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Interview: Cait Donovan and Why Burnout is Her Superpower
Episode 930th August 2022 • Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking • Kirsten Rourke
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In Episode 9 of Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking, Kirsten talks with Caitlin Donovan, burnout coach, author, speaker, and host of Fried: The Burnout Podcast. Cait shares the moment when she realized she was experiencing burnout despite doing “everything right” in her life and how being a lifelong nerd and an insanely curious person led to her book.

Listen to hear why Cait knows the hex code for Pepsi blue, what she thinks the power of a good speaker is, and how the “tend and befriend” stress response is an important reason to have speaker friends.

Key take-aways:

  • How can you be burnt out if you’re doing everything right?
  • What is the power of a good speaker?
  • Why do speakers need to be aware of the “tend and befriend” stress response?

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Read a transcript of this episode: https://share.descript.com/view/rXvWFem9vIE

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Transcripts

Kirsten:

Welcome to Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking.

Kirsten:

It's a podcast and a community.

Kirsten:

I'm Kirsten Rourke, speaker, presenter, and founder of Rourke Training.

Kirsten:

And this is Kellie.

Kellie:

Hey there, I'm Kellie, producer, writer, and herder of cats.

Kirsten:

Oh, so many cats.

Kirsten:

After over 20 years as speaker and presenter, I've seen it all

Kirsten:

and I'm sharing it with you.

Kirsten:

Ongoing mastery is about continual improvement of your craft.

Kirsten:

You'll learn tips and hear from industry leaders.

Kirsten:

I'll tell you straight up what works and what doesn't, so you can thrive.

Kirsten:

Let's get started.

Kirsten:

Welcome to episode number nine.

Kirsten:

Today, we've got an interview with Caitlin Donovan.

Kellie:

No relation.

Kirsten:

So, Kellie Donovan, Caitlin Donovan.

Kellie:

Yeah.

Kellie:

There are only two sounds that can start Irish-American girl

Kellie:

names, K sounds and M sounds.

Kirsten:

That's a law, right?

Kellie:

It is.

Kellie:

It's totally a law.

Kirsten:

And your daughter's name?

Kellie:

Maeve.

Kirsten:

Well, I'm glad that you're following the law.

Kellie:

Me too.

Kellie:

My Irish grandma is relieved.

Kirsten:

So with Caitlin, what we've got is a great interview

Kirsten:

today with the author, speaker, and head of the podcast for Fried.

Kirsten:

The Burnout Podcast.

Kirsten:

Let's get to it.

Kirsten:

Caitlin, you are an expert in burnout.

Kirsten:

Can you explain about your podcast?

Caitlin:

I can.

Caitlin:

So Fried.

Caitlin:

The Burnout Podcast came from an intense desire to, honestly,

Caitlin:

have more stories for my book.

Caitlin:

I was writing a book on burnout.

Caitlin:

It was mostly about me and I knew it was going to be my story, but I

Caitlin:

didn't want it to be only my story.

Caitlin:

And I had only been working with clients for a short time then,

Caitlin:

so I didn't have enough of that.

Caitlin:

So I decided to start Fried for that purpose.

Caitlin:

It has then since turned into a million other things, but in the

Caitlin:

very beginning, it was about that.

Kirsten:

How, I mean, how did you get to where burnout the

Kirsten:

book was your, your focus?

Caitlin:

The short version?

Kirsten:

Or the long version.

Caitlin:

Okay.

Kirsten:

It's up to you.

Kirsten:

It's really up to you.

Caitlin:

So, I always followed my heart with what I wanted to do.

Caitlin:

I ended up doing acupuncture instead of getting an MD, which was my original plan.

Caitlin:

So I ended up getting a master's degree in acupuncture.

Caitlin:

I did it all over the world.

Caitlin:

I was very successful with it and underneath it the whole time was this

Caitlin:

immense need to constantly be proving myself and over-giving to everyone

Caitlin:

around me, because I thought that that was where my value came from.

