This week, the Hope4Med podcast features Mr. Michael Levitt, founder and chief burnout officer of the Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout consulting firm. Mr. Levitt shares his story of the challenging year that forced him to look deeper and make changes in his life. We talk about experiencing and overcoming burnout and how to set boundaries at work to help prevent burnout.
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[00:00:00] Dr. JB: Ever wish for a safe place to have conversations that need to be had? A place where you could say the things that need to be said? Well, welcome to Hope4Med.
[00:00:16] Welcome back to the Hope4Med podcast. I am your host, Dr. JB and today’s guest is Mr. Michael Levitt. He is the founder and chief burnout officer of the Breakfast Leadership Network, a San Diego and Toronto-based burnout consulting firm. He is a keynote speaker, host of the Breakfast Leadership Show, a certified NLP and CBT therapist, a fortune 500 consultant, and author of the new book, “Burnout Proof.” Welcome, Mr. Levitt.
[00:00:49] Mr. Levitt: Thank you, Dr. JB, good to be here today.
[00:00:51] Dr. JB: So did I get everything? Did I miss anything?
[00:00:54] Mr. Levitt: Well, you didn’t talk about my first job as a grocery store clerk or my accounting background or dual citizen or anything like that, but you know, if it comes up in our conversation, there’ll be a– but no that was a great synopsis of what I am doing and what I’ve done recently.
[00:01:09] Dr. JB: Wow, this is amazing. You’re doing so much.
[00:01:12] Mr. Levitt: It’s been interesting to say the least. And if you would have talked to me, let’s say 15 years ago, and you read that bio and then you assigned my name to it, I would have looked at you like you had three heads. Who, what? No, I’m not going to do any of that, what are you talking about? So it’s been a really productive decade, quite frankly that I’ve done a lot of things to both improve myself and then also help others take better care of themselves, and really focus on this thing called burnout that unfortunately seems to be impacting every race, every gender, every country, every type of work role. We’re seeing it everywhere.
[00:01:52] Dr. JB: That’s true. So, to begin, let us talk about your origin story.
[00:01:58] Mr. Levitt: Yes. Back in 2007, I was hired as a healthcare executive for a startup medical clinic, just outside of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I’m originally from the Metro Detroit area and my former wife is Canadian. I immigrated to Canada in 2004 and then still continued to work in Detroit for a few years, crossing the border every day, and finally, I was able to find this new role. It was a startup position and I had startup experience before, but never in healthcare, and I thought, well, you know what? My commute would go from roughly an hour a day to five minutes. And I thought, why not? Let’s apply. And I applied and after several interviews, they hired me and– which was in a way shocking, but I was also ecstatic about it because I would be working and living in the same community. And I thought this was going to be a great thing for me. As with any startup, doesn’t matter if it’s healthcare or any other industry, there’s a lot of hours that are required in the initial phases of a startup, and I was working some insane hours, pretty much 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, seven days a week. And I did that for a couple of years. And initially, of course, it was a lot of work recruiting physicians and hiring medical staff and getting equipment and navigating a last-minute site relocation for our clinic. And for us being an Ontario, Canada government funded agency, working with Ontario Ministry of Health, as far as reporting and funding and all kinds of other fun stuff, and so there’s a lot of hours that were put into it.
[00:03:32] But as time went on, it was still a lot of things going on, our board was pretty proactive as far as wanting to do things, so they had a lot of initiatives that they wanted put through, and unfortunately, I didn’t really establish boundaries around when I would be available and when I wouldn’t be. So that’s why I was working all those insane hours and it took a toll on me because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t really getting any exercise to speak of. You know, when you’re an executive, you tend to get the really good parking spots, so I wasn’t walking very much. Our clinic was kind of small at the time, so I wasn’t getting in anywhere near 10,000 steps a day. And my nutrition choices, because of the hours that I was working, were pretty much breakfast, lunch, and dinner, ordering through a microphone and driving around the corner and paying for it, and then the clerk handing me a brown paper bag. You can probably figure out what kind of food I was eating. And it just really took a toll on me. And then in May of 2009, I had the kickoff of what I refer to as my year of worst-case scenarios. So, over a period of one year from May 2009 to May 2010, the following happened to me: I had a heart attack that should have killed me, thankfully didn’t, 17 weeks later, that job that I was working all those hours, they wanted to go in a different direction, so they let me go. And I was in Ontario, Windsor, Ontario across the border from Detroit, reminder: this was during the great recession. In Detroit, the auto sector was in really rough shape and the government had to bail at least a couple of the big three automakers out, otherwise they would’ve gone out of business and there would have been millions of jobs across the country impacted by that. And not just from those automakers, but the parts makers and restaurants and stores and everything around where those auto plants were, would have been completely devastated with that.
