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Burnout 2.0: What I Didn't Realise I Needed To Do The First Time

Uncategorized Jan 18, 2023

I burned out, badly, in 2013. Yes, your Maths are correct, 10 years ago, and I’m still banging on about it every single day. In January 2013 the physical signs of Burnout really started to take hold of me. By the end of the second week of January, I was taken to the hospital for the first time. The first of many it turns out. And in July 2013 I underwent two operations in 48 hours under two different consultants for two different physical illnesses at two different hospitals, not the greatest week of my life.

And you’d have thought that all of this would be enough to make me see that something needed to change.

It didn’t.

I still hadn’t joined the dots, I still thought I could just carry on as I had been doing. Commuting to London every day, working up to 16 hours a day, spending all weekend with my sons, and then out with friends on a Friday night. I smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, and ate what I wanted when I wanted, and my morning yoga practice had gone out of the window in 2012. Surely this was normal. Surely this was what people at my level and on my salary did. This was the price we paid for being successful right? And this was why many of us retired early or had some sort of midlife crisis in our 50s.

If there is such a thing as a midlife crisis, I had mine just before my 30th birthday, which I hope is definitely not a sign of my ‘midlife’. But it was my ‘is this it’ moment. With only one or two promotions left until I reached the top of the ladder, I began to feel deflated. I had the kids, the husband, the house, and the two cars – the obligatory little two-seater and the large family seven-seater. I had the dog, the all-inclusive holidays each year, the designer gear, and the handbags and shoes that I thought were signs of success. And having it all by 30 made me wonder what was next. 

But I didn’t sit with this for long. I signed up for a cycle across Kenya, because, why not!

In 2011 when I started my new role as HRD, my gut told me to get out on day one. I didn’t. And two years later I couldn’t even stand up, but I was determined to show I was the best that I could be amongst the toxic Exec team and the poisonous consultants, I still wanted to be the ethical and moral voice of reason, and this caused me to push harder and harder. And even as the pain was rushing around my body and I was becoming a regular at A&E and being admitted for longer and longer each time I was taken in, working from my hospital bed (I mean come on!!), I still kept going, because I felt I needed to. And as I look back now, the disconnect between my body and mind was so obvious, and I still couldn’t see it.

Even after the two operations I still didn’t see that anything needed to change. When both consultants at my post-op follow-ups mentioned Burnout I had no idea what they were talking about, and let’s face it, the WHO (World Health Organisation) didn’t recognise it as a thing until 2019,( I’ve always been an early bird!) and if they did explain it to me I didn’t hear them. As far as I was concerned, I’d had the ops, I was better and that was that. Let normal service resume!

And then, my sons came home from school after I’d had a day of laying on the sofa watching mind-numbing TV all day recovering still from the operations, took one look at me and I could see the worry in their faces. My response was quite simply to put a smile on and tell them to not worry, and that I’d be back at work soon and everything would be ok. They sat on the coffee table, took one look at each other, and said the words that were the start of the change “but Mum, we don’t want you to go back to work because your job is killing you”.

Gut-wrenching heartbreak kidney punches anyone!

WTF had I been doing to myself and to my family? 

Not once, even when my family, my sons, my husband, my parents, and my brother and sister, who both flew back from their homes abroad to come and visit me, had I thought about the impact I was having on my family, or on me. Not once. All I could think about was not failing at work. All I was being consumed by was not failing at work.

And so you’d think after all of this I’d make some pretty drastic changes right?

Well, I started to.

First up, I cut off all of my hair and died it blonde.

Then my husband, sons, and I went on a fabulous two-week holiday abroad before I went back to work. Sun, sea, and fun were just what I needed, and I didn’t check my emails once!

And I made the decision to go back to work as me. Not Burned out me, but the real kick-ass me, and of course, I needed a new work wardrobe to show I really meant business.

And I was different at work. I could see the toxicity. I could see how ridiculous I’d been. I could see the issues and the egos in each Exec member and the poisonous consultants and whilst I still fought for change, I didn’t do it to the detriment. And when I realised the poison and toxicity weren’t going anywhere, I did.

At first, I thought I’d just get another job, but then I discovered I wanted to go it on my own with my own consultancy. And that’s the route I went down.