Kirsten:

Yeah.

Kirsten:

I, I don't resemble that at all.

Kirsten:

Um, have never heard of that before.

Kirsten:

That's totally new.

Kirsten:

Yeah, that wasn't a conversation I was just having this morning.

Kirsten:

So, all right, so then you moved towards addressing burnout in a more

Caitlin:

Yeah

Kirsten:

verbal way.

Caitlin:

Well, I, I went through burnout myself and I didn't know that I was

Caitlin:

going through it for six or seven years.

Caitlin:

I was exhausted.

Caitlin:

I was unkind.

Caitlin:

I was resentful.

Caitlin:

I was all the things and I couldn't really figure out what was going on.

Caitlin:

And by this point, like, I've done life coaching training.

Caitlin:

I'm, got a master's degree in Chinese medicine.

Caitlin:

I've done therapy.

Caitlin:

I meditate.

Caitlin:

I exercise.

Caitlin:

You know, I do all the things, like, I'm doing all the things, right?

Caitlin:

And one day in 2016, I read an article on burnout and, you know when you

Caitlin:

read or hear or even say something that's really true, and your whole

Caitlin:

body prickles up in recognition?

Kirsten:

Yeah

Caitlin:

I had that moment.

Caitlin:

I was reading an article on burnout and I was like, "Oh, damn.

Kirsten:

Oh wow.

Caitlin:

That's it."

Caitlin:

And so I started the process of, of the unwinding, but me being me

Caitlin:

I'm, a, a, I'll be a lifelong nerd.

Caitlin:

I'm very proud of that fact.

Caitlin:

And so I downloaded every piece of burnout research that had ever been written.

Caitlin:

My husband was doing a post-grad at Cambridge at the time, so I had

Caitlin:

access to university libraries.

Caitlin:

So I downloaded everything and it took me about a year to get through it.

Caitlin:

And as I was going through, I kept saying, "Oh, I wonder when I'll get to the

Caitlin:

part where it talks about my situation?

Caitlin:

You know, like the entrepreneurial

Kirsten:

yeah

Caitlin:

situation.

Caitlin:

I was reading about doctors.

Caitlin:

I was reading about nurses.

Caitlin:

I was reading about corporate workers.

Caitlin:

I was, this is where all the studies are being done, corporations, hospitals.

Caitlin:

And I'm like, yeah, but I, I work for myself and all the studies were saying,

Caitlin:

"Well, it's the corporation's fault.

Caitlin:

It's the hospital's fault."

Caitlin:

And I was still like, yeah, but I work for myself.

Kirsten:

Okay.

Caitlin:

So when do we get to me?

Caitlin:

And we never got to me in the research.

Caitlin:

That's where my book came from.

Caitlin:

What about people like me?

Caitlin:

What about the female entrepreneurs who are wearing all the damn

Caitlin:

hats, who are breaking under the pressure of their own expectations?

Kirsten:

Yup.

Caitlin:

Who's talking to them?

Caitlin:

So I decided I would.

Kirsten:

Fantastic.

Kirsten:

So the name of this podcast is obviously Ongoing Mastery and

Kirsten:

clearly that's a thing for you.

Kirsten:

So how does that show up for you?

Caitlin:

You know, there's a piece of this that is attached to my not-enoughness.

Caitlin:

So I, I have to keep learning so that I feel more enough.

Caitlin:

It never actually works, but I keep doing it anyway.

Caitlin:

So that's definitely part of it.

Caitlin:

But the other part of it is, I am insanely curious.

Kirsten:

Does that tie in?

Kirsten:

Oh, go ahead.

Kirsten:

Sorry.

Caitlin:

I just love understanding mechanisms, which is why I like reading

Caitlin:

research studies, especially experimental studies where there's a causation factor.

Caitlin:

Like I, I'm obsessed with learning how people work, not necessarily things.

Caitlin:

I could, I really don't care how a toaster makes my toast, but I really do care

Caitlin:

how that coping mechanism that used to really work well for you, how and when it

Caitlin:

shifted into something that harmed you.