[00:05:24] So after having the cardiac event and being unemployed for awhile, I was able to find a new job up in Toronto. And I was in the new role for about three or four weeks and commuting back and forth ’cause I didn’t find a place for the family to live yet, so it was just me renting a room in a place. And I get a phone call from my oldest daughter who was 10 at the time, and she was crying and I couldn’t understand a thing she said. And once I was able to get her to calm down, I found out that the bank had come and repossessed our family vehicle. When you’re on unemployment and you have a family to feed and you’re on medication the cost over a thousand dollars a month because I had no insurance coverage, you have to make choices. And we had worked with our creditors and advised them what was going on, and they were very good and gave us as much grace period as they could, but as you know, that was during the great recession, so a lot of people were in that same boat and they had to protect their own financial interests, which I don’t blame them. I still bank with the bank that we had the auto loan with, so no hard feelings. We had a deal, they give me money to buy a vehicle, I pay them back. I didn’t pay them back, they can take the vehicle, it’s clearly articulated in the contract. So I was never upset with them. But then after that, we found a place to move the family up to Toronto, so we did. And after unpacking everything, we realized, we forgot the bunk bed ladder for our daughter’s bed. And I was going back to Windsor that following weekend to visit with some friends and do some things, and I thought, well, I’ll just swing by the house and I’ll grab the ladder and anything else that we may have forgotten in the move, ‘ cause we were getting ready to list the house for sale. And when I went down there and had my visit and went over by the house to get the ladder and everything else, opened up the front screen door, and I saw the largest padlock I’ve ever seen in my life. You can’t buy this padlock at Home Depot, the only place that gets these types of locks are banks, an organization that foreclosed homes, and there was a sticker on the door of this foreclosure. So to recap, in a year: heart attack that should have killed me, job loss during the great recession, car repossession, home foreclosure.
[00:07:26] All those things happened to me in a year. And all of those things happened because I was burned out. My burnout created those scenarios, wasn’t taking care of myself, I was making mistakes at work, obviously over committing myself from a financial standpoint with debts and mortgages and things like that, and it all came to a crashing halt and lost nearly everything, and almost my life as well. And once all those things happened, I had choices that I could’ve made. One, I could’ve said, wow, I survived all that, I must be Superman. I can survive anything and I’ll just go ahead and continue on the way I was living. I knew pretty quick that that was not the right decision for me. I did not want to be on the medications for the rest of my life, so I worked with people and said, what do I need to do to get off of these medications? And then they gave me the roadmap of what I needed to do. I needed to change my activities, my eating habits, you name it, which I did. And I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been, and I’m not on those medications anymore. You know, worked with my physician and weaned myself off all those things. Now I use food and nutrients and figured out the way to find the right foods and ingredients that make me healthy and went on to do great things. I actually went back into healthcare as an executive for a few years and then left that environment at the end of 2018 and went full-time into my organization, Breakfast Leadership, and it’s been nonstop fun ever since.
[00:08:54] Dr. JB: Wow. What an amazing journey.
