23 Aug

‘Burning out is for Losers!’

There has been a lot of chatter and discussion about Elon Musk in the last week. Now that in itself is not earth-shattering news but instead of focusing on his wow-inducing engineering projects and achievements, the most super of entrepreneurs, the press has been a state of flux. The man has displayed human traits – so he’s human after all??


Not all the press has been particularly kindly towards him and his supposed meltdown. Judging by the interaction between Musk and Arianna Huffington via Twitter, I can guess at many things and they would include him not being aware that he is burning out, or if he is, he doesn’t think that he can do anything to stop it. The fear of being perceived as a failure (reiterated by the negative press) merely serves to reiterate this message, thereby reinforcing the vicious cycle.


So what is burnout? A brief definition of burnout is being in a state of chronic stress.


Burnout is often something that people are aware of, even talked about BUT the vast majority of people think that burnout is something that happens to other people. Not them.


Here are some of the things I have heard clients say to me


‘For the last 18 months, I feel like I’ve had a hangover everyday. Constant headaches and an inability to think or see straight. But I’m fine’


‘I haven’t had more than 4 hours sleep for the last 2 years, maybe more. And I can’t think when I last went out and had a meal without working. I just have to work or else the business will not survive’


In the first example, the client came to me for help on improving his communication skills. He said that his staff just refused to understand him and his vision. It turned out that he was so out of sorts that no one could figure out what he was trying to say because his mind was in such a state of fatigue and therefore, confusion.


With the second, my client was aware ‘in theory’ that he needed to eat and sleep better. Do a little bit of exercise. Basically have a life. Not only would it be healthier for him on the most basic level, it would lead to clarity of thought. Decision making for him was close to impossible, resulting in impulsive and ill-thought out choices undoing much of his professional reputation.


And yet, in both cases, as with my other clients in similar situations, the refrain is always the same. ‘I can’t stop. If I do, everything will fall apart and everyone is depending on me.’ Sound familiar to Musk’s response to Huffington?


Reality Check – here’s some tough love


  1. You are of no use to man nor beast if you are not healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally
  2. Your business is not all about you and your ego


Here is an analogy I used with a client. I know he was rather appalled at my gall but needs must and all…


‘If you were a racehorse, I would not put my money on you. Much as you’re a thoroughbred, I am not putting money on an undernourished, untrained, ill-disciplined and tired horse. It’s sure to stumble and likely fall during the race’.


Some signs that you might be on your way to burning out.


  • Chronic fatigue
  • Physical symptoms eg chest pain, headaches, weight loss, forgetting to eat etc
  • Increased frequency of illness
  • Anxiety and/or Depression
  • Anger, irritability, irrational outbursts
  • Signs of cynicism, isolation and detachment
  • Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, feelings of apathy and hopelessness
  • Signs of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
  • Lack of productivity, poor performance and judgment


What can you do?

  • Find balance.  Sure sometimes the scales tip more one way than another but in general, this is what you need in your life
  • Sleep better and more
  • Eat well
  • Exercise regularly
  • Spend time with loved ones – friends & family
  • Do fun things whether that is a visit to the pub or reading a trashy novel or hiking up mountains
  • Practise mindfulness – whether this is through a guided exercise, or through exercise, or just focusing on your breathing
  • Learn to be able to switch off even if it is for 5 minutes all the way to having work-free holidays.
  • Seek external help if it is all too overwhelming

Many of the suggestions above are much easier said than done.  Your first step is recognising that you are on this downward spiral and your next is to want to do something about it.  Much as these suggestions will be the last thing that you wish to do – taking time away from your work, physically and mentally, you will very quickly find that you will make better decisions, be more effective and therefore spend less time at work.  How’s that for irony?

Just remember that the secret to not burning out is recognizing the symptoms and dealing with it early on.  Once you have burnt out, it will make the comeback far harder, and it might possibly be too late for your business.  So the questions is, are you a good bet?

For next Thursday’s case study/blog, I will be addressing the ‘What can you do?’ section with a little more detail and context.


#burnout #stressmanagement #qualitysleep #nourish #sleep #leadership #womeninbusiness #femaleboss #womeninleadership #diversity #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #thrivewithkaren #mindfulness #selfcare #empathy #mindfulness

16 Aug

Your Facts – YOUR Story or THE Story?

Your Facts – Your Story or The Story?  Unconscious Bias – a case study

I had a client who was convinced that her co-worker was lazy and idle. Her belief was that she was the only person who did any work and that her colleague was a freedloader who did the bare minimum, if that, and that he rode on her coattails and yet reaped all the rewards of this relationship. It was an interesting case for it was difficult for me to ascertain the true facts of the story. After all, I was presented with a lot of ‘evidence’ of this indolence through anecdotal stories as well as snapshots of email conversations.