Kirsten:

Ooh, nice.

Kirsten:

So, this is going to be sort of an odd transition, but how does

Kirsten:

that relate to public speaking?

Kirsten:

Because you and I met, met in the Innovation Women

Kirsten:

speakers visibility group.

Caitlin:

Yeah.

Kirsten:

And so both of us are connected via public speaking.

Kirsten:

How does, how does your work tie into that?

Caitlin:

So most of my work, the majority of my income at the moment,

Caitlin:

is from, in the public speaking realm.

Caitlin:

So I talked to corporations and hospitals and women's initiative

Caitlin:

groups and DEI groups about how to restructure their companies to avoid

Caitlin:

burnout, and also how to deal with burnout on an individual level.

Caitlin:

So we, we do a top, a top-and, a both-and, a top-bottom approach.

Caitlin:

And the mastery and the research and this insane curiosity helps my

Caitlin:

speaking massively because I'm always on the forefront of what's happening.

Caitlin:

I have always reading the latest thing, and I'm really curious

Caitlin:

about the people in the audience.

Caitlin:

So I do enough background sort of info on them before I show up that I know

Caitlin:

I can actually speak to them directly.

Kirsten:

Nice.

Kirsten:

So your prep process is pretty extensive, it sounds like.

Caitlin:

Yes and no.

Caitlin:

It doesn't feel necessarily like I'm sitting down and creating this whole

Caitlin:

process around it because it's just my natural way of doing things, right.

Caitlin:

So it doesn't feel like a, here's all these, here's this massive

Caitlin:

checklist of things I need to do.

Caitlin:

And it doesn't take me an insane amount of time, either.

Caitlin:

But I do read through all the websites, see which companies are showing up.

Caitlin:

You know, I did, I, I did an event with Pepsi recently.

Caitlin:

I looked up the hex code for, for Pepsi blue.

Kirsten:

You did?

Kirsten:

Ok.

Caitlin:

Yes, and then I bought a dress that was as similar as

Caitlin:

I could find to Pepsi's blue.

Kirsten:

Oh, I love that.

Caitlin:

And that mattered to them.

Caitlin:

I showed up and I said, "Hey, I just want you to know that this is

Caitlin:

intentional and this is as close as I could get to your hex code."

Caitlin:

And they were like, "We have our own hex code?"

Caitlin:

I was like, "Yes, trademarked, you know, like," and it made everybody laugh and

Caitlin:

it let them know, "Hey, listen, I'm here.

Caitlin:

I'm paying attention to you.

Caitlin:

I'm all in."

Kirsten:

Oh, that's awesome.

Kirsten:

That's awesome.

Kirsten:

So, so at, I mean, you've been in the speaking business a long time.

Kirsten:

What, I mean, what do you wish that you knew when you started?

Caitlin:

I wish that I knew that I wasn't automatically a good speaker.

Caitlin:

So I am a good speaker by nature.

Caitlin:

I didn't really know that I could do things to improve

Caitlin:

the actual speaking portion.

Caitlin:

And that would be the thing that would get me from charging very little amounts

Caitlin:

of money to very big amounts of money.

Caitlin:

I am talking about the same subjects and earning 20 to 40

Caitlin:

times more than a few years ago.

Kirsten:

I like that.

Kirsten:

I like that a lot.

Caitlin:

Right.

Kirsten:

That's excellent.

Caitlin:

When I first started, I was thrilled to get $250 to speak.

Kirsten:

Yup.

Kirsten:

Yup.

Caitlin:

I was thrilled.

Caitlin:

And I was like, "Wow, people are going to, I talk all the time.

Caitlin:

This is easy."

Caitlin:

I didn't understand that being good at talking and being good

Caitlin:

at speaking are different things.

Kirsten:

Nice.

Kirsten:

Okay.

Kirsten:

So, other than being a good speaker, what other skills does

Kirsten:

somebody need to be great onstage?

