Meet Kelsey Buell

With a middle name like Joy and roots in Niceville, Florida, Kelsey Buell’s sunny demeanor doesn’t come as a surprise. She’s using what she has learned about following your passions with the Burnout Prevention Project. She talks with Ladyboss about “playing second fiddle,” the shame of burnout, and a new concept for work-life balance.

Tell me a bit about yourself

I was born in Niceville, Florida. My middle name is Joy. Oftentimes people ask me, “How are you so happy all the time?” It sort of makes me cringe, but the truth is just like anyone else I have good days and bad days, but I really believe that God has gifted me with this ability to really use my enthusiasm to positively impact others. Growing up I was a performer, dancer, singer, and played violin. When I graduated high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In my heart I wanted to be a performer; I loved the arts. I wound up at Concordia and I felt very lost. My senior year in college I approached our orchestra director and asked if I could be moved from second violin to first violin, because I felt like second fiddle. He said, “I’m sorry, but there are other players who are better than you.” I felt like this thing I loved being stripped away from me with this sense of not being good enough. I stopped singing and performing, and after college I got a job in recruiting. What I found was I got to get in front of groups and talk about the mission of who I was recruiting for, and I felt like I got to be a performer. So, being in the business world actually reignited my passion for that. I learned so much about how important people are at the workplace during my time in recruiting. I talked with people so much about how they hated their jobs, and I was able to found The Burnout Prevention Project, which really does capture all of my passions at once – even my music! I just did an event where I talked a lot about my passion for violin, and at the end I got to play a song!

What is the Burnout Prevention Project?

We are still in the discovery phase. I have this passion for people. I want everyone I come in connection with to love what they do. There is this concept being talked a lot about right now that is “work-life integration” rather than “work-life balance.” I’m a believer that if you integrate what you love into your day to day, you’ll never have a bad day. I’m always the friend who gets the phone call when a loved one’s boss does something wrong, or when the work culture isn’t working out. I’ve always gotten those phone calls and so it started to become a pattern where I realized I needed to do something. If so many people in my life were so unhappy with their jobs, then I wanted to go out and improve that. So, that’s the “why.” The “what” is evolving. We started with a six-week coaching program for women, and we’ve expanded to small peer advisory groups. These are groups of women looking for coaching or support, and we get together once a month to talk through challenges. Typically those always start as a work challenge, and as we talk through it, it turns out it’s more of a personal life challenge. That’s where that work-life integration piece is so important. My goal is really to just help people love their jobs and find ways to mix their passions into their daily work.

What is work-life integration and how does it differ from work-life balance?

It starts with self-reflection. I recommend you make three lists: the things you do throughout the day you love, the things you do throughout your day that are tolerable, and the things you do throughout your day that you don’t love. What I find is that the people who are able to integrate more of those things they love into their day are happier in their job. There’s no magic solution to getting those other two off of your plate, but you can open the conversation with your team, and oftentimes I find that others are willing or eager to take some of those things off of your plate or switch responsibilities so that you’re all better able to take on tasks that are more fulfilling. There is probably something that is following you around that you aren’t paying attention to. For me that was music. Now I’m incorporating that into my workshops and my speaking gigs, and it’s making the work so much better. Focus on how you can make things fun throughout your day. I go into every meeting and just think, “How much fun can I have in this meeting?” I’ve started focusing on the fun rather than the success, and the success just comes along.

I love the idea of focusing on fun rather than a particular outcome

It has changed my life! I got it from this book called Super Attracter, and what I learned from the book is that people are really avoidant of feeling good. Focusing on how much fun you can have along the way is so important, and it makes people more receptive to you and it lets your guard down and theirs.

We’ve talked a lot about burnout pushing women out of the workforce over the last year. There have been so many stats, but not a lot of solutions. Where do we go from here?

Studies show that the number one prevention of burnout is taking time to move. That can be a workout or a walk. Creating buffer time in your calendar is really important. So, if you are scheduling an hour meeting, schedule it for fifty minutes instead. That way everyone involved gets a ten minute buffer between meetings or whatever comes next. Then you have to consider what rest means for you. Minimum you should have ten hours of rest a day. I personally need more like twelve, but rest can include movement, or actually stopping to eat food through the day rather than answering emails through lunch. It means really incorporating intentional time when you’re not doing work. When you push and you just go go go, you don’t give your brain time to process. If you take time away, you can come back and do even better. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to set their own schedule, but pay attention to when you have more energy and use that to your advantage, resting when you need to.

How can perfection be a joy killer and how can striving for perfection actually hurt us?

I call this “paralyzed by perfect.” We have such an idea in our head of what perfection looks like, but perfection is different for everyone. If you look at all of the pressures that we have coming at us, it’s like that imagery of the girl with the entire world sitting on her back. If you try to be perfect all of the time it feels like that, like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. I’ve stopped working toward being perfect and started saying “sometimes done is enough.” Sometimes you go into something before you’re ready.

Going into 2022 and continuing in this weird work-life hybrid world, I’m thinking a lot about burnout outside of the workplace. How does burnout look different between work and home?

Well, it’s different for everyone. The first thing to recognize is just, “is what I’m doing aligning with my values?” I think you can apply that to both work and personal. What do I say yes to and what do I need to say no to? Think of your future self and ask if they would give you a high five for taking this on. We’re always moving so fast that we’ve gotten in the habit of just saying yes to everything. You have to know when to draw the line and say, “I have hit my max.” Talking about it also really helps. With our groups one of the things we hear so much is just that women now know they aren’t alone with these challenges and feelings.

The thing I’m taking away from our conversation is that burnout is this thing that is so widely experienced is also deeply personal. It takes a lot of self-understanding to get to that prevention or treatment piece.

Saying you’re feeling burned out often brings feelings of shame. We feel this sense of shame if we admit that we’re exhausted. Even some of the leaders I’ve worked with won’t even touch the term burnout. They’re scared to even talk about it because they don’t want to admit their employees might be suffering. Both leaders and employees seem afraid to talk about it, but it takes courage to start these conversations and do something about it.