Burnout on the job is real. Tapping into inner leadership skills can help you avoid it.

Photography by Mia Baker / Chad Prevost

In 2020, Chad and Shelley Prevost started The Big Self School, an executive leadership coaching company that helps individuals and organizations develop "inner leadership skills." They assist clients in doing the tough work to uncover blind spots, develop more functional awareness around thoughts and language, as well as emotional and body awareness. Chad recently completed his latest book, Shock Point: The Enneagram in Burnout and Stress. For more, visit bigselfschool.com/product/shock-point, or find it wherever you buy your books online.

Tell us about Big Self School. How did that come to be?

We founded the school in March of 2020, which was the best and worst of times when it came to founding a school focused on mental health and self-awareness. It was mayhem that first year. It was exactly what everybody was needing, but the space was intense and cluttered almost immediately.

Most of our clients don't want to change careers, necessarily, but are interested in understanding themselves better and how they relate to their work and their fellow humans within the work environment. A lot of our clients are in the second half of their life, and many have reached a state of languishing, if not a state of burnout.

We get to a certain point, but then wonder, "Is this it?" There are "golden handcuffs," so to speak. People are scared to make shifts in their careers.

Our goal is to help others transform and develop inner leadership skills. To us, good leadership means you've done the work on yourself; you are truly working on yourself; and in that way, you are ready to deal with the many challenges and vicissitudes that will test you -- which are the outer results you're looking for.

How can businesses benefit from your book?

Broadly speaking, this can be used as a way to increase communication efficacy. Many people are having difficult conversations at work. For others, it can be a way to understand blind spots, which of course are visible to everyone except the individual.

Literally, language is action. Language reveals our thinking. In order to do anything -- to build a house or pave a road -- we begin with language. Organizations, at this foundational level, need to realize that our language leads to the results we get. And if you want different results, maybe it's the way you're communicating -- to yourself or others.

It's been an exciting couple of years, working with a variety of regional and local organizations including United Way, La Paz, Northside Neighborhood House, The Make-a-Wish Foundation, Market Street Partners, Pendleton Square Trust and the Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute, among others. When you can spend time with an organization, it really does open peoples' eyes to what's right in front of them.

What is the Enneagram?

There are a variety of well-known personality typology tests like Myers-Briggs, diSC, StrengthFinders and 360s -- all of which contribute to some understanding. But the Enneagram goes a step further in helping us understand our motivations. And when we understand why we do certain behaviors, it helps us offer grace to ourselves and others. The Enneagram is rooted in ancient wisdom, but as a personality typology was first introduced in North America in the early 1970s.

Why the subject of burnout?

Burnout is a huge subject that has been manifesting in our culture since at least the 1970s. The World Health Organization (WHO) finally decided to include it as an official diagnosis in 2019, listing it as an occupational phenomenon in their international classification of diseases. They confined their definition to specific issues happening in the workplace, though.

We live in a culture where our identities are very much defined by what we do. We are so isolated, not as communal as we used to be. And our huge collective culture emphasizes the importance of productivity and efficiency -- which are empirically measurable things. Our culture was in a crisis before the pandemic, but the silver lining that has come from all this collective suffering is that we became a little more comfortable talking about these sorts of issues.

A "shock point" is loosely defined as a turning point moment. Something is disrupted in our routine or normal flow of life. It's the pivotal moment when we've reached the point of needing to change, or being asked to change. And the Enneagram offers a way out of that.

If you are at the height of burnout, you are in a really bad shape. You need to start taking care of health and baseline needs, and then you can begin to build. Most of our clients aren't at that level of crisis, but they are languishing. They are experiencing chronic stress.

So, the coaching process assumes you are the expert of yourself. We are present to the stories you are telling yourself, and guides in raising awareness by observing the ways you put yourself into looping situations, or hold back your own potential and possibilities.

It's a hard process, and sometimes it's a challenge to get people to recognize the need to work on themselves in the first place. But when they are ready, and when they do put in the work, the results are transformational and endure in all facets of life.

  photo  Contributed photography
  photo  Photography by Mia Baker / Chad and Shelley Prevost