Caitlin:

I think that there's a benefit in, in this realm to

Caitlin:

having some sort of past trauma and having a slightly hypervigilant

Caitlin:

empathic sort of ability, you know?

Kirsten:

No, we're not, we're not all alike.

Kirsten:

No.

Caitlin:

Right.

Caitlin:

So I think that there's a way to use some of these superpower coping mechanisms

Caitlin:

that can cause damage if they sort of go unraveled, but being someone who is highly

Caitlin:

attuned to the energy of a room, because I had to be as a child, which destroyed me

Caitlin:

for a few years and now I use on purpose.

Caitlin:

Being able to be very in tuned to a room and being able to conduct

Caitlin:

the energy of a room, to me this is the power of a good speaker.

Caitlin:

If, if you are in a room with a speaker who is really hitting it,

Caitlin:

they bring people in with a laugh.

Caitlin:

They draw them back down with a story.

Caitlin:

They, they can, they're conducting the energy of the audience.

Caitlin:

This to me is an amazing skill that if you don't have this sort of a built-in

Caitlin:

hypervigilance because of past trauma, you do need to work on reading body language

Caitlin:

and this kind of other skill so that you can tap into this in a different way.

Caitlin:

But I do find that a lot of speakers that have a really good story to tell,

Caitlin:

have this hypervigilance in them.

Caitlin:

They're just not actually using it, but if they could, they would

Caitlin:

be doing themselves a service, and their audiences for that matter.

Kirsten:

That makes total sense.

Kirsten:

So, in talking to groups of people, let's shift over to conferences.

Kirsten:

What, for for you, how important do you think it is when somebody is

Kirsten:

attending a conference, you know, as an attendee, what's the value?

Kirsten:

What's the importance in that?

Caitlin:

For me, when I show up to a, if I'm at a three-day conference and I'm

Caitlin:

day two, I like to pop in for at least 10 to 15 minutes, a couple of times during

Caitlin:

the day and watch the other speakers, because it allows me to take a couple of

Caitlin:

notes, write down specific names, and then incorporate those names and those notes

Caitlin:

into my speech for those people, because it helps them tie everything together.

Caitlin:

You know, repetition is the mother of learning, right.

Caitlin:

So if I can pull other pieces that they're learning into what I'm talking about,

Caitlin:

it helps them connect all the dots.

Caitlin:

It gives them the branch to hang this new piece of information off

Caitlin:

of, without having them work harder.

Caitlin:

It makes them ease, it makes it easier for them to remember what I'm saying.

Caitlin:

And, to be really honest, it makes me look really good.

Kirsten:

Well that's, but, but that's a good thing, too, yes, definitely.

Caitlin:

Well, and it helps, it helps them and me.

Caitlin:

So if they know that I'm paying attention to them, they feel good.

Caitlin:

So, I do it intentionally for their learning and also, so that

Caitlin:

my words are more impactful.

Kirsten:

And the, the net that, the groups obviously, I had, I had

Kirsten:

also interviewed Bobbie Carlton of Innovation Women that we know.

Kirsten:

We talked about speaker friends and how important it is for

Kirsten:

speakers to have speaker friends.

Kirsten:

In any field, presenting, speaking, any variation of that, the, the understanding

Kirsten:

that other people in the same, you know, with the same goals, with the

Kirsten:

same needs has, is pretty obvious.

Kirsten:

But what is it about having, having a good network beyond just hearing,

Kirsten:

you know, feeling heard and feeling understood, what are the values of,

Kirsten:

of really making a strong network?

Caitlin:

So for me, the, the values of making a strong network are more gigs,

Caitlin:

because people think of you, right.

Caitlin:

Bobbie just had someone come to her and say, "Oh, do you

Caitlin:

know somebody about burnout?"

Caitlin:

and she's like, "Actually I have somebody."

Kirsten:

Nice.

Caitlin:

So just being able to get gigs is useful for networking.

