The Happy Engineer Podcast

079: Career Burnout Recovery and Prevention Secrets with Michael Levitt – Chief Burnout Officer

Have you experienced BURNOUT? Are you there now? Why are more engineers than ever before feeling burned out?

In this episode, you will meet the Chief Burnout Officer himself, Michael Levitt. Previously a leading healthcare executive managing $2 billion dollar budgets, he is now a global thought leader on workplace culture.

Michael experienced a massive burnout of his own in 2009, where over a period of 369 days, the following happened:

– A heart attack that should’ve killed him.
– Lost his job during the economic recession.
– Had his car repossessed.
– And had his home foreclosed.

Talk about a year of worst-case scenarios! Yet Michael sees this as a positive, because it gave him a second chance to rebuild from scratch, and learn how to prevent burnout permanently.

He’s going to bring that wisdom and actionable insights for daily life to build your career without suffering burnout.

So press play and let’s chat… so you can avoid your own year of worst-case scenarios!

>> Then join The Happy Engineer Community online and get access to bonus content and coaching in our free group >>



The Happy Engineer Podcast




Previous Episode 078: From Half-Dressed in a Ditch to Senior Partner & Board Member in 3 Years with Tommy Breedlove – Legendary CEO




“I quit going to the games.”

That statement from Michael might be one of the most important things we talked about today. 

What that is is a huge red flag for burnout in your life. 

No more joy in the things that he used to love.

I want to tell you about my own experience with burnout in my life. 

Bit of context first, I love dancing (hence the moniker “dancing nerd”). I did ballroom, Latin and swing dancing competitively in college at Purdue Boiler Up.

But one of the things that I found going on in my life as I began to approach that season of burnout and rock bottom in my career and in my life was that I began to disengage from those activities that I loved.

When I would go dancing, I didn’t enjoy it as much. I would show up at a ballroom social dance party and keep to myself. I wasn’t having as much fun.

This is what happens when you’re so overwhelmed, overworked, frustrated, stuck that even when you do the things you love, you don’t enjoy it.

Or worse, like Michael, you’ve quit doing them all together. 

Then I want you to recognize right now that is a really important signal from your nervous system, from your emotional life to pay attention and start making changes. 

Now let me address a really common piece of feedback that I hear from engineering leaders.

“Oh, Zach, I hear you, but this is a time of my life where I really want to focus on my career, and I just don’t have that many hobbies. I really love my work. I want to work this many hours, and I’m cool with it.”

Well, let me just tell you that even Michael Jordan took breaks between training sessions to go play golf during his prime.

Even the best of the best in any domain of life need recreation. 

Something in your life that helps you to unplug and recreate yourself to re-energize yourself. 

It’s a non-negotiable. 

If you are feeling a lack of energy, satisfaction, and happiness in doing the things that you used to love, or you’ve stopped making time for them altogether, I want you to know that is a red flag and you may be on a road toward burnout.

The time to take action is before you actually hit rock bottom.

Burnout begins the moment that you are burning fuel faster than you’re refilling the tank. 

If you are not in a lifestyle that is consistently re-energizing, recreating and refueling the energy of your life, not just physically through sleep and exercise and nutrition, but also mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and in relationships.

If you’re not refilling at the pace that you’re burning energy to go create results in your career and in other areas, then you are already on the road to burnout and don’t miss these signs.

Take action today. 

If you’re connecting with this conversation, reach out. Let’s get a call set up. My team is here to support you.

If you resonate with any of this, the best time to build momentum and change the trajectory of your career and life is well before you hit rock bottom. 

Let’s do this.



Michael Levitt is the founder & Chief Burnout Officer of The Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout media firm. He is an in-person and Certified Virtual Speaker, a Certified NLP and CBT Therapist, a Fortune 500 consultant, bestselling author, and hosts the Breakfast Leadership Show, a top 200 podcast on iTunes. Michael‘s A Top 20 Global Thought Leader on Culture with Thinkers360. and a former Healthcare executive, overseeing $ 2 Billion budgets.




Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Happy engineers! Welcome back. So glad you’re here. And Michael, what a pleasure to have the Chief Burnout Officer in the house today. Thanks for making time to be on the show, man. 

[00:00:11] Michael Levitt: My pleasure. Looking forward to our conversation. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:14] Zach White: Michael, you are one of the world’s leading experts when it comes to burnout, recovery, and prevention.

[00:00:21] Zach White: And if there is any topic that Zach White and the Oasis of Courage my company Oaco focuses on with our clients, it is exactly that and I’m so pumped to extract. Your wisdom, all the amazing things you do with your company, but also you know your story around that. But why don’t we start first just getting on the same page about what is burnout it.

[00:00:47] It’s such a common phrase. Everybody talks about it, but I think there’s a lot of different understandings. So would you describe for us, like what is burnout? What does it look like in a post pandemic world that we’re. 

[00:01:00] it’s basically you’re overwhelmed with life.

[00:01:03] Michael Levitt: You’re just fatigued. You’re mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually drained. You’re unable to keep up with the demands of life and. Especially over these last couple years, there’s been a lot of demands thrown at us, whether it’s navigating through a pandemic, your work situation, am I working remotely?

[00:01:22] Do I have to go in? Is it hybrid? You know, how is all of that work? Then toss in now inflation and all kinds of other things going on around the world. it’s just overwhelming and I think that’s why we’re seeing the number of people identifying with being burned. Just dramatically increasing, which is very sad to see.