Whilst I fully accepted that my client believed this situation to be the truth, her truth, and that it was causing her much distress, I was also aware that the situation could not have been so clear cut. There were clues such as the 100% conviction that she was a martyr to the cause, the mantra being ‘He is a lazy s**t but I can’t let the side down so I do all the work and he lets me’. She was obsessed about clocking his work habits and comparing them to hers ‘He gets in at 8:30, sometimes 9am, while I’m slaving away at 7:30 and don’t leave till at least 12 hours later if not more, and he leaves at 5pm’.


Yet when we talked generally about individuals’ working practices and preferences such as, some like working to set and rigid hours, whilst others think and work in a more nebulous way, she understood the concept, in theory. When we tried to relate that to her situation, that argument was shut down due to the ‘evidence’ shown. I was presented with more ‘proof’ of laziness such as not answering the phone immediately while he was working from home one morning. By immediately, it meant that he did answer the phone after a few rings, just not on the first. After all, loo breaks are not allowed whilst working from home! Further ‘confirmation’ of his slothfulness was that he did not speak up much during meetings, which clearly meant that he didn’t prepare for it, even though said individual was a self-confessed and observed by others, introvert.


Much of the work this client and I did together was based on the understanding of personality characteristics, preferences, values & beliefs – of oneself and of others. All these things together, along with experience, tend to form our judgments, conscious or unconscious. Looking at the work with this client, she displayed classic signs of 1,2, 6 & 7, and some others too whilst working with her colleague. It certainly did not help their working relationship at all!!! This case study and the table (click on link) serve to remind us to think a little harder about our viewpoints before we make decisions that could really affect our behaviours and lives.



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#unconsciousbias #bias #decisionmaking #beliefs #values #personalitytypes #preferences #leadership #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #managingupwards #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #wellness #wellbeing #health #mindbodysoul #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #narcissists #empathy #mindfulness #selfcare


10 Aug

Tips from a Reluctant Networker

Tales of a Reluctant Networker


Say the word ‘networking’ and you are likely to get many different reactions, but they usually fall into the category of ‘lit-up eyes, smiles, faces filled with hope and opportunity and excitement’ or you’ll observe ‘eye-rolls, sighs, shoulders drooping, despondent looks and fear’. To say that I fall into the latter category would be an understatement. I am Queen Eye-Roll, frolicking in a pool of cynicism, dread and distress. The desire to stamp my feet if said stamping wouldn’t ruin my precious shoes, is high. I am that person who signs up for these things with all those attributes, but resigned to my fate. And I used to then hide in the loos.   Yup, the Queen of Eye-Roll could be renamed the Princess of Loos.


The Agitation


The inner turmoil comes from having to speak to a bunch of strangers and not know how to do this with class and aplomb. Do you just walk up to any random person and chat? What happens when everyone is in a group already, does one interrupt? What if the person is talking at and selling at you and you can’t get a word in edgewise? What if the person is so dull that sticking those cocktail sticks in your eyes seems preferable? Or what about the lech (there is always one – he failed biology at school and he continues to believe that your eyes are closer to your chest)? Or what about if everyone in that room seems to be cleverer and more accomplished than you are?


These are all thoughts and feelings that most people have. Although very real and often paralyzing, you have to realize that most people have them, and more often than not, these fears are greater than the reality.


Some tips for networking


  • Get Over Yourself and Your Ego

I had to. I had to give myself a really good talking to and even a metaphorical slap or three. The reality is that whilst no one is there to be hostile, no one really cares about you. By that I mean that everyone there has their own agenda so they won’t be looking out for you and your flaws. The only person doing that is you and your ego. As long as you treat everyone there with respect and professionally, you will get along fine. You don’t need to be someone different from who you are. Just be the best version of yourself and talk to others like a human being, show interest in them, and hopefully they will show interest in you. If not, move on. Or even if they do, move on after you’ve had a long enough conversation. No one wants to be that leech.



  • Why Network?

Before you go, think about why you want to network and what you would like to achieve. If you are thinking about getting a new job, think what new skills might benefit you and who might help with that journey & process. It will also help you network and converse better once you know what your purpose is for being there. For example, if you are an engineer wanting to climb up the ladder in that world. It would help to meet other engineers outside of your firm. Are there industry events? Or perhaps go to an event to meet people within the creative industry to help with perspective or someone with more of a business focus to help you think outside your normal box.


