Balancing the Scales: Thriving in a High-Pressure Career Without Burning Out

I was speaking to a mentee of mine who has just started her first job out of university with a law firm. She was thrilled when she got the job because it is one of the top law firms and couldn’t wait to start. What she didn’t anticipate was that 50-hour weeks would become her norm and she would be working weekends.
She is young, hardworking and keen to impress, and of course, wants to go toe-to-toe with her peers and doesn’t want to fall back. She was tired when she was speaking to me and had to cancel our mentoring session as work was calling. This is exactly how it starts; a mentoring session dropped, lunch skipped, weekend activities with friends cancelled, and before you know it, you are burnt out. You hate your job, and you can’t even complain to your friends because they got tired of you putting work before them and ditched you.
The sad thing is, the things that provide you with the insulation against burnout, like a chat with your mentor or a night out with friends, are the very things that are the first to go when the pressure is on. Don’t get me wrong, I live in the real world and know that billable hours are what get you the fat bonus and the promotion, but at what cost? I remember at one point in my life, deciding I was going to incorporate more play into my life, and I looked around, and there was no one to play with after years of neglect.
So how can a young person at the start of their career not get caught up in the crazy hours culture and still strive to live a balanced life where their wellbeing is not compromised but still be successful at work?
First and foremost, setting boundaries is crucial. It might seem daunting, especially when you’re new and eager to prove yourself, but establishing limits on your working hours can prevent burnout. Let your colleagues know your boundaries in a professional manner. For instance, set a time to leave the office each day and stick to it unless there’s an absolute emergency.
Secondly, time management is your best ally. Prioritise tasks and focus on what needs to be done urgently versus what can wait. Make use of productivity tools and techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique, which can help you maintain focus and take necessary breaks.
It’s also important to schedule downtime just as you would a meeting. Treat your personal time with the same importance. Whether it’s a yoga class, dinner with friends, or simply reading a book, ensure you have activities that help you unwind and recharge.
Another key aspect is learning to say no. It’s understandable to want to take on every project and impress your superiors, but overcommitting is a fast track to exhaustion. Evaluate your current workload before agreeing to additional tasks and don’t be afraid to voice when you’re at capacity.
Seek support from your peers and mentors. Share your struggles and seek advice on managing your workload. Often, just talking about your stress can help alleviate it. Additionally, they may offer valuable strategies that worked for them.
Maintaining physical health is equally important. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep are foundational to your overall well-being. Exercise can also serve as a great stress reliever and improve your mood.
Mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools. They help in managing stress and improving focus. Even a few minutes a day can make a significant difference in your mental clarity and emotional resilience.
Lastly, don’t lose sight of your long-term goals. Remember why you chose this career and what you hope to achieve. Keeping the bigger picture in mind can help you navigate the rough patches without losing your enthusiasm and passion for your work.
Balancing a demanding career with personal wellbeing is challenging, but it’s far from impossible. By setting boundaries, managing time effectively, and prioritising your health and personal life, you can achieve success without compromising your well-being. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Your career is a long journey, and it’s essential to take care of yourself along the way.