[00:01:45] Zach White: Michael, do you think. The overwhelm is a consistent external experience, meaning people who are ex, they’re feeling burned out. Their actual reality is, looks a certain way, right? Way more on the to-do list than they can handle, et cetera, or. Is it something that’s internal? Maybe there’s a huge variety of external factors, but the common thread is how it’s felt and experienced, or is it both?

[00:02:12] How would you describe that? I 

[00:02:14] Michael Levitt: would say it’s both, but it’s heavily slanted towards internal. And the reason being is you could have two people, let’s say two engineers working in a department, same roles, same workloads. One of those individuals are burning out the other one. And you’re going, okay, what’s, what’s the difference here?

[00:02:32] And a lot of it is just past programming, their thoughts, their beliefs, their habits, how they react to things. some of the people that I’ve worked with, it’s one of the reasons why I became certified in NLP and C B T therapy was Sure. Yeah, time and time again, I kept seeing the same situations where the reason why an individual was burned out was based on their, their habits, their beliefs, the language they tell themselves and the programming.

[00:03:00] To kind of dive into that a little bit, just their upbringing, or their experiences in work or in home life, and they think this is how it’s supposed to be and they build their life off of that supposed to be world. Sometimes that can put you into some difficult, challenging situations. So you, you need to look at that and figure out, okay, what, you know, what is that?

[00:03:23] Why do you feel that is important? if you, yes, look at something differently. , how would that be? So that’s one of the biggest things. Yes, there’s external factors and we’re, we’re seeing it now with the great resignation and quiet quitting. There’s a lot of people that are maybe working a little bit more than they’re used to because maybe their staff has shrunk a little bit and they have to pick up the workload of a couple people.

[00:03:49] So not only was your workload long, now all of a sudden you’re dealing with your departed colleagues work. And it’s just overwhelming and that that’s the external component of it. Yeah. 

[00:04:00] Zach White: That’s aligns really well with the same thing that we see and people ask me a lot, I’m sure you get asked all the time too, Michael, what causes burnout?

[00:04:09] And it’s hard to create an external list of specific factors because to your point, that internal environment really changes a person’s resilience and ability to prevent those external factors from. That internal experience of burnout and what it actually does and how it affects them. So I think that’s good context.

[00:04:31] And before I leap into the programming conversation and some of those tools and ideas that I know every engineering leader needs to understand to help prevent and eliminate burnout in their life, I wanna go back really quick into your story and just set the stage a bit. So take us to the early two thousands.

[00:04:51] At that time you were working as a healthcare executive. Correct. And maybe tell us like what was the, the peak, if there was a moment where everything was going the best that it had ever gone. You were on top of the world living the dream as a healthcare exec, what would that moment be?

[00:05:07] Zach White: Does any story or part of your, your work history stand out as like this was the pinnacle? Yeah. 

[00:05:14] Michael Levitt: After what I refer to my year of worst case scenarios, there was a pinnacle where. Was able to get expansion funding for our clinic and bring on additional staffing, which allowed us to see more patients, which helped improve the quality of healthcare in a very underserviced area, which I, I look back at that time and I think that was great and I wasn’t alone in being able to do that work.

[00:05:39] You know, took the. Work of a lot of other people, but that was one of those proud moments where I’m like, I’m, I’m really thrilled that I went through what I went through and then was able to recover and rebuild. Yeah. So that was the highlight, the dark period, as I like to refer to it as my year of worst case scenarios.

[00:05:59] Uh, started back in 2007 where I was hired as a healthcare executive for a startup healthcare clinic. Okay. Okay. And. I had never worked in healthcare before. I had startup experience and business experience. I worked in IT and finance for a long, long time, and here I am leading a healthcare organization and I had no idea what the heck I was doing.

[00:06:21] So there was a lot of learning to be done. Yeah. and I was there for a year before I found out why they hired me. 

[00:06:28] Zach White: Okay. I was just gonna ask what was. The reason for that transition and why they chose Michael. So I’m curious, what was that? Yeah. 

[00:06:36] Michael Levitt: For them they realized, one, the startup experience was really helpful because when you’re in a startup and you know, anybody that’s ever launched a business knows what that’s like.

[00:06:44] It’s mm-hmm , there’s, you’re doing everything and everything’s coming at you a bunch of different ways and you’re figuring things out as you go. And I was able to do that and. Experience in startup organizations. So they knew that I was gonna be able to, quite frankly, learn what I needed to learn and I’d learn it quickly, which I did, which was, you know, helpful.

[00:07:02] And I was in that industry for over a decade. So, you know, I learned something along the way. But in this role, because you’re in a startup, and even though I was an employee, I was treating the organization as if it was mine, there’s some things that’s positive about that, but there’s also some negative, and unfortunately, the negative took a big toll on me where I was basically working from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM seven days a week for two solid years.

[00:07:30] And when you do that, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. 

[00:07:32] Zach White: Yeah. 6:00 AM 6:00 AM. 11:00 PM to 11:00 PM seven days a week. Yeah. Holy cow. Michael, do you, did you have a family or anything else going on in life at that time? 

[00:07:46] Michael Levitt: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. A wife. Uh, three small children. Oh my goodness. Yeah. So there a lot going on and you know, the weekends weren’t as, Chaotic, but I was still in that, plugged in, plugged in.

