Dealing With Burnout, Impostor Syndrome And Insecurity In Commercial Real Estate
Success can come at a cost.
“I kind of wanted to confess to all of you here that I recently burnt out,” British Land Head of Sustainable Development Juliette Morgan said last week on a panel titled “How I Made It” at Bisnow's Women Leading Real Estate event in London. “And so whilst we are all up here laughing at this nonsensical notion that we have all ‘made it’ we have to understand what making it really means to you.”
There is so much talk about health and wellness in real estate at the moment, but not much about the people and companies in the sector turning the lens on themselves and asking how to stay mentally well when working at the sector.
Panellists at the event talked about dealing with issues like burnout, insecurity and impostor syndrome, issues rarely discussed because people fear looking weak. The discussion happened at an event devoted to female real estate professionals, but these issues are faced by men and women alike, and the advice and insight provided by panellists is gender neutral.
Multiple speakers at the event talked about how, in order to get ahead in your career, it is important to accept every opportunity, challenge yourself and do things you are afraid of. But in a world where technology means that business never sleeps, we are told to lean in, hustle and be constantly “on”, stress and mental strain are an inherent part of life.
“People have things that call on their time, and removing judgement from the process, trusting that people are doing their job and prioritising the right thing, is important to fostering the right culture,” Morgan said.
She said that as a single mother, she has to do all the school runs every other week, meaning both her work and her home life are truncated.
“I spent a few years feeling really bad about that, and then I decided to just stop feeling bad about it,” she said. “Because it is what it is. I think it is about accepting diversity. We have all of the people in this room who have different lives, and it can be anything from kids, to a sick dog at home, to looking after a parent.
“I thought burnout was something that happened to other people, and it wasn’t until I took a month out from a very supportive business that I managed to get perspective. There is so much fear and vulnerability and judgement of yourself about how you do that.”
She said both individuals and businesses need to put in place the tools to allow staff to deal with the pressures that come from modern life.
“I hadn’t taken proper time off in 22 years,” she said. “It is critical that we think about sabbaticals, we think about breathing, we think about meditation and yoga, but also, when the rhetoric you hear is about lean in, do more, go to more dinners, do more networking, have profile, know when you need to stop. Know that when your children are young that is a very short time, know that story time is more important than the canapé event you were or weren’t at. My advice about work-life balance is check your speed, you don’t have to be everywhere doing everything all the time, and I have been learning that in a hard way.”
Even the most senior people in business feel insecurity. It is not rare, and it is how you deal with it that matters, according to panellists.
“I can assure you I’m riddled with insecurity, I probably spend most of my waking hours wondering about what I could have done better,” Landsec chairman Cressida Hogg said. “But I have also learned that it is counterproductive, especially in a male-dominated world, to let that show. There’s a great line in James Bond that I tell my girls: always have an escape route, never let them see you bleed. That’s really important, especially in a female context.”
“Always know how to get out of a room if you feel you’re getting out of control, learn how to call time on negotiations if someone is beating up on you, you have to learn that, you have to learn how to put yourself out of your comfort zone,” Hogg said. “You have to learn not to be silent, and just tell people what you think, make yourself do things that you don’t feel comfortable with.”
One particular form of insecurity discussed at the event is impostor syndrome, the feeling that you don’t deserve to be in your current job or position, that you can’t do it, and the world will realise this at any second.
“We’ve got to tackle it, call it out, recognise it, deal with it, and ask, does it make us stronger,” CMS Head of Real Estate Disputes Danielle Drummond-Brassington said.
Once you start talking about it, you realise how common it is, she said.
“Do I have to deal with it on a daily basis? Absolutely,” Ellandi Head of Research & Analytics Isabelle Hease said. “I’ve been in a senior leadership position for two and a half years, prior to which I was a doer rather than a leader, so it is something that I deal with on a daily basis. I deal with my perceptions of my appearance when I walk into a room with an average age of about 50, especially if it’s male-dominated.”
“It’s definitely a thing,” Chelsfield Group Head Of Retail Strategy Rebecca Guzman Vidal said. “I joined Chelsfield just over two years ago, and although it’s hard to admit I had a genuinely difficult three- or four-month period of impostor syndrome: It’s like there was a switch in my head. I wasn’t prepared for half the things that were thrown at me, and that is the first time I have ever felt like that.”
Worries about the perception created by your appearance was a common theme.
“What you may notice with me is that I actually have a bit of a baby face, and I’m hoping that will still look good in 50 years’ time,” Knotel UK Head of Revenue Sophie Higgins said. “But the biggest issue I’ve had is that I’ve been asked to be a leader and build teams from the age of 25 or 26, and you walk into a room and go into pitches with people who are 20 or 30 years your senior.”
There is plenty of practical advice on how to deal with impostor syndrome.
“For me, some of the ways I have to deal with that, I’m a real sucker for positive feedback,” Hease said.”It really helps, so I have a little folder in my outlook with positive feedback I’ve got from people, even if it’s just an email that says, good. It does really help, and having that positive that you keep in your head or have something round, whenever I’m feeling that I’m not good enough to do this, I look at that. And sometimes you have to ask for that feedback.”
“This may be an unpopular opinion, but I ended up deciding that I had to embrace that, and I have been embracing it ever since,” Guzman Vidal said. “Because for me, impostor syndrome drives me to be better. That feeling of not wanting to let down your team, your colleagues, your family, your friends, is very powerful, so I just lean in to it.”
“It’s about not letting it overwhelm you; saying that’s it, I am doing this, I am moderating this panel, and I’m showing that we can do it,” Drummond-Bassington added.
The final piece of advice has many potential meanings: Just don’t be silent.
“As long as you have that confidence in your ability, and you offer something up, and you’re not sitting there in silence, people start to take notice,” Higgins said. “You can’t do anything about your appearance, but if you do speak up you will have status, and you just have to lean in to those challenges.”