In January 2014 I started my own People and Change consultancy. I had my first clients within a month, I was earning and I was working hard. I had incredible coaching clients and incredible corporate clients and life was good. 

Except it wasn’t.

I learned about the death of my replacement whilst she'd been away on a leadership residential. I then learned I hadn’t been the first, the second, or even the third HRD to become seriously ill as a result of my former employer, and I was filled with needing to fix the problem. I reached out to the CIPD to ask what they do to help HR pros like me, and they told me to speak to my EAP (Employee Assistance Programme), not something I had since I’d gone self-employed.

But something had to be done.

So, I started studying stress, Neuroscience, Hypnotherapy, and Psychotherapy. I went back to all I'd studied in my Psychology degree for tips and clues. I studied yoga and meditation, Reiki and Ayurveda, determined to find clues as to what had led to my burnout and what I could do to help others to experience the same. And I still didn't stop studying after Burnout 2.0 - PhD, empowerment coaching, firewalking instructor, and yoga teacher anyone! I love learning, so I don't think I'll ever stop. The difference between pre-burnout and post-burnout study, however, was that I used to study to feel I had to prove my worth. Now I do it because I want to.

I left my marriage at the end of 2014 when my husband became physically abusive.

I moved house in January 2015.

I quickly started a new relationship, with my now partner (happy 8 years) who also had two sons.

I was building the business, recruiting team members, and taking on new clients, and then in July 2015, I crashed and burned. Burnout 2.0 had struck. By Christmas Eve I wanted all of the noise in my head to stop and I couldn’t get the idea of taking my life out of my head.

I still believe that without all of the learning and training I had done in understanding the brain, I wouldn’t be here.

And it was then, that I realised that something had to change, and I’ve been changing things ever since.

You see, I didn’t recover from my first Burnout. I didn’t allow myself any time or any space to fully recover and I certainly didn’t do the deep inner work that needs to be done, ideally before you get to Burnout but an absolute must afterward.

Perhaps if I’d had a 'Kelly' in my ear talking about what needed to really change, I would have done it. Perhaps if we’d known more about Burnout I would have done it. But the truth is I didn’t. I went from superfast fix it in corporate, to doing exactly the same in my own business. I went from helping others to helping others more. I went from monthly salary to clients (corporate) not paying on time. I went from married to separated. I went from busy to manic.

And I thought doing what I wanted to do and making a difference would take away the ‘stress’ and that everything would be ok. And it wasn’t.

And I see and hear of so many people doing the same thing, jumping from one stress to another without doing the deep inner work that needs to be done if we are truly going to banish burnout from our lives.

The more of this work I do, the more I see the patterns and behaviours repeating in others. When people say they burned out more than once, I know why. When people reach burnout, I know why.

The circumstances are different of course, we’re all different. But the inner drive to be perfect, to fix it, to carry on in environments that don’t serve us and the fact that we lose ourselves in the process remains the same, I’ve never spoken to anyone who’s been any different.

Burnout numbers are rising.

And we can avoid it if we’re prepared to do the inner work. And I think we all need to be digging deep and really understanding who we are because something needs to change. We can’t carry on as we are and expect things to be different. We need to be what’s different if we want things to change. And I don’t mean any of the new year new you BS. But, really understanding who we are, at our core. What drives us, what makes us tick, what’s important to us, what we care about, what are our values and strengths, what brings us joy, and why do we do what we do?

And whilst I’m a HUGE advocate for a yoga retreat in India, you don’t need to leave home to discover all of these answers.

I went searching in courses and programmes looking for the answers as to why I’d burned out the first time around when what I should have done first, was look inward.

All of the learning has been useful and helpful, and it certainly helps me help others through my work. But I had all the answers inside me, and if I’d had gone inward first, I truly believe I would never have arrived at Burnout 2.0.

If you want to know why you’re on the verge of Burnout, look inward. If you want to know how to stop feeling exhausted and overworked, look inward. If you want to know how to be the best leader you can be, look inward.

And if you don’t where to start, look inward.


Kelly works with leaders who are done with being exhausted, overworked, and on the verge of Burnout. She helps them to regain control of their lives so that they have more energy and time for the things that really matter.

 Find out all you need to know about Kelly, her work, coaching, books, and Masterclasses at


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