[00:07:59] I had a very proactive board of directors. You could also use the phrase, micromanage, you could use the phrase, it’s a very kind way to say that. I, I, I’ll say proactive and, you know, the, the board chair who was, basically the one that, you know, worked with quite a bit, you know, he has since passed away.

[00:08:16] Michael Levitt: And I don’t talk, I, I’ve never talked to all of him and I’m certainly not gonna do it now that he’s no longer here. Yeah. but. Proactive. We’ll, we’ll leave it at that. Okay. In this role because I was tasked with recruiting physicians, hiring staff, navigating, funding and, and educating the community on why our clinic was better than the other clinics that were already in town.

[00:08:39] And I just never shut off. I was always on the go, and it took a pretty big toll on me. In May of 2009, uh, kicked off what I call my year of worst case scenarios. So in a period of a. And all of these happened to me because I was burned out, and we’ll, we’ll dive into the signs of burnout momentarily, but in a year’s time, from May, 2009 to May, 2010, the following happened to me.

[00:09:06] I had a heart attack that should have killed me. 17 weeks later, I lost my job, and this was during the great. and I was outside. I was across the border in Canada, across the border from Detroit, Michigan. If you recall, the auto sector had to be bailed out by the government because General Motors filed bankruptcy.

[00:09:28] Chrysler was pretty close. Ford was limping along. But needless to say, when you have a big sector and that sector is failing, the ancillary sectors are going. Either fail or they’re definitely not gonna be hiring anybody. So there’s no jobs to be found. So here I am 17 weeks after a cardiac event and now unemployed.

[00:09:49] And then it took, of course, several months to find a new role, which required a relocation. And once I, was able to find a new role, about four and a half hours away, know, I started working up there. Family was still back in the area we were living in for a while until we found a place to rent up there.

[00:10:08] And I got a phone call from my oldest daughter who was 10 at the time, and she told me that the bank had come and towed away our family vehicle. So our family vehicle had been repossessed. When you’re on unemployment for a long period of time and you’re on heart medication, that costs a thousand dollars a month out of pocket, you have to make choices.

[00:10:27] Do I feed the family? Take these medications to keep me alive, or do I make the car payment and the house payment, I’m not gonna condemn anybody for choosing the, the medication and the food. Wow. And we worked with our creditors and they were great. But you have to understand, this was during the great recession, a lot of people going on.

[00:10:45] Yeah. So the banks had to, you know, had to pull the plug on that. And I’m, I was never upset with the bank. I don’t blame them. I banked with them since I, I no Ill will to them. Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t meet up to the. they agreed to give me funding to be able to buy a car. I didn’t make the payments.

[00:11:02] They took the car. I don’t, I’m not mad at them. That’s, 

[00:11:05] Zach White: and so you’re four hours away, you get a call from your daughter mm-hmm. , this happened? Yeah. And, and. Wow. Okay. And 

[00:11:13] Michael Levitt: that, that was a tough one. And then after that, it’s like a bad movie, man. Exactly. You know? And then the, you know, the next scene, which was a few weeks later, we found a place to rent.

[00:11:22] So we moved the family and we forgot our daughter’s bunk bed ladder. So I was going back to that area the following weekend to visit with some family and friends and tidy up a couple account. just before closing things down cause we were moving from the area completely. So I go back by the house and go to open up the front door and I see the biggest padlock in my life on the front door and a small sticker on the door that said foreclosure.

[00:11:49] So let me rewind here in a year, heart attack, job loss, car repossession, home fore. All in year, my goodness. And all of those things happened because I was burned out. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was making mistakes at. Yeah, obviously 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM seven days a week is not sustainable. and when you’re working those hours, you’re not exactly getting in any exercise in your food choices.

[00:12:13] They’re typically ordering into a microphone, driving around the corner, paying for the quote unquote food and getting handed a brown bag. you know, I set myself up for failure and thankfully I survived. And 

[00:12:26] Zach White: yeah, no doubt or so, Michael, take. In, I mean, there’s, we could pick any one of those moments.

[00:12:33] Mm-hmm. , they’re all hard individually to back, to back to back deal with them. But the heart attack is what kicked off this rude awakening that life isn’t working for me right now. Is that right? So can you tell us what, what was happening in your mind and in your soul during that time? Like that’s really traumatic.

[00:13:00] By itself. So like what happened? Were you driving in a car? Were you at work? Were you at home? Was it while you were sleeping? Like tell us a little bit about the experience of 

[00:13:09] Michael Levitt: that. Yeah, yeah. The cardiac event, it was a Monday night and I was mowing my front lawn and I had an electric lawn moer cuz gas prices were expensive then.

[00:13:17] Kind of like what they are right now. And I had electric lawnmower, but this mower was really heavy and bulky. And I mowed one row and then I turned the lawn mower to start mowing another row. And I felt this really sharp pain in my chest. And it literally, I thought I pulled a muscle because again, this thing was bulky and it hurt really bad.

[00:13:38] So, I decided, okay, I can’t finish. So I was able to get the, mower in the backyard and then I took some pain medication and the pain went away unless I lifted something with my right arm, I’m left-handed. So I don’t usually lift a lot with my right arm. so the week progressed and again, no. Or discomfort unless I lifted something with my right arm. And then Thursday night of that week, I went out to dinner at a local family restaurant that had and all you could eat special. And I took them up on that and ate all kinds of fried, greasy, really bad for you, but really tasty food and washed it down with a few adult beverages.

