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Destigmatizing Burnout with Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark

After years in a successful and fulfilling career, our guest today experienced serious burnout. At first, she didn’t even know what was happening to her. Because of the shame and negativity surrounding burnout, people don’t always identify it or address it, especially if they are high achievers. And the pandemic has heightened our experiences of burnout. My guest today is Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark; she has been there and now teaches others how to avoid it.

Dr. Rebecca Pope-Ruark has her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Professional Communications and has 17 years experience in teaching undergraduates. She is a writer, a coach to other writers, and a coach to high achievers. She is also working on an amazing book project with Johns Hopkins University Press around this topic of burnout in an attempt to help others identify it, address it, and destigmatize it.

Show Notes:[2:19] – Rebecca reached out to Fatimah a while ago because of a project she was working on and they discovered a mutual connection.[2:57] – Rebecca was a faculty member for 12 years and went through a serious bout of burnout. She ended up having to do some work on herself and made a lot of changes in her life.[3:36] – Coming out of that burnout, Rebecca is now writing a book on the topic. She sees so many signs of burnout in everyone due to the pandemic and election.[4:45] – The book Rebecca is writing is a unique blend of her own story, the stories of other academic women, and some advice chapters, too.[6:10] – The World Health Organization recently defined burnout as a workplace syndrome based on unrelenting stress.[6:29] – The three characteristics of burnout are exhaustion, depersonalization, and the loss of a sense of accomplishment.[7:45] – Once these three things hit at once, you really need to address it and seek support.[8:01] – Rebecca shares the signs of her own burnout. The main sign for her was the unusual feeling of not wanting to be anywhere near her campus or talk to anyone.[8:36] – There are also physical signs that should be monitored for burnout, including sleep issues, food issues, and depression.[9:25] – One of the things that burnout robs you of is connection because you will isolate yourself.[10:20] – For people in higher education, this connection is so important. But once Rebecca started talking about it, she discovered that many others were experiencing it but were not discussing it.[11:45] – Coaching is different from therapy. Therapists try to find the root of the problem but coaching works in the present and helps you try to achieve goals.[13:08] – A coach can help you determine strategies in dealing with your present issues, which could include seeing a therapist.[13:41] – Coaches in a lot of ways are like thinking partners. They aren’t here to solve your problems, they’re here to help you understand your goals and how to move towards them.[16:03] – When you are feeling burnout, Rebecca says it is not a good idea to make huge life decisions while you feel this way. You have to deal with it because running away from the root of the problem will just cause burnout again.[17:24] – Fatimah uses herself as an example when advising us to pause for a moment before stopping completely.[20:00] – Self-care and vacation doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. It could simply mean to pause work and take a step away.[21:01] – If you start to think about the things that you typically love to do in a negative way, that could be a sign of burnout, too. You may start to feel guilty for doing the things you love instead of working.[24:52] – Fatimah shares a concept she discovered through Instagram called community care. Sometimes the care that is needed is beyond what the self can give and others are needed for support.[26:53] – Isolation is one the first things that will happen with burnout, so having some sort of community away from the source is important.[27:40] – In higher education, it feels shameful to have burnout because your reputation is so important.[29:06] – Burnout is a shame and vulnerability issue and for some it can be an identity issue.[31:36] – Being able to talk about it takes a lot of work but it is crucial in coming out of this burnout.[32:12] – Rebecca is writing a book and looking for contributions to the stories within it. She is looking for voices of diversity.[34:25] – The pieces are short (500-800) words about your story. Contributions can even be anonymous or can be an interview.[35:28] – Fatimah announces that Rebecca is one of the speakers at the Genius Retreat! Her session will be about supporting people who are working on their big writing project.[36:24] – Rebecca has 20 years experience as a writer and her session theme is “Getting Unstuck.” She is confident she will be able to answer many questions because of her very broad span of experience in different types of writing.

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Author: Agile Faculty: Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching (University of Chicago Press, 2017)
Co-editor: Redesigning Liberal Education: Innovative Design for a Twenty-First-Century Undergraduate Education, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020)

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