In honor of Black History Month, we've been reading some of the great books written by four of the talented Black speakers that joined us at our recent Diversity Reboot Summit—because Black History Month isn't just about looking to the past, it's about elevating the Black voices that are helping to build a better present and future.
Have you read any of the books below? Let us know what you think!
By Valerie Jarrett
"The longest-serving senior advisor in the Obama White House shares her experiences as an Iran-born African-American woman as well as a family member, lawyer, public servant and government leader at a dynamic period in American history."
By Carla Harris
Wall Street veteran Carla Harris shares wisdom and actionable insights to help you take the next step in your career.
By Tiffany D. Cross
"A breakout media and political analyst delivers a sweeping snapshot of American Democracy and the role that African Americans have played in its shaping while offering concrete information to help harness the electoral power of the country's rising majority and exposing political forces aligned to subvert and suppress Black voters."
By Dr. Matthew F. Delmont
"Black Quotidian explores everyday lives of African Americans in the twentieth century. Drawing on an archive of digitized African-American newspapers, Matthew F. Delmont guides readers through a wealth of primary resources that reveal how the Black press popularized African-American history and valued the lives of both famous and ordinary Black people. Claiming the right of Black people to experience and enjoy the mundane aspects of daily life has taken on a renewed resonance in the era of Black Lives Matter, an era marked by quotidian violence, fear, and mourning."
I thought about writing this blog piece like one of those quizzes that used to be on the back pages of Seventeen and Cosmo where each question would offer several answers of varying point levels and you'd pick one answer per question, tally up your points at the end, and match your score to one of several possible results.
But then I realized that someone suffering from burnout (or on the cusp of it) probably didn't need more busywork added to their plate.
That's especially true during a pandemic that's already stretching our mental resources thin. An August FlexJobs survey found that 75% of people have experienced burnout at work and 40% have experienced it specifically during the pandemic.
So instead, I've done away with the addition. Here are eight simple yes-or-no questions to ask yourself about burnout. If you respond "yes" to more than one or two of them, proceed from there to the second half of this article, where I've shared tips for healing from burnout and preventing it in the future. If most of your answers are "no," I congratulate you on finding the elusive work-life balance and/or having built a career that works for you and/or finding a supportive company and boss and/or being impervious to the stress that wrecks us lesser beings. In all seriousness, if that's you, please do leave tips for maintaining calm and avoiding burnout in the comments before you close out of this tab and go on with your day.
8 questions to ask yourself about whether you're burning out
Per the World Health Organization, burnout is a work-specific issue defined as a "syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." It goes farther than having a rough day or week and refers to a general sense of exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness at work.
Based on a guide to burnout from the Mayo Clinic, here's what to ask yourself about whether you're burning out:
- Have you been feeling less capable at work?
- Are you feeling more exhausted than usual?
- Would your coworkers or clients say you've been acting more irritable or impatient than normal?
- Do you feel less motivated to do work?
- Have you found it hard to concentrate on your work responsibilities?
- Do you feel less satisfied by your achievements than you have in the past?
- Do you find yourself wanting to call in sick more often?
- Have you experienced physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomach issues?
What to do if you're burned out
You can approach burnout in one of two ways. The first focuses on treatment and the second focuses on prevention. For the highest chance of successfully reducing burnout over time, you should work within both approaches.
First, you can seek to cut it off at its source by fixing the root cause of burnout. Some of those causes and ways to address them include:
- Unclear job expectations. If your role has changed recently or you've gotten a new manager, you might not have a clear idea of what it is that you need to do to succeed, making work feel like an ambiguous mess of stress. To fix it, sit down with your boss and go over what you understand that's expected of you, including key responsibilities and the metrics that will measure how you're doing on them, and ask your boss to correct your understanding or to fill in any gaps.
- Unreasonable pressure. Whether you're regularly asked to complete tight-turnaround work, forced to make do with less resources than you need, or given more work than you can complete, feeling sustained pressure at work can be one of the major factors behind burnout. Flag your situation to your boss, and, if they don't engage well, to your HR liaison, and ask what changes to timelines, processes, schedules, or workflows can be made to make things a little less stressful. This might not be possible in all fields, like for paramedics, for whom no amount of workflow magic will reduce the time pressure they sometimes face, so keep that in mind, too.