[00:08:57] Mr. Levitt: It’s had its moments, to say the least. It is one of those things where– and this was in 2016, so it’d been about six years after what had happened– talking with colleagues and I was like, you know what, I want to do something around burnout because I was seeing it everywhere. Yeah, I thankfully wasn’t burning out, but I had seen it in my colleagues in healthcare and when I started researching and I’m like, ooh, wait, this is not an exclusive healthcare situation. This seems to be prevalent in many places. Well, what can I do with this? And I liked to write, so I started writing blog posts and all of that and sharing things on social media as they came up, and a good colleague of mine said, “you know, you probably have some consulting opportunities here, if you want, work with some teams and individuals, and maybe work with a C-suite, because you were in that type of role and you know the pressures that they face.” So I started and I thought, you know what, let’s launch a business, so I launched Breakfast Leadership then. Initially, was working with C-suite executives and a little bit with their teams, but usually it was just the C-suite executives, and same colleague said, “okay next, have you ever heard of a podcast before?” I’m like, yeah, I know what podcasts are. “So you should do one.” And I’m like, what? I am not going to do a podcast, what are you talking about? And he said, “no, you can just share your story, it doesn’t cost much, just go online and record some things and share your story, share things going on, tips that you can share that will help people, and just go about it.” And so I launched my show back in 2017, so coming up on five-year anniversary in February and it’s been an amazing journey on that.
[00:10:32] And then, with this pandemic, and I was speaking at conferences beforehand, but with the pandemic and the dramatic increase that we’d seen in burnout and people recognizing they were burned out because when they left work and they were working from home, they realize that the work pace that they were dealing with beforehand was not sustainable and they realized that they were definitely messing with burnout or approaching burnout. And that’s why we’re seeing a lot of the situations we’re reading about today, about the great resignation and people wanting to stay remote and not go back into the office because the office wasn’t a healthy place for them. And so, I’ve been quite productive. I don’t like using the word busy, but I will use it here, it’s been busy. As far as me speaking at conferences, I spoke at over 30 events last year, I’m thankful that I was able to do all of them remotely because that would be a lot of airplane time. But with air travel and public gatherings heavily restricted in 2020, everything moved over to Zoom calls and virtual conferences and whatnot, so it allowed me to reach a lot more people without the burden of carrying my luggage everywhere. But I know in 2022, I’ll be speaking on real stages in front of real people and it’s going to be swell??? I say that now because, hopefully nothing goes dramatically wrong where they have to switch to virtual, but if they do, I know how to do that. But it’s going to be, it’s going to be an interesting experience, to be speaking in front of people instead of staring into a camera and looking at Zoom controls to make sure that I’m not muted and it’s going to be, it’s going to be fun. But burnout is definitely something that obviously for my story, is something that, I care about because I know what it feels like. I know how I burned out, I know how I got out of burnout and I know how to prevent it.
[00:12:29] Dr. JB: So, you said so many things that are very, very interesting. And one of the ones that I wanted to revisit was when you listed out everything that happened during that year, your heart attack, losing your job, your car getting repossessed, your house being foreclosed, and you said all of that was due to burnout. Could we explore that a little bit more?
[00:12:53] Mr. Levitt: Of course. When you’re burned out, you’re in a state of physical and mental exhaustion that’s caused by prolonged stress. You’re overwhelmed with life. Because I was getting emails all day and all night from board of directors, staff, government officials, community members, and I didn’t have boundaries around when I was working in, when I wasn’t, that was a big thing. I should have established a ” I’m done working at 5:00 PM, and that’s that, and I’ll go back and look at something the next day.” That would have been a bit better approach. And I, I didn’t have that approach back then. When, when you’re not eating well, as well, and that’s the thing, we’re one physical body and like anything, it needs energy and fuel to be able to move. And the fuel that I was putting into myself was not of any nutritional value whatsoever. It was taking care of hunger satisfaction, but that was about it. And when you’re not feeding your body the proper foods for you, and everybody is different, I had a food intolerance test done a few months ago and I was aware of a lot of foods that I did have an intolerance to, but I was shocked to see some other foods that I have some issues with. And I’ve slowly moved them out of my diet and replaced them with things that don’t bother me, which helps with my gut bacteria and everything else, so I get better sleep and all of that. But it all boils down to, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you’re not going to be able to take care of anybody else in the way that you could. You’re giving them basically fumes at that point, your tank’s on empty, you’re not yourself, and sometimes you don’t even know why. Because when you’re in a fog that burnout feels like in a way, just completely wiped out in a fog, you’re not motivated to do anything much less work, but even the fun stuff in life you like doing. I quit doing all those things. So I was just basically working and I’m going to bed. Eating bad food. And that was pretty much my routine for a couple of years. And it did a good job in clogging up an artery so, thankfully, Dr. Morrissey and the team that helped put the stents in my left anterior descending artery, known as the widow maker, that’s, I’m thankful that that technology existed, and the stents existed, and they were able to get my heart working properly, and now it’s healthy and everything’s great now.
