087. Recovering From the Burnout We All Live with Michael Levitt

By on February 4, 2020

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The Do a Day Podcast from Bryan Falchuk

Michael Levitt has over a 25 years experience career in leadership, healthcare, finance and information technology, with a. focus on reducing and preventing burnout and stress in his current work. He has led community engagement, fund raising, and government engagement, which led to thousands of patients getting access to primary healthcare, reducing emergency room visits.

Michael served on the Board of Directors for the Mississauga-Halton CCAC. Michael has the LEAN Health Care Yellow Belt designation through Ontario Hospital Association. Michael is also a graduate of Rotman Healthcare Advanced System Leadership program. Michael studied accounting and management at Walsh College. In 2010, he became a certified crisis intervention trainer, from Canadian Training Institute.

That is to say, he’s super smart, and very successful, with a great deal of experience in the Health space.

What that doesn’t say is the unbelievable journey and struggle he had along that way, including a series of worst-case scenarios many people would not come back from individually, let alone all together. And few would come back in such a strong way. But that’s just it  – Michael learned a tremendous amount that he’s been able to bring together to save others from the same fate of a life so greatly impacted by burnout.

I’m lucky enough to have gotten to know Michael as a friend over the years, and am honored to get to share his story with all of you in this episode.

Key Points from the Episode with Michael Levitt:

  • Michael works with teams and organizations on burnout recovery.
  • He’d like to make it about burnout prevention, but usually it’s too late by the time he’s called in, so it’s about recovering and then putting in place tools to protect against recurrence.
  • Michael’s personal story started before May of 2009 when the crux of his story happened.
  • Before then, he was in a startup in the healthcare space, which was a new sector for him, meaning a lot of intense hours learning about the space and building the organization.
  • He spent a couple of years living a very high-stress, low-health lifestyle, working too much, being too stressed, and eating really poorly (a lot of fast food) – a recipe for burnout.
  • In May 2009, at only 40 years old, Michael suffered a heart attack in what’s known as the Widow Maker artery.
  • That kicked off 369 days he refers to as his year of worst-case scenarios.
  • After recovering from his heart attack for 17 weeks, he went back to a job he didn’t have.
  • He handed the board his doctor’s note saying he could work again with no restrictions, and they handed him a note back that his services were no longer needed.
  • This was in the Windsor-Ontario area, in the heart of the North American Auto Industry, which was in free-fall at the time.
  • So not only did he lose his job, but the entire job market in the area had dried up.
  • He expanded his search to places like Chicago, but still found nothing.
  • He ended up finding a job in Toronto, meaning his family would need to relocate. He spent a few months commuting back and forth while his wife and kids wound things down in Windsor.
  • On top of losing his job, he also was a cardiac patient without health insurance, so they had huge medical bills on top of the general living expenses, so they fell behind on bills.
  • After six weeks, his 10-year-old daughter called crying that the bank had repossessed their family’s car.
  • They were also getting their home ready to sell so they could move to Toronto fully.
  • Once the family was in Toronto, Michael went back to Windsor to get any remaining items they had left behind, only to find a huge padlock on the house and note that the home was in foreclosure.
  • Despite losing their house before they could sell it, Michael felt peaceful in that moment for the first time in a year (or more).
  • He describes it as knowing that it’s done now. The chapter was closed. They had their new life in Toronto, and the last pieces of their old lives were gone. There was no other shoe to drop.
  • Michael realized he had choices:
    • Realize he survived everything and continue going on living,
    • Play the victim and blame everyone else who had ‘done this to him’, or
    • Look in the mirror to see who the common denominator in all of these situations (him) and see what needs to change.
  • After his heart attack, his doctor told him he would be more in tune to his body and life then he ever was. In this moment is where he found that connection fully, and has held onto it going forward.
  • He looked at all aspects of his life.
  • Starting with all of his heart meds, he asked what he needed to do to make it so he didn’t need them.
  • Everyone wants that One Thing solution, but it was a lot of things.
  • He had to look to remove and prevent burnout through changes in diet, stress management, movement, etc.
  • He also had to look at what was holding him back, and realized he’s a People Pleaser.
  • There’s nothing wrong with pleasing people or wanting to help them, but you can’t do that to the extent where it’s harming you.
  • Michael had learned that from his parents, and took it to such an extreme that he was impacting himself so dramatically that it all crashed down.
  • Establishing boundaries on what to say yes to was the hardest and most impactful thing he did for himself.
  • I asked Michael what I’ve been so curious about – did he need the wake up moment, or could he have gotten there without it, and he felt he really needed a swift kick to change, regardless of how hard it was to deal with.
  • Sometimes, we are doing well, but aren’t actually happy or feeling fulfilled. Why?
  • We should aim for fulfillment, and be honest when and where we don’t feel it. Then lean into it and ask what would fulfill us. Then go after it.
  • Michael gives people an exercise to do that most groan about.
  • Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, and write a list of things they really enjoy doing on one side – having their morning coffee, going to the beach, having lunch with a friend, etc.
  • Then on the other side of the paper, write down the last time you did that thing. This is where people groan.
  • What we realize is how rarely we are doing the things we really like.
  • Then we look at why – and we often find excuses, or say we’re too busy.
  • Many of these things aren’t so big that we can’t do them easily or flexibly (e.g. taking a big vacation takes lots of planning versus watching a show you like on TV, which is easy).
  • So what are you doing in your day mindlessly that’s eating your time so you find it hard to do what you would rather be doing? What changes can you make to be more present and mindful in these decisions.
  • Then schedule two of those things you like and don’t allow that time to get overwritten by anything else. It will feel uncomfortable for many of us, but once we do this, we start to see possibilities for fulfillment instead of reasons why we can’t be fulfilled.
  • Michael also shared the need to look at our calendar and ensure we have some slack time, and make some tough calls about which meetings we don’t really need to attend. It may mean some uncomfortable moments when we tell someone we can’t make their meeting, yet doing so can be beneficial all around.
  • The benefit for the people you may say “No” to is that you are more present in the meetings you’re in, which could include others with them. If you attend and are drained or distracted, that’s not serving them either.
  • We talked about a strategy Michael heard of where you look at all the things you do, and see if there are two things you can stop doing. For Michael, he left two boards he was on.

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