[00:14:17] And then that night I went to bed and about an hour and a half or so after I fell asleep, I woke back up with that pain that I had on Monday night, but it was a thousand times worse. again, not thinking anything, thinking, okay, you just ate all that fried food and that’s probably what you’re dealing with.

[00:14:35] So I went to the bathroom, found some Tums, chew a couple of those who was able to fall asleep. So Friday morning I wake. And that pain that I’ve been feeling intermittently was persistent. It wasn’t going away. So I went into work, which reminder was a medical clinic, and after working about 45 minutes, I’m like, okay, this pain’s not going anywhere.

[00:14:56] So I talked to the lead physician. I said, come here for a second. I ask you a question. So he said, all right. So he went in my office and I explained to him what had happened that week, and he said, well, let’s just listen. So Stethoscope listened to it. I said, you know what? I’m not sure, but we’ve got the EKG equipment here.

[00:15:12] Why don’t we just run a couple tests just to make sure everything’s okay. So it probably won’t take too long. It’s like, okay, that’s fine. So they get the procedure room set up. I go into, the room and of course this is 2009. So just to kind of frame the, the timing of it and you know, socially accepted.

[00:15:30] Thanks. Well, the staff started making sexual harassment jokes because their boss was taking his clothes off at work in front of them. So they’re all cracking jokes. I’m as red as a tomato, again, not thinking anything. And finally, after the last, it’s, oh, okay, let’s, let’s get this focus. So they hook up all the electrodes and they run the test and they look at the results and they’re like, this doesn’t look.

[00:15:53] So I said, you know what, let’s run the test again. So they disconnected all the electrodes, put ’em back on again, ran the test again, and then the results were the same. So they faxed off the, results over to the hospital and, the cardiologist, Dr. Gina that was over there, called back a few minutes later and said, tell Michael to get his butt in the hospital right now and he can’t drive.

[00:16:14] so that’s when I realized, Okay, something is amis here and with my heart and mm-hmm. , you know, then I get in there and then, they determine that I had, couple blocked arteries. Uh, in the left, in, let’s see, it’s the left interior descending artery. Say that 10 times real fast, but that artery has a nickname.

[00:16:34] Michael Levitt: It’s called the widow. because typically if people have blockages in that artery and they have a heart attack, they are being viewed and not seen. but thankfully I survived it they put in the stents and life has been golden ever since. 

[00:16:51] Zach White: So Michael, first of all, so glad you’re with us and what a miraculous outcome for something that could have.

[00:16:58] Really, really bad. I mean, it did go really bad, but it could have been even worse. And I think it’s important for all of us, to have a, a pause and that awareness moment that these conversations about burnout and how your work life can. Your life.

[00:17:18] Mm-hmm. in a really negative way if you’re not paying attention. and just get humbled around that and make sure that you’re being very intentional to take this seriously. Right. And so would you back up even, you know, three months or six months before that event? Mm-hmm. , did it ever cross your mind that you could be days away from a widow maker event?

[00:17:39] Had that ever crossed your radar before it happened? 

[00:17:43] Michael Levitt: No, I knew that I was, really wiped out. I didn’t know that I was burned out. Everybody else around me did. I was just blissfully unaware of it and really had never focused on the topic of burnout before. even though I worked in healthcare, it was never.

[00:18:01] An item that came across my desk or radar, never read an article about it or anything like that. And, when it happened, and then I had, thankfully those 17 weeks in between the cardiac event and then ultimately losing the next. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. cuz I, I was on a short term disability leave.

[00:18:21] That 17 weeks allowed for me to do a lot of reflection and healing, because at first I had no energy. because the medications that they initially put me on, literally knocked me down. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, full stop. I had to take a nap. I don’t care. It was basically like a five minute warning.

[00:18:43] Wow. It’s like I gotta go lay down and take. so, I, I did, and then I called the doctor. I’m like, um, I don’t know which one of these medications are making me wanna take a nap, but, we need to change something because I’m not down with this. This is not gonna work. I, I. Naps are great.

[00:19:01] Love ’em. Usually take ’em on Saturday afternoons during college football season. But other than that, not during every, every day of the week, it’s like, you know, most organizations don’t have siestas, at least in North America anyway. Right, right. You know, other parts of the world. Yes. But not, not so much here.

[00:19:19] Uh, so that was one of the things that, you know, I realized, okay, this isn’t gonna work. But it, that period allowed me to do a lot of healing, a lot of reflect. And then of course the other dominoes started to fall. And I think having that time to reflect and start the mental process of, okay, let’s revisit how I’m living.

[00:19:43] Cuz obviously it’s not working. Yes. And I think that helped me go through what I went through later on. But there, there’s one thing I wanna say to go back real quick on, no matter how important you are, I was the leader of this organization.

[00:19:58] I nearly died and they replaced me almost automatically. So if you’re working for your company and you were giving your life and your meaning and your wellbeing for your. Please stop. It’s not worth it. It’s, I’m, I’m sorry. it’s one of those things, Because we see it in generations, you know, a lot of generations, especially the older ones that, you know, when you ask, say, what do you do?

[00:20:26] You know, or Who are you? And you say, well, I’m an accountant, or I’m an engineer, or I’m a this. We identify as ourselves with the job we have and not who we are. Yeah. And yeah, that needs to shift and we’re starting to see that a bit. Although a lot of people, you know, you’re getting your thirties, forties, and fifties.