[00:15:25] Dr. JB: I’m so happy for you.
[00:15:27] Mr. Levitt: Thank you.
[00:15:28] Dr. JB: Because that’s yes, 100%, that is a widow maker. And you caught it.
[00:15:32] Mr. Levitt: Yeah, it is. And yeah, it was funny too, before you did the procedure, Dr. Morrissey was, he was in Windsor at the time, now he’s part of a clinic down in Orlando. He came in and he looked at things and he says, “you know, you should be dead.” And I looked at him and I said, I guess you skipped bedside manner class in medical school, and he laughed and we laughed and made fun of it. My ex wife and my mom were actually there, they didn’t find that funny. I did. I’m a little warped when it comes to humor like that, but, yeah, well, I get that now. That’s why you’re here to help me not be dead. Let’s keep me alive if we can, but yeah… at the time when you’re going through those things, all of those situations, for me, just understanding, okay, I don’t like the situation, but what am I going to do with it? And the key was okay, I need to pick myself back up and dust myself off and okay, what do I need to do to one, prevent this from happening again, and to obviously recover from whatever situation happened, and having that resiliency, I think was a big, big game changer for me to just understand, okay, don’t like this, but I can’t change what happened. I can change what the future looks like by doing whatever I need to do to address this, to make sure that it never happens again. And that’s one of those things that I know it’s a rarity, especially for those that have cardiac events. Many people, and I see them when I go see my cardiologist and get checked up, I see people and I can tell, those are people that really haven’t made adjustments in their life after their cardiac event. They’re still kind of going about life the way they did before, and I don’t. I changed things, and so I’m thrilled that I had the drive and to be able to do that. Cause I know change is scary and also changing habits and how you eat and activity levels and all those things, it’s not easy. I get it. I know. Reinventing yourself, which basically I had to do, was critical. For most people, they don’t. When you’re burned out, you don’t have to reinvent your life, usually, you just have to make some adjustments here and there to make better choices in how you do things. But for me, I realized pretty early on, it was like well, that didn’t work, let’s go to something different than before. So yeah, it was an entertaining time to say the least.
[00:17:52] Dr. JB: You know, in addition to these lifestyle changes that you did in response to your cardiac event. When you make mention about better changes, you talked about boundaries, and I think that’s an important topic for us to just talk about a little bit right now, especially in the role of an executive. When you get into that leadership role, where you’re responsible for a unit or a department or a hospital, how do you set those boundaries and say, no, I’m actually not available?
[00:18:23] Mr. Levitt: It takes some effort, but it also takes an understanding of what your obligations are and what you’ve committed to. I find, especially with the new leaders that are relatively new into their senior leadership roles, it’s a change. They get promoted, they were successful in the work that they did, they were a strong leader before they had the title, and then they became a manager or director, and then, now they’re leading departments or divisions or clinics, whatever the case may be, and they still have this hands-on approach where, ” oh, I have to do these things.” And that’s not your role. You’re supposed to delegate and direct and be visionary and look at opportunities and things like that, you’re not supposed to be doing things, per se. So like for the title executive director, it’s executive director, it’s not executive doer, but unfortunately too many people are still doing things that they should delegate. And sometimes that means you’re going to delegate to some people, and you have to be careful that you don’t burn out your own team, which happens a lot, unfortunately, when people just delegate and delegate, but they don’t keep tabs on what they’re actually delegating so you might overwhelm your best people. Just because they’re really good at everything, doesn’t mean they should do everything. And unfortunately, many of my counterparts and executives, we fall victim to that habit. But establishing boundaries is just like, okay, this is when I’m available, this is when I’m not. Having a strong support system, no matter what the size of your organization. If you’re an organization of one, okay, it’s going to be a little bit more challenging, but if you’re working in a hospital or you’re working in a clinic that has staff, utilize your team, and get really laser focused on what you do and what you shouldn’t do. And demands are always there, this pandemic has proven that, especially in healthcare and we’ve seen the overwhelm when you have pretty much your entire population at risk of this pandemic, and COVID-19, and people getting sick, and ICU beds being overloaded and wondering where the heck you’re going to put people. And all of the things that we’ve seen has been really taxing and healthcare was busy before, our population is getting older, the diseases are getting more complex, there’s heavier usage of our system than ever before, and it’s taxing on people. And so it’s important from not only just from an executive standpoint, but every level, to just figure out when you work and when you don’t, and you’ve got to build in those shut down times.