  • Smart Networking

Following on from the above point, be open and yet selective about the events you attend. It’s good to try different events such as size, industry, format and even times of day. For example anecdotally, evening events tend to attract less women because they often have to go home to the children (I’ll leave the debate on this stat for another time) but they are likely to also attract people from more creative industries.


Some people love networking and chatting to new people. Larger events might work really well for you. For those of you who are happier in smaller groups, pick events with meals included for example, or smaller drinks events where it can be less intimidating.


The more selective you are, the more you will get out of each event.


  • Research – Have a Plan

Before you go, do some research on the event, the organisers, the speakers, the attendees. The more you know about it, the better prepared you will be for conversations and what you would like to get out of it. However, be fluid with the plan, after all you can’t predict how the event will go.


  • Set Goals

Ask yourself what you would like to achieve at the event and set some objectives around it. If it is a more general affair, do something simple like promise yourself to have good quality conversations with at least 7 people (5 might be your objective but add two for the challenge!). If it is to speak to the speaker who is very popular, work out the best time and way to speak with said person.


  • Build Relationships

Nothing worse than the hard sell where someone talks at you with little to no interest in you, ie you are being treated as a commodity. Don’t be that person. Listen to the other person. Hear what they are saying. Be curious and ask questions. Build a rapport and a relationship. This is far more lasting for you and your business/career. Learn something about them. Leave them something interesting about you to remember you by and always follow up with an email, call and possibly a coffee date in the not so distant future.


  • Bring a Wingperson?

For some, this is an excellent idea for it’s easier with two of you and you will approach things differently and ‘cross-benefit’ with introductions and conversations. However, if you know that you might end up wholly relying on them to open up conversations, maybe it’s best that you don’t.


These are some of my tips for helping me through the networking process. I’ve had to give up (albeit reluctantly) by Princess of the Loos title. I still don’t love networking but I find myself being much better about attending them, to the point of enjoying them. For me, the biggest differentiators were getting over myself and attending events that I actually want to go to, rather than to ones where I felt I should go.


If you have any questions or anything to add, I’d love to hear from you! Good luck!



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk



#networking #buildingrelationships #career #leadership #startuplife #resilience #journal #psychology #managingupwards #personaldevelopment #strengths #corporatecoaching #LondonLife #entrepreneurs #startups #empathy




02 Aug

Returning to Work – a case study

Back to Work. Credit Ryan Tang @Unsplash

When one talks about taking time out away from work, it’s really easy to imagine trips away to exotic places learning about new food and people, or perhaps going on surf-yoga or get-fit bootcamps are more your thing. Perhaps it is going on a course to learn about preserving marine life in Belize or visiting archaeological sites searching for ancient Mayan artifacts. Certainly I was lucky enough to do some of those things when I had a sabbatical a few years ago.


However, for many clients, their time out is for something far less ‘glamorous’, (that said, I’m not sure huffing and puffing around mountains is a great look on me) and they take time out for a variety of reasons – some for joyous ones, and sadly others for less inauspicious ones. The reasons for the time off can be for very joyous ones such as maternity leave, whilst others have to take time off for more inauspicious causes, such as illness or redundancy. Even where there was a deliberate and well-thought out career change, it is inevitable that returning to work brings about some misgivings and no small amount of anxiety.


As topics go, this is too large a one to lock down into just one case study. However, I felt it was important to at least raise the subject and acknowledge that it is a very real challenge for many. At a later stage, I will write in further details on these case studies but for now, I thought it was important to highlight some of the work we did, which might help give some of you some food for thought.


Q1:      How do I slot back in as if I did not have any time off? I don’t want my manager or my team to resent me for having a few months off to have a baby.


A1:      Why on earth would you want to pretend that you didn’t have a life changing experience? Imagine all the things you’ve learnt and how you’ve grown in that time off as you had a baby. Take some time out to think about what you’ve gained from this wonderful time. Most working mothers I know are more brutally efficient with their time & efforts, ensuring that they retain high levels of productivity and yet are able to juggle getting home in time for feeding and bath time. My advice would be to ensure that you informally stay in touch with your team, HR and manager to ensure that there are no major surprises whilst you were away. It’s really important to talk to the latter two about a plan for how to ease your way back into work, before you start. Remember that they want you to succeed as much as you do, so being open about your expectations and concerns as well as theirs will go a long way to smoothing your transition back in to work. Remember also that they don’t know what your time away was like, so don’t assume they know what you are thinking, how you are feeling especially if they seem impatient with you. Do also prepare yourself in some less demanding ways such as some short and light reading on relevant topics to ensure that you are not starting work completely out of the loop.