- Unfair treatment. If you're facing workplace issues like bullying, favoritism, or being underpaid for your work, it's not surprising that you're having a hard time feeling fulfilled by it. These are some of the thorniest issues to unpack at work, but if you think you can do so without further endangering your mental health or job security, you owe it to yourself to try. Bring it up in your next one-on-one with your manager or consider going directly to another manager in your department or to HR if it's your manager that is the problem.
- Overall lack of job satisfaction. Have you ever felt fulfilled at work? If not—if this bout of burnout is just a more intense version of the malaise you've long felt upon starting your workday—consider switching your job. Do some serious reflection on what kind of work has made you feel satisfied and look at job boards to see what else is out there. If you're going to spend the majority of your waking hours working, try to make sure you're not stuck in a role that drains your energy and gives you nothing in return.
Second, you can reduce feeling burned out by changing how you react to stress. Even the best job will include some tough moments, and you need to have a robust mental toolkit for responding to them. Keep this advice for approaching stress in mind:
- Set boundaries. You're paid to do a specific job—not to worry about that job for every second of every day. Utilize notification settings for Slack, email, and work calls to make sure that you're not getting dragged into work updates after work hours. Set up a system that works for you and don't feel bad about using it. The email can wait.
- Prioritize activities that give you energy, especially if your work doesn't. It's not enough to just stop working and expect energy to flood your system anew. You need to identify the things that bring you that sense of excitement and joy, whether that's cooking, reading, talking with a friend, working out, meditating, or being creative. Set up your day so that you always have time to do something just for you at the start or end of every work day.
- Treat yourself like you would a baby. No, not with mobiles and pacifiers but yes with serious commitment to your basic human needs. It's maddeningly simple: getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, being connected to loved ones, and taking care of your brain (like via meditation and therapy) are the building blocks for a stable mental and physical state that lets you respond to stress without it taking over your life.
Note that neither approach includes advice like "take a vacation."
Getting a few days' respite from your problems won't make them go away, and even if two weeks off was enough to soothe your stress and re-energize you, you'll just feel depleted and burned out all over again when the vacation high has faded.
To really address burnout in your life, you need to find a healthy work environment with clear expectations, good communication with your manager and team, and fair treatment, and cultivate a personal approach to work and life that prioritizes your mental and physical wellbeing. It might seem like to fix work burnout, you have to put in even more work. That's true. You do.
But let me tell you: it is so thoroughly worth it.
If you've found a dearth of things to thing look forward to in 2020, well... you're not alone.
To help remedy that, we've put together a list of 8 books coming out this year to help you find the motivation you need to close 2020 on a high note!
On Taking Risks—at Work and Beyond
Undaunted by Kara Goldin (October 20)
Ready to move from ideas to action? Kara breaks down how you can overcome doubts (and your doubters) to build better products, brands, and companies!
Unapologetically Ambitious by Shellye Archambeau (October 6)
One of the first Black women to become a CEO in Silicon Valley, Shellya shares a blueprint for how you can achieve your professional and personal goals by recounting her own struggles and triumphs as a mom, wife, and ambitious professional.
Uncharted by Margaret Heffernan (September 8)
Ideal for these turbulent times, entrepreneur, CEO, and TED speaker Margaret Heffernan offers tips for preparing for and navigating uncertainty—from people who aren't daunted by it.
On Building Kinder, More Inclusive Workplaces
Building for Everyone by Annie Jean-Baptiste (August 18)
The head of Google's product inclusion team, Annie shares case studies and personal experiences to teach us how to incorporate diversity and inclusion in product design, ensuring that the products we create work for everyone.
Can't Even by Anne Helen Petersen (September 22)
Feeling burnt out? Join the club. Previously a senior culture writer at Buzzfeed, Anne Helen Petersen has seen millennial burnout firsthand—now she's offering strategies for individuals, societies, and companies to prevent it.
Do Good at Work by Bea Boccalando (November 24)
If you feel lost and demotivated at work, you're not alone. Bea Boccalando presents a framework to help workers break free from work that feels meaningless... without quitting their jobs! Learn the art and science of job purposing to unlock fulfillment at work.
Trampled by Unicorns by Maëlle Gavet (September 29)
Gavet explores the lack of empathy in big tech and shares steps the industry can take to course correct and have a positive impact on the world.
Confessions from Your Token Black Colleague by Talisa Lavarry (August 21)
Diversity and inclusion consultant Talisa Lavarry shares stories of the discrimination she's faced in her career, and lessons for building more equitable workplaces.