[00:20:49] I used the example a lot in my speeches, where I talk about my dad and he worked for the auto sector and he worked on the assembly line for a long time, and then towards the tail end of his career, he worked at the engine plant. So his role was to drive a forklift and deliver engine blocks to the assembly line for the cars to put the engines in the blocks and all of that. I never remember seeing dad pull up at home with the forklift or any engines. He left work at work. Well, his work was those physical aspects, but of course there are also mental aspects. We think about work a lot. We think about what we need to do. Maybe if you’re a physician or a nurse, you’re thinking about a patient that’s really complex and you’re trying to come up with some solutions on how we can treat them, or you’re an executive and we’re trying to figure out, okay, how am I going to manage this staff that is overwhelmed right now? What can I do to help them? So we think about work after hours, that’s just natural. But having boundaries around, okay, am I going to do something about that right now? Or should I just write it down and I’ll deal with it when I get back into work mode or work time? That’s one of the things that I learned was, as thoughts come to mind after my designated work hours. I don’t say, I’m going to just stop everything and do this. I’ll document it down, and I’ll say, I’ll get back to that when I am back in my work setting, but right now I’m in my self-care time, or my family time, or whatever you want to call it and figuring out those things is important. And we hear the phrase work-life balance, and I’m one of those people that, I don’t believe in balance., I believe more in harmony, because there are busy periods of our lives, where we may be working more than normal, but there may be times we’re not working as much, so you harmonize things. And one of the things that’s been helpful is recognizing that, okay, maybe this week I have a particularly full schedule and I don’t have as much time to do some of the leisure things that I like to do. Okay, well then instead of doing that 30 minute nature trail walk, can you do it in 10? Okay, we’ll go do it in 10. At least you’re still doing it. Where people get in trouble and they start prolonging their stress and then ultimately burning out is they just stop doing those things. Even if they’re working a lot of hours, they just stop doing the things that they enjoy doing, and that’s dangerous. You need to do those things. Even if you’re only doing for a few minutes, at least you’re still doing them. Sprinkle them in, schedule them. It’s important to do that because as Michael Hyatt, one of my leadership mentors, likes to say, “what gets scheduled, gets done.” And if it’s bouncing around your head, it’s not getting scheduled, but you’re worrying about it, you’re fretting about it, well, schedule it. Get it done. Or write it down on a to-do list somewhere and then get it out of your head and at least on paper. And then you can deal with it when the time comes. When you don’t have boundaries around how you spend your time and when you’re available, don’t worry, your calendar will fill up with obligations and meetings really fast.
[00:23:47] Dr. JB: And these boundary conversations, when do they take place? Is this when you are accepting the job? Is it included in your contract?