Caitlin:

I also think it's important to see examples of where you are

Caitlin:

and where you'd like to be.

Caitlin:

So the more time I spend with other speakers, the more I realize

Caitlin:

what possibilities are out there.

Caitlin:

When I was living in this sort of, "I'm speaking in this little world by myself

Caitlin:

and I don't know any other speakers," I was like, "People don't charge that much."

Caitlin:

And now I'm like, "Oh gosh, a bunch of people charge that much.

Caitlin:

It's not actually that big of a deal."

Caitlin:

And I didn't, I had to be with speakers to understand that that

Caitlin:

was an acceptable thing to do.

Caitlin:

As long as, we go back to the beginning, as long as I'm working on my speaking

Caitlin:

mastery, as long as I am paying attention to my sentence structure, my cadence,

Caitlin:

the times that I pause, the times that I don't, the words I emphasize, the

Caitlin:

way I stand on stage, et cetera, right?

Caitlin:

So as long as I am doing the work to improve my presence on the stage,

Caitlin:

I can continually increase my fee.

Caitlin:

And there's no way I would've known that.

Caitlin:

I just wouldn't have known that.

Caitlin:

I also, the more time I spend in the speaking community, I'm a board member

Caitlin:

of the New York City chapter of the National Speakers Association, and the

Caitlin:

more time I spend with these people, the more I realize how much I didn't

Caitlin:

know about the business of speaking.

Caitlin:

Like you don't know what you don't know because you don't know it.

Kirsten:

Yep.

Caitlin:

So being with these people shines a light on all the different ways that

Caitlin:

I can learn and all the different things that could help me move myself along

Caitlin:

this, in this speaking career that I would have had to stumble across by myself at

Caitlin:

some point on the inter, but you wouldn't even know what you were looking for.

Caitlin:

You know, like, you just, you have access to resources that are unbelievable.

Caitlin:

This is the, there's a stress response in women that, I mean, men have it

Caitlin:

too, just to a lesser degree because of estrogen, that's called tend and befriend.

Caitlin:

You know, we always talk about fight or flight, but there's a

Caitlin:

tend and befriend stress response.

Caitlin:

And the goal of it is to, you know, say you're in the middle of a forest

Caitlin:

and you are being chased by an animal and you need your child to be quiet.

Caitlin:

You tend to them so that they hush down, right, so that you can't be found.

Caitlin:

And befriending is about increasing the resources available

Caitlin:

to you at any given time.

Caitlin:

So the more people that you befriend, the, you know, this

Caitlin:

person has access to dry food.

Caitlin:

This person has access to meat.

Caitlin:

This person has access to fresh water.

Caitlin:

This person has access to, right?

Caitlin:

So the more people you include in your space, the more

Caitlin:

resources you have available.

Caitlin:

To me, being in a community of speaker people widely varies and

Caitlin:

increases my resource ability.

Kirsten:

I like it.

Kirsten:

I hadn't thought of it that way.

Kirsten:

Because I was thinking of it as the learning new skills, but yeah

Caitlin:

Just the resources alone

Kirsten:

Just the resources

Caitlin:

Just to be able to ask somebody what freaking

Caitlin:

microphone to buy for a podcast,

Kirsten:

Yes

Caitlin:

You know, like things like this.

Kirsten:

Yup.

Caitlin:

Simple things sometimes.

Kirsten:

And, and I will say that questions like that, until I got

Kirsten:

into this, I didn't realize what a potentially religious division there

Kirsten:

was around microphones and types and, and people's, like core, core beliefs.

Kirsten:

So it's really interesting to open that door and go, "Oh, you

Kirsten:

have very strong opinions on this.

Kirsten:

Okay, fantastic."

Caitlin:

Right.

Caitlin:

And that, that's helpful.

Caitlin:

That can be helpful, right?

Kirsten:

Yes

Caitlin:

If five people have very strong opinions and three of them have very

Caitlin:

strong opinions about the same mic

Kirsten:

Yeah

Caitlin:

it might be worth considering.

