High Octane Women: How Superacheivers Can Avoid Burnout, Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter (2010)

27 Nov

I picked up this book during an insane period of work.  I was overburdened and exhausted, and like usual, none of my stress management techniques were working.  (Honestly: the techniques I try hardly ever work, I need to find some new techniques).  I knew that I’m not the only running-crazy working mom out there, somebody must have done it before and done it better, and written a book about it…right?

Bourg Carter’s book isn’t a magic bullet, but it will get you pointed in the right direction.  In addition to the obvious causes of stress, she points out smaller subtle things, that you may actually have control over, that may be increasing stress without your awareness.  She explains why traditional stress management techniques like deep breathing or yoga are not necessarily going to be helpful for high achievers, and why they may even increase stress.  For those in the true depths of burnout, Bourg Carter provides a guide to overcoming it, and starting to get your life back on track.

I feel like this book targets women who are overachieving at a level or two above me (CEO’s with multiple children, for example), but there was a lot in it that was extremely insightful and useful even for me, a baby-overachiever.

This book is best to read at a time when you’re not completely overwhelmed.  Overcoming stress and burnout involves a certain level of decisionmaking. You will have to decide that you want to tackle the problem head on, this book cannot fix it for you.  You may have to set certain boundaries, which may be uncomfortable.  I know that in periods of acute stress, all I want is a magic remedy, and I would probably become frustrated with this book.  A lot of the proposed solutions are things I’ve heard before (and so has every other high achieving woman), but they’re discussed with new insight.  Even though I picked the book up when everything was absolutely crazy, I didn’t get around to reading it until things died down a little bit.  If I were reading this in a period of high stress, I’d be frustrated (1) that I’d heard of a lot of the proposed solutions before, and (2) they hadn’t worked for me before, so how is this book possibly going to help me?  Reading the book in a period of lesser stress helped me appreciate the fresh insight Bourg Carter contributes, and will enable me to better implement some of her suggestions into my life.

My favorite part in the book is Bourg Carter’s short discussion on balance.  She explains that treating “balance” as a work/life formula that is uniform across all women, and is achievable, serves only to cause more stress and frustration.  Striving toward a balance formula that doesn’t work for you is never going to help:

Adjust your thinking.  Don’t view it in terms of all-or-none.  Get whatever balance you can get in your life and be happy about it.  You also have to decide what the right balance is for you.  Who said that balance had to be 50/50, with half of your life devoted to work and the other half to home and family? No one.  If 50/50 is best for you, try to get as close to it as possible, knowing that you won’t succeed all the time, or maybe any of the time.  In fact, some days, you may not even come close.  But you’re doing he best you can, and you should reward yourself for the effort.  If 75/25 fits better in your world, then that’s what you should strive for.  Don’t let balance define you.  You define balance based on who you are, how you live, and what you want.

You would get the best use out of this book if you keep it around as a reference guide, picking it up now and then for a quick refresher on signs of burnout, stress management techniques, etc.  If nothing else, the book has immense value by showing the reader that she’s not alone and that burnout is not a personal failure.  Burnout is a creation of larger institutional and cultural problems, but those larger problems aren’t going to change overnight, so Bourg Carter helps the reader work through her side of things as best she can.

Word to the wise– I read a large chunk of this book right before bed one evening.  This resulted in: (1) A nightmare that I was pregnant, (2) After falling back asleep from the nightmare, a dream about getting ready for work, (3) waking up at 6am on a Saturday, confused about why my alarm didn’t go off, and (4) finally falling back asleep around 8am, only to have a dream that I had to conduct a deposition about a bunch of documents, except I forgot to print the documents out,  was wearing sweats instead of a suit, and went to the wrong office building…and somewhere in this dream I also managed to stop by the grocery store and pick up a huge multipack of those Gerber turkey sticks that Baby Beez loves (note to self: need to go to the grocery store, we are out of turkey sticks).   This book was great and I highly recommend it, but pick something else for a bedtime story.

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2 Responses to “High Octane Women: How Superacheivers Can Avoid Burnout, Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter (2010)”

  1. Marina DelVecchio November 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Hi there,

    I am writer and blog coordinator for http://hercircleezine.com, and I would love to publish this on the InContext blog which focuses on discussions of books for and by women.

    Check out the site and email me at marina.delvecchio@gmail.com if interested.

    Thanks, Marina

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  1. Empowering girls and women | Empowering Girls and Women - November 28, 2011

    […] High Octane Women:Are you an overachiever? This link will take you straight to a great book review of Dr. Sherie […]

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