[00:23:56] Mr. Levitt: Ideally, if you can establish the boundaries when you first started with a company or an organization, that’s critical. And really make it clear. You always ask interviews, okay, what are the hours? What are the normal hours? Well, there’s no such thing as normal hours in any industry, and healthcare obviously is one that definitely doesn’t have normal hours depending on what type of role you have, but establishing those things. Okay, this is when I’m available and this is when I’m not, and getting that clearly articulated at the beginning is a great way. For many of us, that may not be an option ’cause we’re not at a new position, we’re at an organization that we’ve been with for some time, and all of a sudden it’s like, okay, now how do I implement these boundaries when I haven’t done it before? It’s kind of like putting a new foundation on a house after the house has been built, like, hmm, this is going to be costly to put a new basement in when the house is still up, it’s going to take time and effort and coordination and whatnot. So one of the things that I’ve seen a lot of people successfully do is you have a conversation with your manager, director, and say ok, I want to do a great job here and you’ll make sure that you’re doing well at the job, I just want some clarity around some priorities and I also, I want to see about getting a little more clearer on when I’m working and when I’m not available, because I’ve got some obligations to address, and I just want to make sure that the work that needs to be done is getting done, but also allow me the time to be able to do things, to address the things that I need to address, because we know as our population gets older, there’s many of us that are going to be easing into and potentially getting into caregiver type of situations for our parents. And that’s going to be prevalent and many organizations are not geared to deal with that. This pandemic may have created some opportunities for them to be able to deal with that. If people are allowed to work remotely, some roles are easier than others to work remotely, but at the end of the day, establishing boundaries is a conversation. It’s gotta be open, and seek guidance. So instead of going into your boss, say, okay, I can’t do this, and I can’t do that, you know, you’re setting the tone for negativity and also confrontation in those situations. When we go there with a little bit of vulnerability, I find it helps. And say, I’m trying to better manage my time and both personally and professionally. And what are some ideas? And In many cases, your manager, leaders, can go, “that makes sense, that looks like a good plan, let’s try it out, see how it goes.” If it doesn’t work, then we can adjust it. But hopefully you’ve got that type of relationship with your manager where you can communicate with them and have a conversation around some ideas. Cause they may have some ideas that can help or they may again realize that, wow, I’ve overwhelmed you with something, so let me shift a couple of these things off to this person that’s got some capacity to do those things, and help ease some of the workload kind of thing. It’s, it all boils down to communication typically, and it’s just sorting out what makes sense for everybody.
[00:26:52] Dr. JB: You hear a lot about team player and some of the concerns that someone may have is if I set boundaries, will my manager view me as not being a team player?
[00:27:07] Mr. Levitt: It all depends on how you frame it. And again, hopefully the communication within your organization is such that everyone understands that everybody needs to have some, what I like to call, “me time” as well. And the team player thing, well, this is what the team does, well, so your organization is burning your team out, I don’t know if I want to play for that team. And you know, using a sports analogy, you’ve got a great player, but they’re surrounded by players that aren’t as great, and the organization won’t bring in the right people for them to be successful, so you have one superstar around a bunch of other players that aren’t on the same caliber and they’ll never win. And at that point, the superstar’s getting frustrated saying, why am I busting my tail when nothing’s going to change? And then they either start cranking it back and not giving their best or they just up and leave. And that’s what we see in a lot of situations too. You know, we see it in healthcare, the amount of nurses that are leaving the profession is alarming. I spoke at Becker’s Healthcare Conference a couple of years ago and the stats that we were seeing, even this was before the pandemic, were staggering because the work environments and the levels and the challenges that nurses were facing, they were like, you know what? to do this anymore. I’m going to go find something else to do, probably take a salary cut, but I don’t care. And because they just, they don’t want to work in an environment that is not healthy and conducive to them. So, you know, for managers that say, well, we all have to chip and we have to work extra hours. If that’s for a project or a short-term thing, okay. But if it’s the way it’s done there always, that’s problematic, and you’re going to kill your team if you do that. Yes, I know the demands are there. Yes, I know that there’s no shortage of people who are showing up at the front door of the emergency room or whatnot, but you can only do what you can do. And do you want your team to be unhealthy? Doesn’t matter what industry, do you want your team to be unhealthy? If they’re not healthy, then they’re not going to be at their best. They’re going to be fatigued. They’re not going to be sleeping well, which is going to impact their cognitive abilities, their ability to recognize patterns. They may make mistakes. Definitely don’t want your healthcare people making mistakes. That’s the one industry, very few, but that’s the one industry where a mistake can cost somebody their life. And you don’t want your teams fatigued because they could make a mistake and end somebody’s life prematurely. And so, the answer to that question, when it’s like, “well team player, this is what we do.” I think you need to revisit how things are constructed in that team and figure out a different way to approach it. And, you know, if the demands overwhelm what you can do, you can only do what you can do. And trying to do more when it’s impossible to do, it’s just going to stress you out even more.
[00:29:51] Dr. JB: And so, how does one become burnout proof?