Kirsten:

Yeah.

Kirsten:

I'm, I'm now thinking of actually buying a SHU, which I had not

Caitlin:

yeah

Kirsten:

previously thought to do, but enough people were like, "Oh, you've

Kirsten:

got to have one," and I'm like, "Hmm.

Kirsten:

Okay.

Kirsten:

I, I'm thinking that's the case."

Kirsten:

So, all right, so last question.

Kirsten:

What, what do you see for yourself in, when we think about ongoing

Kirsten:

mastery and growing and so on, where, where do you want to head?

Kirsten:

Where are you striving for?

Caitlin:

Yeah, so right now, I'm at a place where I have a very comfortable,

Caitlin:

fairly regular speaking career that has a ton of space to grow.

Caitlin:

So right now doing two or three events a month, I'm financially

Caitlin:

sound, but I can do a lot more than two or three events a month.

Caitlin:

And I would love to be at a place where I can choose maybe five, right?

Caitlin:

Because you can't, that's another thing about speakers that sometimes

Caitlin:

people don't understand, you, you almost can't do this every single day.

Caitlin:

It is really a big energetic ask.

Caitlin:

Some people can, because people have different levels of energy

Caitlin:

available for different things.

Caitlin:

But I can't do this multiple times a day, for days on end.

Caitlin:

You know, I just had a three-week span where I had something almost

Caitlin:

every day for three straight weeks.

Caitlin:

And this week I have pretty much off.

Caitlin:

And thank goodness, because I was, I was happy, but really tired by the end of it.

Caitlin:

You, there's only so much, I'm an ambivert and there's only

Caitlin:

so much peopling I can handle.

Caitlin:

And I love people and I love being on stage and I love being on my

Caitlin:

couch also, that those are, those are the same, you know, equal.

Caitlin:

So I would like to get to a place where I can charge enough for my events that doing

Caitlin:

four to five events a month consistently, and having them booked out six months in

Caitlin:

advance, just being prepared so that I know how to plan myself and how to plan

Caitlin:

my time and my money and all of that, leaves me in a place where I can really

Caitlin:

start thinking about the other ways that I want to contribute to the world.

Kirsten:

I, I love it.

Kirsten:

And that's the perfect place to end.

Kirsten:

I'm not going to say anything else.

Kirsten:

That's awesome.

Kirsten:

Thank you.

Kirsten:

Final thing, just, your podcast is available

Caitlin:

everywhere

Kirsten:

and it's Fried.

Caitlin:

The Burnout Podcast

Kirsten:

The Burnout Podcast.

Kirsten:

All right.

Kirsten:

Awesome.

Kirsten:

Thank you so much.

Kirsten:

And I will see you in the next Friday meeting.

Caitlin:

I will see you there.

Caitlin:

Thank you.

Kirsten:

All right.

Kirsten:

Well, that was awesome.

Kellie:

I love her approach that recognizes joy, but also there

Kellie:

are times when you are not joyful.

Kirsten:

Yeah.

Kirsten:

I love that as researchy, geeky people,

Kellie:

Yes

Kirsten:

that she addresses the fact that entrepreneurs were kind of left out

Kirsten:

. Kellie: And she stays on top of

Kirsten:

It's not just a one and done.

Kirsten:

So definitely check out her podcast.

Kirsten:

It's linked in the show notes, and of course, subscribe to ours.

Kirsten:

We'll see you next time.

Kirsten:

Thank you for joining us for Ongoing Mastery: Presenting & Speaking, the

Kirsten:

podcast for everyone who wants to work on their own skills and lift up others.

Kirsten:

If you enjoyed this episode, continue the conversation on our

Kirsten:

Ongoing Mastery LinkedIn group.

Kirsten:

The link is in the show notes.

Kirsten:

Share the love on social media and tell your friends about the podcast.

Kirsten:

Be sure to catch our next episode

Kellie:

and hit the subscribe button.

Links