I'm assuming you're with me in spending copious hours consuming various forms of media lately. Whether that's watching cartoons with your kids, putting on the latest Netflix series to drown out the soul-sucking ennui native to long-term social distancing, joining virtual watch parties to connect with friends and family from afar, or listening to new playlists to keep yourself entertained as you scrub the ever-present pile of dishes in the sink, I'd bet we're all finding ourselves more mired in media than usual.
But the media landscape is one particularly vulnerable to gender-based discrimination. A McKinsey report found that while entry-level women in media are well-represented, there's a dearth of women at senior levels, meaning that the people green-lighting projects, directing movies, producing TV series, and leading media strategies are, more often than not, men. That gap is even more serious when it comes to women of color.
Per the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State University, for the 100 top-grossing films of 2019, women only made up:
- 26% of producers
- 20% of writers
- 23% of editors
- 12% of directors
- and 2% of cinematographers
But there's hope: when women are in those leadership roles, more women are employed throughout a show or movie's production. A 2019 study found that movies with at least one female director employed greater percentages of women in the rest of the production than films helmed by men.
So while I'm consuming more media than normal, I'm doing my best to make sure that media was made by women. I'm keeping myself entertained while also contributing to supporting women's equality, and that's what I've come to call productivity in this new normal. Here is an incomplete list of my favorite women-created media right now:
Never Have I Ever | Netflix
This Mindy Kaling-created teen dramedy centers around an Indian-American high school student, played by Tamil-Canadian rookie actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who's trying to lose her virginity while also processing her father's untimely death. Both subjects are handled with grace, humor, and genuine thoughtfulness, and the writing is far more clever than your average teen sitcom (here's looking at you, Riverdale). The casting is diverse without being typecast, and that's an extra bonus.
Insecure | HBO
The fourth season of this series created, produced, and written by (and starring) comedy phenom Issa Rae focuses on the love lives, family drama, and professional arcs of a group of black friends living in LA and just trying to get it together. Come for the incredible dialogue, and stay for the meaningful reflection on growth and change in relationships.
Run | HBO
Phoebe Waller-Bridge (and Vicky Jones) produced this sexy thriller, so if that's not reason enough to watch, did you not love Fleabag or do you hate all good things? The general premise is a surprise reunion of two ex-lovers (with truly believable tension, thanks to excellent performances by Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson) that lets viewers figure out exactly what's happening, episode by episode.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire | Hulu
This French historical drama technically came out in 2019, but it just hit American Hulu this month, so I say it counts for this round-up. The romantic (and incredibly lushly filmed) story follows the relationship between a lady of high society and the painter commissioned to make a portrait of her. It was directed and written by Céline Sciamma and features a female cinematographer and producer, to boot.
Selah and the Spades | Amazon Prime
This movie takes place at Haldwell, a made-up boarding school in Pennsylvania populated by mob-like cliques of power-seeking teens, and features a complicated drug trade, plenty of drama, and a black woman seeking to take control of her own destiny. Directed and written by Tayarisha Poe, the movie—Poe's first feature film—is incredibly watchable.
The Half of It | Netflix
Technically, I haven't seen this movie yet—it comes out on May 1, and I had to have this copy in ahead of that date—but just read this Netflix-provided synopsis and tell me you're not dying to watch: "A shy, introverted, Chinese-American, straight-A student finds herself helping the school jock woo the girl they both secretly love." And the film is written, directed, and produced by Alice Wu, who wrote her first screenplay while working as a software engineer for Microsoft. We love a multi-talented directing queen!
Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa
Unlike her debut album, Dua Lipa's sophomore release, which came out in April, is all hers—she has a writing credit on every song. While the record remains fully within the pop realm with lots of tracks that will be well-suited to a dance floor, if we're ever allowed on those again, there are also references to feminism, violence against women, and the importance of community.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple
If not album of the year, definitely album title of the year, no? Apple's latest release came as a surprise, dropping on April 17th to much fan excitement, and features experimental percussion along with exploration of themes of confinement, power, and speaking out.
Savage Remix (Feat. Beyoncé) by Megan Thee Stallion
Even overexposure to the chorus of this incredibly empowering hit via TikTok dance barrage couldn't stop me from thoroughly loving the remix, which came out on April 29th and set the music world (hell, the entire world) aflame. The song is a true remix, featuring four new verses and plenty of Beyoncé rapping, which is really what I needed to get to the end of this week.
Did I miss your favorite new women-helmed shows, movies, or musical releases? Please share in the comments! I have alllll the streaming services and nothing but time to indulge in them.