[00:29:55] Mr. Levitt: Boundaries, which we’ve already talked about. Sleep. Sleep is so critically important and it took me a long time to figure that out. But once I had my wonderful year, realized, especially in the early days, like I was getting better sleep, cause I was, I wouldn’t say heavily medicated, but I was on the medications and one of the side effects of it was drowsiness, and so I slept. And I took naps. And that’s something I normally wouldn’t do. And it, I noticed I’m feeling better. Like, okay, and I started doing more research about it and talking with people, and as I mentioned before, when you get good sleep, your body’s getting an opportunity to repair the damage that you’ve done to yourself today. Even if you live the healthiest of lifestyles and eat great food and get plenty of exercise and limit your exposure to negativity, whether it’s in the news or people around you, whatever the case may be, your body has to repair that damage. And if you’re not getting good sleep, then your body doesn’t have an opportunity to do that. And then you start piling up on things and then you too will have clogged arteries and that’s not fun. Just because I know about cholesterol medication and blood pressure medication doesn’t mean you want people to do that. And so, eating well, foods that are right for you. Getting a proper amount of consistent sleep night after night, establishing boundaries around your life to make sure that you are harmonizing your life with work and with leisure and self care and things you like to do. Those are the key components. They’re simple to implement, but hard to because it’s habit forming, in many ways. Your choices of what you eat. Yes, it’s easier just to go pick up something quick, but well if you do some prep work and you make some foods at home that you like to eat, well, you’re going to be eating a more nutritious food that’s going to give you the natural energy you need. So you don’t need that 2:00 PM Red Bull or the energy drink or cup of coffee in the afternoon because you’re eating foods that give you the natural energy that your body thrives on, and you won’t have the spikes and crashes. And you’ll be more alert, which means work will be easier, work will flow easier. And I see that because, you see people in every industry, where you’ve got people doing the same job. One person’s burning out, the other one’s not. I’m like, okay, what’s the difference here? And a lot of it boils down to just how those individuals are living their lives outside of work and how they’re approaching work. But doing those simple things, getting good sleep and eating the right foods for you and getting some activity in and having some boundaries around your life are the game changers.
[00:32:33] The deeper work, especially if you’ve been burned out is to figure out why you burned out. That’s, that’s where you got to dig in a little bit. And sometimes that can be scary for people, they don’t like looking within because they’re afraid of what they’re going to find. And my approach on that is you have to look at yourself with love and understanding. Don’t beat up yourself. And you are important to you. You need to focus on what’s important to you and understand that decisions we make in life, sometimes they may not be the best ones, and give yourself a little bit of grace on that. You did the best you could, and you learn from it. And just approach life with a little bit more curiosity and a lot less stress and condemnation of yourself, and I think that’ll be a big help.
[00:33:19] Dr. JB: And it sounds to me that that’s exactly what you did when you hit the bottom, that you looked at yourself with love and understanding.
[00:33:28] Mr. Levitt: Yeah, I was definitely mad about those situations at first. And then I thought, well, that’s not going to get me anywhere. I can be– and there’s nothing wrong with being angry about a situation, but don’t carry it too long because that just gives you stress and tightness in your chest or aches and pains. And one of the things that my family physician at the time said to me, right after my heart attack, he said, “you know what? In all likelihood, you’re going to be more aware of your physical body than you’ve ever been in your entire life. You’re going to notice everything, aches, pains, discomfort, everything. You’re going to feel different and by feel, I mean, you’re going to feel differently on things than before.” And he was spot on. And I notice that now, whenever I have any type of health-related thing, whether it’s an ache or something like that, I’ll go, hmm, what did I do to create that? And in a way, it’s just understanding that my body is part of a system and going what do I need to do to make this system work well for me in every aspect of my life? And having a level of curiosity about it because when I was younger in school, I think the only reason I passed science class is Mr. Burrell didn’t want to see me for another year. So I just was not, science was not going to be something that I was in. And then of course, here I am running healthcare organizations for over a decade. It’s like, who’s got the last laugh now, but that’s another, I never would have guessed it, but it happened and I’m thankful for it. But at the end of the day, it’s just being, understanding of the situation. Looking at it, again, with grace, but also curiosity and going, okay, why do I think that I made those choices back then? And looking at it and going, okay, yeah, I can see why I would have done that, or there’s been some things where like I have no idea what I was thinking. I don’t think I was thinking when I made those choices, but I did. And now I go, I’m not going to make those same choices now. You learn from it, you grow from it, and it provides the foundation of what life is all about, experiences and growing and falling down and getting back up.
