burnout in Women with Dr. Darria Long

 

Taking Measured Breaks

Pant herself recently felt the effects of burnout, and she reached a point in her career where she had to decide if she should double down on her business or leave it altogether. She took a sabbatical from Afford Anything and enrolled in a one-year fellowship at Columbia University in business and economics journalism.

That decision revitalized her.

As she discussed in her keynote, people have been conditioned to follow a linear path (go to college, go to professional school, start your job, work for decades, retire at 65), but your life doesn’t have to follow that stereotype. Instead, you can take sabbaticals or mini-retirements along the way, and that can be an effective way to reinvigorate you.

It seems to have worked for Pant. When she asked the audience for their thoughts on what they’d do with a sabbatical, one attendee said that she would tap into what she enjoyed as a kid because what you enjoyed doing as a kid is the essence of who you are (when Pant asked that question, my wife turned to me and immediately said, “I’d declutter the house”).

“Whatever it is that lights you up, whatever it is you loved doing as a kid or love doing now, those are the things that will help you, if you chose to, stay in the game for the long run,” Pant said. “Optimize for longevity; don’t optimize for squeezing out a little more at the margins. That means sometimes taking a pause so that you can sustain.”

But what if you either can’t afford to take a mini-retirement or you can’t get the time off from work?

“Start by asking yourself what’s the minimum amount of time you could take,” Pant said. “Maybe it’s a week. Maybe it’s two weeks. Maybe with some tweaks to your budget, you can expand that to a month. Start with the smallest amount of time you can and see how you make tweaks with how you spend, so you can expand that incrementally.”

Sometimes, though, a full retirement is the right answer.

“I often think retirement is a great answer, but it’s not an easy answer,” Pant said. “Retirement is a wonderful answer when you are doing it because you are moving into something rather than wanting to escape something. That would leave you with a void ahead.”

In essence, retirement shouldn’t be seen as the cessation of all income-producing activities. Instead, you can view it as a shift into some other project that is more meaningful (that might or might not produce an income).

“To have that shift,” she said, “you have to know what you’re shifting into, to be so excited about that next chapter, that your break with your current chapter is worthwhile, because you’re moving into it and not out from it.”

Did you miss Paula Pant's keynote at this year’s WCICON but still want to experience it, along with access to the entire conference? Well, you’re in luck. WCI has released the CFE 2024 course that will show everything that happened in Orlando. 

 

Money Song of the Week

The first song I ever remember hearing as a young child was “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers, probably on the way home from preschool in my dad’s MGB (it was either this song or the Doobies’ “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” that was off a totally rockin' Sesame Street music compilation).

Last month, as the band was gearing up to return to its 50th-anniversary tour later this year, the Doobie Brothers played a charity show in town. Even though we’re talking about a bunch of dudes in their mid-70s, the Doobie Brothers put on a great show with a tight, enthusiastic set. Those guys can still put on a show.

Toward the end of the set, the Doobie Brothers played “Black Water,” an acoustic Delta blues-ish song that hit No. 1 on the charts in 1975. Though the band is from California, Black Water, as noted by Stereogum, is a “blissed-out reverie about an imagined American South, a place where you can drift on a raft down the Mississippi River and then go to hear ‘some funky dixieland.’” The Doobie Brothers “felt a longing for a version of Americana that they’d never actually experienced.”

OK, this song is not about money or doctors, but it’s still pretty awesome (with some fantastic harmonies and that sweet, sweet a capella breakdown at the 3:21 mark).

 

 

The reason I’m including this piece in the Money Song of the Week is because 1) I kind of just love the Doobie Brothers and 2) the band played the song on a 1978 two-part episode of “What’s Happening!!” where they talked about the dangers of bootlegging concerts.

As Song Facts writes:

“In the first episode, cleverly titled ‘Doobie or Not Doobie,’ a nefarious character cons Rerun into surreptitiously recording a Doobie Brothers concert from the first row. When Raj interviews the band with Rerun in tow, they explain that the practice is called bootlegging, and is a pox on their profession because it takes money away from them and disseminates low-quality recordings. Rerun sees the light, but it's too late: the bad guy will beat him up if he doesn't go through with it.

Episode 2 takes place at the concert, where the Doobies play their hit “Black Water” while Rerun tapes the show with a recorder hidden under his coat. At the end of “Takin' It to the Streets” . . . the recorder comes loose and he's busted. He tells the band why he went through with it, and they set up a sting operation, capturing the criminal after Rerun turns over the tape.

The treatment on the show of bootlegging as a crime is comically overwrought, making it look like there is an organized crime syndicate out there preying on concertgoers and ripping off bands. This being 1978, the tape recorders are huge and have tiny microphones, so anything recorded this way is going to be pretty much unlistenable. It's also strange seeing The Doobie Brothers taking a stand for law and order: this is a band whose core audience is biker gangs.”

Here's that harrowing moment when the tape recorder escapes from Rerun’s jacket.

 

 

Luckily, things get handled at the soda shop, the Doobie Brothers go back to making their money at concerts, and the world continues to spin on its axis. And 45 years later, when the Doobie Brothers play “Black Water” at their shows, hundreds of phones light up the stands as people record whatever and whenever they want.

 

Tweet of the Week

I’ll be honest: No. 3 gives me the shivers.

If you’ve been burned out, how have you clawed your way back into a good mindset? How can you have a better work-life balance? Would a mini-retirement or sabbatical work for you? Comment below!

[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected].]