[00:20:47] That might be a difficult question to ask yourself. It’s like, well, who am I? And. You know, I’m a, I’m a thriver and a survivor and I, I prefer to thrive than survive, but I, I got the tool bag for both. 

[00:20:59] Zach White: So cutting decades off your life for your employer is not worth it. Hard stop. Michael, something else you said that I think is super important, and I see this way more often than anybody would think.

[00:21:15] It’s one of those, hard to predict or, uh, it’s irrational in our minds. We wouldn’t assume this, that people assume I will be the first one to know if I’m burning. It’s my life. It’s my energy, it’s my decision. It’s, you know, I’m the one who’s doing this. Maybe I love to work long hours. This is working for me.

[00:21:37] I’m happy with it. I don’t mind traveling and eating fast food all the time or whatever, whatever. But you made a comment that other people saw that you were burning out before you were aware of it. And I want you to tell us really quick, what did they see, or what kind of feedback did they get? Because I, I agree that this happens way more often than people think, where the people who are around you and who love.

[00:21:59] Or even just colleagues see the signs of burnout before you’re aware of them, and people are shocked by that. So how did that manifest for you? for 

[00:22:09] Michael Levitt: me it was, they noticed, one, I was short-tempered. I stopped going to things that I enjoyed doing. I was a seasoned ticket holder for the Detroit Tigers, and this was back when they had gone to the World Series in 2006.

[00:22:26] They. A playoff team for several. And I had season tickets. And when you have season tickets, that gives you a parking pass that gives you the ticket, that gives you food vouchers, that gives you beer vouchers or pop or soda pop, whatever it is. Vouchers. You just have to show up. You’ve already paid for the tickets.

[00:22:47] You go there, good evening Mr. Levitt. Beautiful day today. And you go to your seat and you go hand in some tickets and you get your food and beverage. And you enjoy the game? I love baseball. I’ve loved it ever since I was a little kid. my original career in public accounting was because of baseball cards, because I bought a pack of tops baseball cards, and I looked at the stats on the back and I was trying to figure out how to make those numbers, and that’s how, and that’s how I figured it out.

[00:23:15] That’s awesome. And so that was my original career. So I loved the game. I quit going to the games. Mm-hmm. , and that was a big warning sign for all my friends, my brother, you know, I had tickets with, and he is like, yeah, you’re just wiped out. You know, you, you’re not doing things enjoying. Then of course started making mistakes at work and just was overwhelmed and not sleeping well.

[00:23:37] Unable to recognize things and that’s one of the. With burnout, I had to jump ahead into the signs. Let’s do, let’s do is if there’s one. Cuz everybody’s like, okay, what’s something I can do to help prevent burnout? It’s like, well, there’s a lot of things you can do, but if you’re going gonna commit to one thing, Commit to getting better sleep because that helps a lot if you don’t get good sleep, your cognitive ability is impacted.

[00:24:03] Your relationships, your digestive system, your health, everything gets impacted if you’re not getting good sleep. And I know a lot of people have not been sleeping well for some time and it’s not just I’ve had a bad night’s sleep. No. It’s like I’ve. Bad months of sleep and they’re like, okay, what’s going on?

[00:24:20] That’s, you gotta focus on that because when we sleep, that’s when our body does the repair work of all the damage that we do to ourselves on a daily basis. I don’t care how healthy you are, how much exercise, if you eat nothing but kale, salads, whatever. Sure. We still do damage to ourselves from the air we breathe, the foods we consume, the information that.

[00:24:43] Sent to us, whether it’s from a work situation, relationships, the news, doesn’t matter what flavor of news you watch, it’s all negative. You, you keep consuming negative things. What does that do? That adds stress to you, and prolonged stress turns into burnout. So I always tell people, limit your exposure to news.

[00:25:01] I mean, don’t live in a cave, but just have some boundaries around what you consume, protect your wellbeing. And when you. You can sleep a little bit better if you get better sleep. . It doesn’t eliminate stress, but it helps you at least navigate around it or through it a little bit better. And again, with your, especially with the cognitive ability in, in engineering, you need to be able to hundred percent analyze things, process it, calculate it, make determinations on what to do.

[00:25:31] If you’re in a fog, you’re looking at those things. And if you’re looking at a spreadsheet or you’re looking at, you know, some data, the numbers are bouncing. And you’re like 

[00:25:40] Zach White: in a world where you’re competing against engineering leaders from the whole planet for your position, a 5% drop in your performance cuz of brain fog is a big deal, let alone a 25 or 50% with some of the things that can happen.

[00:25:54] Absolutely. So let’s keep pulling this thread, Michael. I think that’s a great. Transition. You mentioned the science of burnout and some of the things that can happen. And by the way, I totally agree on the sleep piece. I, I kid with engineers, we have the acronym and professional life of being an sme, a subject matter expert.

[00:26:09] Mm-hmm. . And I said, that’s great, but you need to be a different kind of SME in your life. You need to sleep. Move and eat the right way. You know, like those three things are so important and Tom Rath has the great book on those three topics if somebody wants a quick winner. why don’t you break down for us, and I know we can’t cover the whole body of work that Michael Levitt brings to the table on burnout in one conversation.

[00:26:29] But if there were some really critical. Inputs on the prevention side that we really need to get right, or the things not to do. You know, the, because of what you know about the science of burnout, avoid these things. take it wherever you wanna take it, but help us understand what are those key actions.