[00:35:43] Dr. JB: So this has been so amazing, I really, really loved your story. I think that in many ways, going from being an executive and having all these amazing things, and then having such a life altering experience and essentially finding yourself back at the bottom and having to stand up, pat the dust off of your pants, put your shoulders back and say, you know what? I am going to start again and take it one step at a time and continue. Because some people continue to just mope and say, woe is me, woe is me. But you didn’t.
[00:36:27] Mr. Levitt: No, I never played the victim. I never blamed anybody. Maybe initially I blamed myself, but then I recognized that wasn’t going to be beneficial for me, recovering, and growing from it. Everybody, for the most part, everybody’s doing the best they can within the situation that they’re in right now, with all the factors that are going on in their individual lives, and what drives them and what motivates them, and recognizing that made it easy for me not to blame the board of directors for letting me go. Or blaming the fast food companies for feeding me that food. I ordered that food. I didn’t have to eat their food, but I did. Or blaming the bank for really inconveniencing us with the car or the foreclosure, that obviously it was not a fun discovery, but again, I don’t blame the bank. I didn’t live up to the obligations that I made and I’m not mad at myself and I’m not mad at them and I didn’t, I never played the victim. It never came to me that I should do this. And I think a lot of that had to do with upbringing and observing family and the successes and the trials and tribulations that people in my life had been through in their lives and how they were able to overcome them, and not play the “woe is me,” and just curl up into a chair and never get out of it again. Yeah, I could have easily played victim and blamed people and stayed on disability, and say, well, I’m not healthy enough. But I’m like, no, I’m 40 years old at that time, I’m not going to do that. I got a long life ahead, I don’t want to just sit here and dwindle away to nothing. I got things to do that I want to do. Little did I know what I’d be doing, but I knew that there was something that I’d be doing. And I’m thankful that I made those decisions and chose that path to not play the victim. And it’s served me and it continues to serve me well, no matter what kind of challenges, excitement, things that happen in life, both positive and challenging, the victim card does not belong in my house. It’s not in there. So I encourage everybody to get rid of their victim card, if at all possible. It’ll make your life better.
[00:38:38] Dr. JB: Since we are nearing the end of our time together, as time has gone by so fast, if my listener wanted to learn more about what you do, how could they get in touch with you?
[00:38:51] Mr. Levitt: A couple of ways. One, breakfastleadership.com is the website where there’s links up at the top and a variety of different things, blog posts, articles. I have my podcast show, The Breakfast Leadership Show, that’s on all the platforms, you can listen there. I’m on most of the social media channels, just look up either Breakfast Leadership, or a lot of times it’s under the letter B and then Fast Leadership, I’m on most platforms and pretty active on those channels, sharing variety of different content, obviously burnout-related for most of them, but also business-related matters too, because I consult organizations on business matters, startups, you name it. So those are the best ways to find me.
[00:39:32] Dr. JB: And in closing, do you have any final words of wisdom for my listener?
[00:39:37] Mr. Levitt: Sometimes I say this and it’s pretty confrontational, and not to scare you, don’t worry, I’m not going to use profanity or anything, but I’ll–
[00:39:43] Dr. JB: I’ll bleep ’em out, don’t worry.
[00:39:45] Mr. Levitt: There you go. Yeah, you can edit it. Burnout is a choice. Now, no one that I’ve ever encountered chose actively to burn out. They’re like, “oh, you know what I’m gonna do in 2022? I’m going to burn out.” No one chooses it, but your choices, your beliefs, your habits, your thought patterns, all of those things can create scenarios where burnout can come into your life, so choose wisely. And then make some adjustments. If you are feeling fatigued or wiped out or challenges in life, look a little deeper and figure out why those situations are happening and make some adjustments to reduce the stress in your life so you don’t burn out.
[00:40:22] Dr. JB: Yeah. Who says a doc can’t rap? D O C T O R J B. The greatest doctor to ever touch the mic. The greatest podcast ever broadcasted or prerecorded. Come learn some. Each one, teach one. I’m done.