At this point I would also add that some of my clients have struggled at home with the lack of support they are getting. Being a working mother can be a minefield to navigate, with some husbands/partners being less than keen to support their return to work. Or you could have a mother/mother-in-law who disapproves for the same reason and will constantly harangue you until you eventually fold and behave like a good old-fashioned wife & mother. The nanny might not be someone you trust as much as you’d like. I would suggest having some really candid conversations around this topic and always have a back up in case something goes wrong. This is your career and you can make it work.


There are many more thoughts around this but also make sure you minimize potential stressors such as transport or food for dinner. These can really add to one’s anxiety levels if not prepared, or as prepared as one can realistically be.


Be kind to yourself. Going back to a familiar role yet with different circumstances can really throw one for the loop. Ease in gently. Make sure you acknowledge what is or isn’t working for you and work through these obstacles with compassion for yourself.   It will work out for you.

Credit David Tran @unsplash

Q2:      I had to take a leave of absence because I was ill with work stress, which led to me having a debilitating illness. I’m really worried about relapsing back into my old working habits.


A2:      This is a really tough one. The stress was caused by the constant and persistent pressure created at work and so to return to that atmosphere, looking to pick up from where you left off and not fall back into the traps from before will be hard. That coupled with the anxiety associated with being debilitatingly unwell must really up the ante on the stress scale, thereby further exacerbating the situation. Additionally, the illness itself will have brought about some really difficult emotions within yourself and with your friends and family.


Prior to going back, I would suggest having a good honest look, as well as a real heart-to-heart with yourself. Why were you so stressed previously? What brought this about – was it an event? A person? The workload? Particular behaviours? What were/are your triggers? How did your stress manifest itself? Will you recognize it if you see it again? If you could redo how you did things, what could you change? What can you do to improve things on your return and who do you need to speak to, to ease this transition? What changes can you make mentally and physically to reduce the likelihood of the stress recurring? What support can you get to help you through this process? What else can you do to reduce the stressors in your life, such as review your spending habits? Schedule exercise for a few times a week? Change your eating habits? Organize date nights and meeting with friends more regularly?


It’s amazing that with a little distance and time the amount of clarity that arises. However, it is very easy to get sucked back into the whirlwind that is a demanding job. Do set up structures that support you in your quest to not fall back into drowning mode. Also, start being really honest about what is or isn’t working for you. You may well discover that this really is workable after all, with far less stress. Or perhaps this role or job is no longer the right one for you now.


Q3:      I’ve been made redundant and I’m worried that I won’t be able to find a job, interview well and perform as well as I used to. I am worried that people will judge me as being a loser.


A3:      Being made redundant no longer has the same taboo associations as it used to. Sadly employees are often treated as commodities rather than the talented people that they are, or organisations are forced to make these redundancies due to unfortunate circumstances. Either way, you’re the one affected by this decision.


It is worthwhile remembering that whilst the redundancy is wholly personal to you, more often than not, it was not a personal decision made by management. Even if this is the case, it is important to acknowledge that you are more than just ‘that person who was made redundant’. You have a wealth of personal & professional experience. You have a network of professional and personal contacts.   Go through your CV, update it and remind yourself of all your achievements. How can you ensure that your next potential employers see your strengths and your potential contribution? What else can you do to ‘update’ yourself – is there a course that can help enhance your CV and differentiate you from your competitors? What can your previous experience bring to this new organization? What are you transferable skills? Why did your previous employer choose you for the list – is there any thing you can learn from that? What were your previous appraisals like – can you learn from those and use them to your advantage? What would your ex colleagues say about you?


It is really easy to wind yourself up into a state of frenzied anxiety or defeated gloom. People will be able to smell desperation on you though, so do your homework – on the new company and on your team, but most of all on yourself. The more prepared you are on what your contribution you will make, what benefits you bring, as well as really knowing this deep down within yourself, the more confident you will be when talking to your employers on your skills & attributes. I would also strongly urge you to remember that the interview is a two-way process. You need to know if this new place is the right fit for you or not. By desperately trying to get a job wholly unsuited for you will merely damage your confidence even more.


Returning back to work after a break is a challenge. Your mindset will likely have changed, perhaps subtly, but changed nonetheless. Improving your confidence (a whole topic in itself) will come with greater self-awareness and clarity of thought. These in themselves, as well as actively seeing help and support from friends & family, and professionals, well help ease the trepidation one experiences. Just remember that this time off was not wasted. Things happened and you learnt a lot, no matter how hard. These will contribute to who you are today and what you bring to the workplace.


I hope that some of these abbreviated examples will give you some food for thought and also to remind you that whilst returning to work after time out can be a difficult time, you can do it – with some preparation and support.



Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: info@renoc.co.uk


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