[00:26:47] That an engineering leader needs to start paying attention to if they wanna avoid this. Yeah, 

[00:26:51] Michael Levitt: I love the eat and we’ll definitely talk about the SME too, but the EAT component. Last year I had a food intolerance test done and they tested me on over 250 types of foods and I was surprised that there were some foods that I normally consum.

[00:27:08] That my body had an intolerance to, not necessarily an allergy, but an intolerance. and what I did is I started eliminating those foods from my diet. And guess what happened? My digestive system improved. And your digestive system tends to work a lot at night while you’re sleeping. So imagine this, you’re an engineering, you’re working with some data, and you’re putting in garbage code.

[00:27:32] Well, what’s gonna happen? And it’s gonna be garbage. You’re gonna have a lot of problems. If you’re putting in code that the system is expecting, it’s gonna naturally make it flow through without any issues. And that’s the same thing with the food suite. There are certain foods that we have an intolerance to, and if we eat them, Yeah, it could cause some issues and for me it, it was eye opening and I knew I had a potato allergy.

[00:27:57] I know that. Which I find funny cuz I’m Irish descent, so it’s kinda, 

[00:28:01] Zach White: are you sure? I thought that was impossible to be Irish and not eat potatoes. 

[00:28:06] Michael Levitt: I, well, I’m the uniform, the founder, the, the outlier. Here he is. Yeah, the unicorn. Here we go. Here, here’s the, here’s the Guinea pig. I’m surprised that, Irish labs haven’t been reaching out to me.

[00:28:14] It’s like, we need to look at this and see what you. Maybe they will after the Yeah, exactly. Anything’s possible. You know, if the pay, if the pays right or they, you know, they could feed me a Guinness, I suppose. But, uh, another story for another day. But, so for me, what I do is I, you know, gave me a beautiful report so I know the foods that are good for me and the ones that I should avoid.

[00:28:34] And the ones that are, eh, you gotta watch out. And the reason being, again, cuz if you’re eating foods, that your digestive system will break down for you naturally cuz your body. Geared to say, yes, we like this, and we’ll, move it through like we normally do with food. Then your digestive system is working better while you’re sleeping, which means you’re gonna get deeper sleep and you’re gonna get better sleep.

[00:28:56] Which of course we’ve talked about itgives you, you feel better, you know you’re, yeah. Yeah, your cognitive ability, your physical ability and all that. Moving, of course, is very important. And this pandemic, unfortunately, has been really problematic for a lot of people because before when they were going into their workplace or going commuting, going out, doing all that kind of stuff, people were still moving.

[00:29:14] Even though if they didn’t get a lot of exercise in, they were still doing something. But for that period of time when everyone was basically just working from. Their commute was from their bedroom to the kitchen, to the bathroom, to the couch, back to the kitchen, back to the bathroom, back to the couch.

[00:29:30] So they weren’t getting in any activity. And we’re gonna see, I think short term and long term, some potential physical ailments. So highly recommend people if they are getting back into the swing of work. utilize. Your health benefits for some physio just to see where things are. Cuz Having worked in healthcare for a long time, I’d much rather people be preventative than, like in my situation with my cardiac event, reactive. if I would’ve taken better steps, I would’ve avoided all of that. But you live and you learn. So the food, the exercise, getting your sleep, the one thing that you have to make sure that you avoid.

[00:30:07] and I kind of mentioned to it before, is, Don’t stop doing things in life you enjoy doing. And when you’re stressed and you’re overworked and you’re working all these hours, you start cutting out those things. You don’t go to the ball games, you don’t go to your concerts. You don’t have coffee with your friends on Friday afternoons.

[00:30:23] Michael Levitt: Mm-hmm. those things in life that you enjoy doing, they get kicked to the curb and that’s the worst thing you can do because then all of a sudden you’re just working. Yes. And you don’t have an outlet to vent or just sit and relax or do something that takes, takes your mind off of work. a hundred percent.

[00:30:42] And, and one of the challenges in this ever connected world is with our smartphones, which are great devices because they allow us to work anywhere at any time, but they have a negative side effect. They allow us to work anywhere at any time, and we do. If you’ve got an iPhone, take a look at your screen.

[00:31:01] You’ll see and you’re like, yep. How in the world did I spend four and a half hours on TikTok? And, and when people say, I don’t have enough time to go have coffee with my friend, if you have an iPhone, I’m say, let’s go on screen time. Let’s see how much time you’re spending on social media. It’s like, oh, do you think you could carve out a half an hour from that TikTok or LinkedIn or Instagram or whatever you’re using and book an appointment to go have coffee with your friend?

[00:31:26] Zach White: Do it. Let’s be a great action for every engineering leader listening to pause and, and look at your screen time right now. Just get curious on that data. If you don’t look at it on, on the regular. But Michael, I love this point you’re making, and it aligns exactly with what I say to engineering leaders all the time, that when you’re talking about burnout, everybody wants to know what is it that I’m doing that’s causing me to burn out, that I need to stop?

[00:31:53] Almost every time. The things that are really, really important, it’s not about what you are doing, it’s what you’ve stopped doing. It’s what you’re not doing. You’re not sleeping, you’re not eating healthy. You’re not going to the ballgame. You’re not spending that coffee time with your best friends and hanging out and nurturing your life.

[00:32:11] You stop doing all those things and replace it with this stuff that isn’t inherently bad. Mm-hmm. , but in excess, and without that balancing. Pushes us over the edge to that, that road to burnout. And so would you be willing to share when someone gets caught on that downward spiral? Mm-hmm. , because this is what I hear all the time.

