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What if, during an economic recession, you lost your job, home, car and feelings of good health within just a year? Do you think that you would be able to come away from that experience a global thought leader, bestselling author, successful entrepreneur, Fortune 500 consultant and host of a top podcast? No, of course not, that would be absurd.
Yet, somehow Michael Levitt managed to do just this. Levitt is, among many other things, the founder and “Chief Burnout Officer” of The Breakfast Leadership Network. He has leveraged his personal hardships to his own benefit and for the benefit of others. He helps advise and motivate others using these tough experiences in his book “369 Days: How To Survive A Year of Worst-Case Scenarios.”
We were excited to chat with Levitt to make sense of how he was able to rise from such adversity and become a leading world authority on burnout recovery and prevention.
Before finding that all-consuming work
About 10 years ago, Levitt experienced an entire year of “worst-case scenarios,” which included, among other aforementioned losses, a heart attack that almost killed him. From the ashes of many losses and a near-death experience, he saw an opportunity to reinvent himself. He eagerly seized that opportunity, rather than allowing himself to succumb to defeat.
As Levitt discussed on “5 Minute Success – The Podcast,” critically self-reflecting on his actions during his most stressful year was the step that allowed him to change and realize how to best cope with stress and burnout. With a background as a health care professional, Levitt complemented his preexisting skill set by learning more about sales and marketing; eventually, he began giving presentations on stage. Levitt then went on to found The Breakfast Leadership Network, which helps leaders cope with their stress and burnout.
“Launching your own business from nothing is such an amazing feeling,” Levitt commented. “When people kept saying that I’m doing such important work, I knew that I would be able to do this as my full-time career.”
In the throes of passion
From an outsider’s perspective, it seems incredible that Levitt finds the time to be involved in so many projects. From the online classes that he teaches to his many speaking opportunities, it’s evident that he is diligent. Levitt has a sizable audience engaged with his platform as well. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, his calendar is booked.
“I’ve been increasing my speaking opportunities in 2020, and even during the pandemic I’ve lined up over 30 speaking events, to talk about burnout,” he said. “The increased speaking was intentional, as more people need to learn how to prevent and recover from burning out.”
Notably, Levitt makes his thought process and perspective available and accessible for interested people to study. His thoughts are an open book on his blog, where he primarily delivers advice to business professionals. The earliest blog post (from 2016) quirkily instructs readers to take a business envelope, write “MICHAEL" on the outside and put US$20 in it every week to help start an emergency fund.
Levitt also offers advice on his blog and his podcast, the “Breakfast Leadership Show,” about preventing burnout. On one episode of his podcast, he suggests that striving for fulfillment and learning to protect yourself with boundaries are a couple of ways to avoid unwanted depletion.
Helping others prevent burnout is what fuels Levitt in his work. “Realizing that so many people are burning out has motivated me to create content and speak across the globe on what burnout is, how to recognize the warning signs, and, most importantly, learn how to prevent it from happening again,” he explained.
Learning from someone who understands
Levitt’s story can help us keep in mind that perceived setbacks can really just be new beginnings in disguise. By choosing to make the best out of every situation and using challenges as an opportunity to prioritize and plan new approaches, we can pull ourselves back up when something knocks us down.
We asked him what advice he might give his younger self with all of the experience and knowledge he has now. “Don’t stress over everything. Spend less than you make. Enjoy the moments,” he said.
We were happy to learn more about Levitt’s many experiences and his life journey so far.
In your book “369 Days: How to Survive a Year of Worst-Case Scenarios" you talk about how you lost your job, car, health and home within a year. How did you begin to bounce back from these setbacks?
After each of those losses, I focused on what the best next step for me would be, to recover from the loss. After my heart attack, I focused on recovering from that and becoming more active in my health choices. After the job loss, I focused on finding a new job, which took several months, due to the economic conditions at that time. After finding a job in a new town, my car was repossessed, but thankfully we had another vehicle that was fully paid off. We had moved to a new house that we had rented, and was about to sell our old home, when the bank foreclosed the home before it went on the market.
You previously worked as a healthcare executive. What led you onto a different path? Do you miss anything about your former career?
Launching the Breakfast Leadership Network to focus on burnout prevention is my life’s true work. I made it my full-time work after leaving health care. While I grew as a professional during my health care career, I do not miss it at all.
What is “burnout recovery?" How does someone know when they are burned out?
The 5 warning signs of burnout are poor sleep habits, constant fatigue, increased mistakes at work, lack of motivation to do anything and being irritable towards others. Recovering from burnout eliminates those issues in your life, so you feel like you again.
How can someone maintain their motivation? As an author, how do you stay disciplined?
In my talks and work with teams, I have people list out on a piece of paper all the things in life they enjoy doing or experiencing. After a few minutes, I ask them to write next to those items the last time they did or experienced those things. I find that people stop doing things that bring them joy and fulfillment when they are burning out. I then challenge people to schedule 2-3 of those items on their calendar over the next 10 days, and treat them as the most important meeting they will have with their boss. Because in all reality, the boss of your life is you.
What is one habit you recommend having?
Keep a journal and write in it daily. Keep a food and energy journal as well, so you know when you aren’t feeling well, it possibly could be due to the food (energy) you eat.
What inspired you to start your podcast the “Breakfast Leadership Show?"
I felt that having a podcast show would help grow the audience of people that could benefit from my burnout lessons, and the show has grown to interview global thought leaders on a variety of subjects. It’s a blast to host the show!
Who is your biggest influence? And why?
I don’t have a single influence, but I am influenced by people who are living the life they desire, and living how they want and where they want.
As a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
A baseball player, but my gifts were more allocated to office work, lol.
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