The one side effect of burnout no one is talking about.

When Katherine Iscoe took on the role of CEO for the company she and her husband founded, she thought everything was perfect

And it was - on paper. 

"It was a wonderful opportunity so the thought process was 'hell yes!' as I am very supportive of helping more women get into executive roles," says Iscoe. Problem was, she never wanted to be an executive herself. 

Despite the success of the company, and her success in the role, it wasn’t long before the cracks started to appear. Iscoe tried to keep up the facade, but the foundation had broken, and so did her 10-year relationship

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"When we split I felt like I had lost my best friend (even writing this now I am tearing up)," she shares. But she soldiered on. 

"You’re the CEO of an incredibly successful and incredible company, but on the inside, your relationship is crumbling. That’s a hard pill to swallow."

Eventually a friend pointed out the obvious - Iscoe didn’t seem herself. So she decided to go to a psychologist. 

"After 10 minutes the psych said, 'You’re burnt out, you need to take some time off … at least a month'.


"Telling a high-achiever to take time off is the equivalent of torture. So I bargained her down to taking the rest of the afternoon off. Within an hour - it hit me."

The burnout trinity - f***, fear and the facade. 

As a mindset expert with a PhD in physiology, Iscoe had a range of tried and tested exercises in her repertoire that she often taught others to apply. 

“One of which is 'flow writing' - a process whereby you set a timer, and just start writing. No judgement, no editing - just write. So I bought myself a pretty journal from Kmart along with a gold pen, made myself a cup of tea for the quintessential '#selfcare' Instagram photo and started writing."

Iscoe assumed the picture-perfect process would solve all her problems; that the clouds were going to open up and she’d receive all the answers, plus some poetic prose of publishable self-actualisation. But that didn’t happen.

"What came out of me was the most psychotic profanity I had ever seen. F*** you, f*** them, f*** everyone. I hate the world, I hate life, I hate, hate, hate. You know those letters that psycho killers write in thriller movies? Yep, that’s what it looked like. Definitely not 'Instagramable'."

When she’d finished the process, Iscoe threw the journal down on the couch and gave it the double middle finger, all the while screaming 'F*** you, F*** you!'. 

"Why was I angry? I was angry at myself for letting my people-pleasing requirements skew me to get to that point. Angry that I had wasted precious time."

That anger soon turned to the second F - fear. 

"There I was - mid forties and I still hadn’t figured out life, nor my career. How stupid do you have to be to get to this point? Pathetic. What if I would never be the successful person I said and wanted to be?"


Then just as quickly, that fear turned into a facade. 

"When people asked, 'how are you doing?', I’d say, 'I’m amazing'. Because to me, so many people had it so much worse, so what did I have to complain about? How pathetic would that be? As a people pleaser you need to keep your shit together no matter what, and most certainly not ‘bitch about 1st word problems’ when so many people have it worse."

Katherine Iscoe felt intense rage during her period of burn-out. Image: Supplied. 


Instagram-worthy burnout isn’t real.

People often use burnout as a euphemism for exhaustion, for burning the candle at both ends. And it can be. But it can be a lot more than that.

"It’s about being really f***ing angry. And you can’t fix anger with a facial," says Iscoe. 

"Burnout is a default term, like 'one size fits all'. I’m 5'1" and I can tell you - one size does not fit all. People get it and know it - but it undermines the aspect of anger and rage that many of us experience.

"For example, many of my friends who are mums are not exhausted per se, they get to the point of resenting their kids because they just want one f***ing day to themselves. Taking a break might depressurise that anger, like letting air out of a balloon - but it eventually will fill back up again, and the cycle repeats."

It becomes even harder when women are taught to suppress their anger, resulting in a 'PG' version of burnout being presented to the society, and internalised by those experiencing something quite different. 

"It’s not comfortable for us to admit that we are angry or we fear not being successful, especially when the world tells us 'wow, you have achieved so much!'

"Me trying to always be 'nice' always ended up with me losing the plot at some point. Because the people pleaser in me would just say 'all good', when the reality was, in my head, I was thinking, 'how the f*** do you think that’s ok?'. Suppress and suppress some more."

Coming out the other side. 

According to Iscoe, the key is understanding the deeper problem below the PG exhaustion. 


"Exhaustion is such a pretty thing to say - 'I’ve been so busy, I’m just exhausted'. 

"It’s much harder to say, 'I f***ing hate my job, I never wanted to be an executive'. All of a sudden, I wake up, and I’m 40 years old and realise my job was to make someone else happy. I kept getting praise for it, so I kept doing it. And everything around me tells me I should be grateful but I’m not grateful — I don’t want this life, I want my own Goddamn life.

Clinical Psychologist Pheobe Rogers says women are conditioned to self-sacrifice, often causing them to extend beyond their emotional and physical limits. 

"Those who are caring, conscientious, and agreeable — people-pleasing — can suffer the most. They often fear being perceived as difficult, needy, overly sensitive, and fear rejection, being ostracised, or even missing out on a promotion, career move, relationship, or worry about disappointing others. 

"Anger is a lot less socially acceptable to express for women. I've seen many cases where anger turned inwards, resulted in depression and disconnection from others."

Iscoe’s research suggests most recommended approaches to burnout are focused on combatting exhaustion - things like taking time off, going for long walks, facials, organising your shoe closet.

"While exhaustion is an element of burnout for a high achieving people pleaser, it’s not the thing that is causing burnout. So you can’t approach it with self-care activities. 

"The sweet spot is actually very simple in concept, but very hard in reality - the 'fix' is actually a question: 'what is it that I really need right now to feel more like me?' Simple right? But the answer is not. 


"So for me, I had to ask that hard question - what is it that I need right now to feel more like me?"

"What I was passionate about is people - I love people and figuring out how they work. But … showing the world who I really was and what I really wanted to talk about, was not a comfortable side step."

Rogers agrees. 

"Anger is the best kind of emotional messenger, to reflect, assess and enact change; update a boundary, express yourself more fully, enact change for life to feel more fair and balanced. 

"It needs immediate attention; it requires rest and a serious re-evaluation of life; don't let it linger and fester, as it can be managed with the right help and support."

Iscoe is now working in a field she loves, as a researcher, keynote speaker and media commentator specialising in the neglected concept of self respect and how it influences and improves the lives of high achieving people pleasers. 

Thanks to understanding her burnout, and her rage, her relationship with her partner is also better than ever. 

"I always describe this period as being forced to lose everything so you know what is worth hanging onto."

Feature image: Getty.

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