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What caused my life-threatening wake-up call

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Kandi Wiens

You’d probably never guess that I grew up on an Indian reservation in eastern Montana or that I experienced a number of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs as psychologists call them). 

Last month I shared that burnout nearly killed me—and I said I’d share how the lack of stability in my early life fueled the break-neck pace of my overwork and search for success. This is that story:

Behind the scenes of (what looks like) success

Back in 2011, my life (at least on the outside) looked pretty damn good. I had an important job, a great family, home of our own, and more money than the skinny little girl on the rez could have dreamed of.

But behind the scenes I carried a swimming-pool’s worth of self-doubt and a deep need to prove that I was good enough. I worried constantly that I was failing—somehow. And I would’ve kept going that way if my body hadn’t issued an SOS–the kind that put me in a hypertensive emergency.

It started young

I grew up in government-subsidized housing, relying on food stamps and Indian health care for basics. I was constantly bullied at school for being too skinny. Not my fault, I would think to myself, I’ve barely eaten in the last five days!

When I was twelve I moved to my dad’s house. He made sure I did my homework and never missed school. I found that I loved learning, and for the first time, I experienced the exhilaration of accomplishing goals. When I turned my Fs to As, my taciturn dad nearly burst with pride.

So began my addiction to external validation and an overactive need to achieve.

Then I was off to college—the first in my family to do so! I supported myself by working three jobs (bookkeeper, cocktail waitress, and software sales). I felt frequently overwhelmed, but I was terrified of running out of money, and even more terrified of disappointing anyone. 

After college and graduate school, I accepted a job at a consulting firm. I gleefully deposited my signing bonus in my checking account and bought the shiny leather briefcase of my childhood dreams.

But the struggle didn’t stop…

Unfortunately, the work pace and environment was perfectly designed to burn insecure overachievers like me out. Caught in a vicious cycle of perfectionism and overwork, my weekly hours crept up to more than sixty-five.
All I did was 

  1. work,
  2. travel for work (while working on the plane), and 
  3. grab a few hours of sleep at night, when often, my dreams were also of work.

Even as I settled into marriage and motherhood, I was exhausted and painfully disillusioned. But I didn’t see these glaring red flags for what they were—signs of impending burnout. As I compared myself to my peers, I took my own discomfort as a sign to double down and try harder.

Emotional Intelligence: my unexpected hero

There’s serendipity to the timing of my 2011 stress-induced couch awakening: research in emotional intelligence (EI) was garnering lots of attention at that time. I learned that psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman considered EI an absolutely essential skill for leadership, and the single largest predictor of success in the workplace.

I was fascinated by this and began reading everything I could get my hands on about EI. For the first time in decades, I was following my passions and, in 2013, I enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania.

This was the perfect place to explore my nerdy interests. I immersed myself in the literature on resilience, stress, and burnout. So much began to make sense to me: how the lack of stability and security in childhood prompted my excessive need for just those things later on.

Working toward my Ed.D., I began designing and conducting my own studies on EI. I expected to find fairly predictable results that I could parlay into a strong dissertation. Instead, I stumbled upon something that would change the course of my research, and, ultimately, my life: that Burnout Immunity IS possible. 

And that’s why I wrote my book, “Burnout Immunity: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Build Resilience and Heal Your Relationship with Work”.

In just a few months (eight weeks but who’s counting!?) everything I’ve learned about how to use emotional intelligence to protect yourself from burnout will be available to you. 

While my story might be unique from yours, what’s not unique is burnout—and its dangers. Global levels of burnout were at 62% in 2023. And—get this—42% of Gen Z workers believe that burnout is an inevitable part of success (huh??!!). Those are some crazy stats for something I know can be prevented.

But it takes a village to make change happen, whether that’s implementing a culture shift at work, innovating how we educate, or, well, publishing a book. 

I want to see global burnout levels plummet, and I know they can. If you’re with me—and I suspect you are—there are three things you can do:

Kandi BurnoutImmunity 3D

1. Pre-order the book

Pre-orders are important. They count toward the first week’s sales, which increases a book’s chance of getting on a bestseller list, which ensures that more people hear about it, which means more people get the benefits of the book (which is the REAL goal here).

Here are links to some of the most popular retailers to pre-order: AmazonBarnes and NobleBookshopAudible

2. Tell other people about the book

Here’s a sample social media post you can share about the book, or paste into an email to send to your team, colleagues, or community:

I just pre-ordered my copy of Dr. Kandi Wiens’ book, “Burnout Immunity: How Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Build Resilience and Heal Your Relationship with Work”. This book is vital for anyone facing workplace stress and burnout.

You can pre-order the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Burnout-Immunity-Intelligence-Resilience-Relationship/dp/0063323664

Kandi reveals how developing emotional intelligence is key to building Burnout Immunity. The book is filled with research, exercises, and stories from those who thrive at work, even in highly stressful situations. 

3. Consider a bulk order

I am able to offer bulk order discounts and other incentives (anyone want to attend a free webinar with me?). Check them out here: https://kandiwiens.com/book/ 

Thank you for being here. Here’s to eradicating burnout – together!

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