[00:32:34] It’s like, Zach, I get it. I hear you. I’m overwhelmed. I’ve made some bad decisions. I stopped going to the games, et cetera. But now this is my reality. I’m working the 60, 70, 80 hours a week. My to-do list is too long. I have deadlines. I have kids. I have. I don’t know how to reverse the trajectory. I don’t know how to change from this.

[00:32:53] yeah, where do they begin? What? What would be your insight if somebody finds themselves either on that downward trend or maybe they’ve hit rock bottom and they need to start. Getting off that place. Where do you start? I usually 

[00:33:05] Michael Levitt: start with how they spend their time and too often, most of us really don’t track how we spend our time.

[00:33:13] If, if we’re billing or if we’re doing project work. Yeah, we’ve got time sheets and we’re tracking those kind of things. But all the other things in our lives, we don’t track how much time we spend on those things. So we have them. We’ll look at that. And in unison, you know, we say, okay, let’s, let’s start with the food journal.

[00:33:31] Let’s see what you’re eating. Yeah, yeah. Cause you know, food is energy, it’s fuel. So let’s see what you’re eating. I don’t have time to eat this. It’s like, okay. But if you went to the grocery store on the weekend or meal planned and made some healthier foods for you that are right. You can just grab and go and you throw ’em in the microwave for 30 seconds, that’s, that actually saves you time from driving to the fast food restaurant.

[00:33:57] and again, you know, I just find out, you know, how are they spending their time? Cause one of the things, and, and I love how you mention it, is, as with anything, when people find themselves in a situation, it was their habits, their behaviors, and how they do things to change. It’s not easy. Anybody that’s tried to lose weight that is not exercised, all of a sudden you’re going to work out 30 minutes a day.

[00:34:23] Michael Levitt: You’re, you’re asking yourself to fail. You really are. Yes. Um, yes. There’s the anomaly where somebody just goes, okay, enough’s enough. And they do it and they’re dedicated to it. cuz they have the mindset and they’re just pushing through and that’s fine, but the majority of people that doesn’t work.

[00:34:38] It’s like, okay, well let’s start off with a. go outside and walk outside for a minute and then go back in. Well, they set the timer and a minute goes off and they’re like, this feels silly to just stop at a minute. So they continue walking it’s like anything, it’s, it’s a slow thing to kind of do it cuz you didn’t burn out overnight.

[00:34:56] And that’s the thing, it doesn’t happen overnight cuz if it. I’m sure science by now would’ve found some type of remedy for it. Here, take 30 milligrams of burnout all, and you know, away you go. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s prolonged, prolonged stress turns into burnout. So yes, it’s gonna take you some time, but you have to have an understanding of how you’re spending your time.

[00:35:20] and ask those questions. And that’s cuz I always tell people, you can stop the burnout a lot faster than you think. But the deeper work is figuring out why and how you burned out in the first place. And that’s where starts getting into the habits, behaviors, thoughts. Why is it important for you to work in this role and work these hours?

[00:35:39] what’s your end goal on this? Do you wanna be a senior engineer? Do you wanna be a director of a. Do you wanna leave this role and go be an engineer at this company and you need to put in these types of hours? Okay, well that’s actually good in a way that you’ve kind of got that mapped out a little bit.

[00:35:59] Michael Levitt: Map it out a little bit better, where you don’t kill yourself before you get there. but it, again, it’s figuring out, okay, what works for you. It’s not gonna change the fact if you’re married and you have kids, yes, there’s. There, but you work with your partner and go, okay, here’s sort it out.

[00:36:15] And, and the communication I find a lot of times, especially if the burnout is happening, which typically it’s work related in many cases, is there’s just a communication gap going on where I’ve got all this work to do, I’ve got all these hours. It’s like, well, have you, have you gone over with your manager this workload?

[00:36:35] And no, he, he knows or she. As a leader of an organization and I’ve led many organizations. One thing that leaders and managers truly suck at, pardon the language, is we don’t keep track of how much we delegate. Yeah. We just overwhelm you cuz you’re an all star and then we kill you figuratively speaking, hopefully.

[00:37:00] when you come back to us, we say, here’s everything I’m working on, you. We’re working on all of that. Why are you working on another project? We put that on hold two weeks ago. Whoops. That they weren’t included in the slack message. Uhoh. Yeah, so it’s a communication thing. And if, if you’re in an organization, unfortunately, it’s like, well, we just have to, we have to do this.

[00:37:18] Michael Levitt: If it’s a short term thing, it’s one thing, but if you’ve been there five years, that’s not short term. That’s an organization that has some managerial problems and you probably should update resume dot doc and, and find a better, healthier environment for you. 

[00:37:33] Zach White: There’s definitely opportunity with every single engineering leader I’ve coached to go have a.

[00:37:39] Courageous, candid conversation with your leadership about what’s happening that’s burning you out. Right Michael? circle back, early in the conversation we said there’s different levels of resilience to the stress and the conditions that create and lead people toward burnout and not everybody’s the same.

[00:37:58] Mm-hmm. , I’m curious for you, I know there’s a lot we could. But if you were gonna pick one thing that helps people to improve in their resilience to these challenging environments that our professional lives put us in, not to say that we ever want to work 80 hours and give up everything, that’s not the intent, but simply to handle that stress and that load, uh, with, with more resilience.

[00:38:22] What would that be for you? 

[00:38:24] Michael Levitt: I, I think it goes back to, the sleep and the activity and the food you eat and the fuel and, Matching your energy levels with the work. Because I think one of the things that, that I discovered personally was once I had a better understanding where my energy levels are throughout the day, that I, you know, block off time for work related.

[00:38:44] Activities. I know for me, the mornings are better for me to do task oriented types of things. Mm-hmm. afternoons are better for conversations. Some meetings, maybe some review, sit back and watch an information video, as long as it’s relatively early, if it’s towards the end of the day. All I’m hearing is noise and it’s, I’m not retaining anything.

[00:39:08] So it’s like, why am I even watching this? It’s not, I’m not gaining anything. But people are wired differently. Some people are better in the night, and that’s one of the things that came about with the pandemic when people were working. All kinds of crazy hours because, they had to help their kids during the day, so they were working at night, which extended the work day, which is not good.

[00:39:27] But many people found out that, wow, I knocked things out of the park in the night when I’m working on things. So, in those situations, ask your boss, Hey, can I work evening shift on some of these things? when. People understand where their energy levels are, if they have the autonomy, and most organizations are fine with you working on certain types of projects at different times of the day.

[00:39:51] Match up the work with where your energy levels are. Yeah, that’s good. and, and if you can group ’em together cause so that way you’re not using both quadrants of your brain, or left brain, right brain kind of stuff. group some, like work things together. Then that way your brain’s not doing that hard.

[00:40:07] Shift. and of course, it takes time and discovery, and once you find that rhythm, what you find is, at least for me and I, and people that I’ve worked with, they find the same thing. You get into a flow. Yes. And when you get into a flow, your shoulders kind of sink down a little bit. You feel a little bit better, you’re in the groove, maybe have some music or something playing that you like that helps you, focus and concentrate and all of a sudden work is flowing.

[00:40:35] Mm-hmm. And it rekindles your enjoyment of the work that you get to do. 

[00:40:41] Zach White: I love that. Your answer to this question does not include. Use this productivity app, master this tool, go get another degree in X, Y, Z. You know, none of those things. And I agree wholeheartedly. Michael, it’s great to hear you say, look, if, if you really only are getting started and you had to pick a couple things, get the sleep right.

[00:41:03] Figure out your nutrition, manage your energy, match up your work to your energy levels the best you can. And if you’ll do those things, you’re off to a really good start. And now we can talk about tools and tactics and improving the way you work down the road. But those big hitters on the parade, you know, they are simple.

[00:41:23] Maybe not easy to execute for everyone, but they are simple. I just love that. Well, Michael, tell us if somebody wants to. More about the work you do and get additional information and connect with you. Where’s the best place? How can people find out more about Breakfast Leadership Network and everything that you’re up to?

[00:41:41] Breakfast 

[00:41:42] Michael Levitt: is the best place to find me. There’s links on all kinds of D things. I’ve got some online courses, a really active blog, my podcast show. There’s all kinds of things. You can go down the rabbit hole. If you go to the website, say hi to Alice. When you get on the rabbit hole for me, and, it’ll be fun.

[00:42:00] But yeah, breakfast is usually the best place to find all about me and what I. 

[00:42:04] Zach White: Brilliant, and the links are in the show notes. As always, everybody, and I do encourage you to go check out what Michael’s doing, listen to his podcast. There’s some incredible content there. And take this seriously.

[00:42:16] Don’t end up in the ER like Michael did by not being intentional with how burnout affects you. And Michael, I’m excited to hear your thoughts about this last question. I always end in the same place. You know this as a practitioner and a coach and a NLP and C B T expert yourself. But great coaching has in common with great engineering.

[00:42:38] That questions lead and the answers follow. And if we want better answers in our life, we wanna ask better questions. So if the engineering leader who’s been listening to this conversation today, Really wants to experience a life free from burnout. They want to move the needle in that direction and build their resilience and really find that balance and happiness.

[00:43:01] What would be the best question that you would lead them with today? 

[00:43:07] Michael Levitt: figure out question yourself. Who are you right now? And, and ask yourself who do you want to be? Yeah. And then connect the dots. work backwards like Steve Jobs told us. It’s like, what’s the end goal? What do you want it to be? Yeah.and get really deep into what does that life look like?

[00:43:25] You know, from the car you drive, the home you live, if that’s important to you, what you know, what your relationships are like, what you know, what kind of foods are you all, all Go, go as deep as you can. You write down all the things you really want your life to look like, compare it to what they are now, and then each one of those things, you know, pick one or two, don’t try to do ’em all.

[00:43:45] Pick one or two and say, okay, how can I improve that? And that’s when you can start research. It’s, it’s small steps, but once you get those small steps in, Then the momentum builds and then it becomes part of you of going, okay, am I happy with how things are right now? Okay, no, what? What can I do to change?

[00:44:04] There’s things you can do internally that can help. Sometimes there’s external factors, but at least if you’re thinking of solutions instead of thinking of the problems, that’s a subtle mind shift that has gigantic results. Love it, changing how you look at things. 

[00:44:24] Zach White: Good. Michael, just wanna acknowledge you for the work you’re doing, the message that you’re bringing into the workplace that’s so needed.

[00:44:32] And thank you for your generosity today, for your time and your wisdom to share with me and with the engineering leaders out there. The Happy Engineer community, chief Burnout Officer, Michael Levitt. Thank you so much. Thank you.