In our most recent Instagram Live, Hamza Khan, award-winning marketer, professor, and entrepreneur, shared how he overcame burnout and depressive episodes using techniques he learned from his therapist. As a result, he was able to rewire how he speaks to himself and find success, but it was a long road to get there.
Hitting rock bottom and Hamza’s first experience with therapy
“I hit rock bottom, and it was at that point when I first sought out a therapist at the university. They had a health and wellness department, and they put you on this waiting list and ranked you in terms of priority and urgency–a triage system. They had three therapists for a university of 50,000 students. You can only imagine how long it took for me to get that one appointment. But I got that appointment, and it changed my life. It suddenly allowed me to see myself in a way that I had never seen myself. The therapist described the session as ‘unpacking my brain.’ Visualize [therapy’s effect] our brains as unpacking luggage and then repackaging it so that it fits and closes correctly and it's lighter.
Fast-forward after that, and I experienced a debilitating episode of occupational burnout in 2014. Fast-forward a couple more years, and I knew that something was wrong. I knew that I was predisposed to burning out. I was predisposed to mental health failings. It was part of my family's makeup, and it had now also transferred over to me. I picked up some of the bad habits or had a lack of good habits.
In a nutshell, that’s my family history. Growing up without the concepts and vocabulary, experiencing trauma and burnout, and then realizing (once a Superman complex wore off) that I can't do this by myself. I need somebody to talk to. I need a community.
Resentment and the pressure of being an immigrant child
“I resented my mom. I resented my dad. I resented my community, my tribe, my workplaces. I was an angry, almost hostile person when I think back to who I was in my early twenties and even spilling over into my mid-twenties.”
Hamza described it as ‘bumping heads’ with his dad growing up in an immigrant household.
“I remember my dad from a very young age, would place a sticker on my door... It would say, ‘Dr. Khan’. He was like, ‘Hamza has got to become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer,’ which was very much informed by his deficit growing up. His mentality was, ‘I need to get out of this country where we have very little socioeconomic mobility, and I need to make sure that my son doesn't experience the same hardship that I did.’ So it was very well-intentioned.
“I very much resented my father, and we stopped talking for nearly two years. Two years that I'm never going to get back. I lost that time with my dad.
Finding the right cultural fit in a therapist
“I sought therapists who understood my context; therapists who understood what it was like to be a first-generation child of Indian immigrant parents. That was super helpful because, up until that point, I had received therapy mostly from caucasian men and women.
The first time I had a therapist who identified with my background, I was like, ‘Whoa, this is wild. I feel like you understand me at a level (and not to say that the other therapist didn't) that feels like we can skip certain steps of explanation and go right to the root of the problem’.”
“Even with my current therapist, I had to go through this interview process to find the right person that could understand my context. My therapy sessions are very much performance-based because I'm still reconciling with the stress of being this burgeoning public speaker. As a result, I lose a lot of energy, so I need a therapist who understands what it's like to be an introvert in a very extroverted, high-stress work environment.
My therapist used to be a former musician who would go on tour. So it’s the perfect fit for me. But the number of eggs I had to crack to make this omelet... I wish that I had used First Session to go through the videos. You get their intersectionalities, backgrounds, and areas of expertise, but the only things you get from being in a room or a virtual group with them is what their vocal tone is like, what their disposition is like.”
Addressing toxic self-talk
“I was completely toxic in my self-talk. I hated myself and internalized all of the external stressors and pressures as failures. I equated my failings with being a failure.
I had to heal myself first and rewire the way that I spoke to myself. A lot of that involved journaling and different exercises that my therapist prescribed to me over the years. And then began a process of not just forgiving myself, but forgiving the people in my life to whom I was harbouring much resentment.”
The stages of burnout
In his book, The Burnout Gamble, Hamza highlights the 12-stage model of burnout by psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North.
- The compulsion to prove oneself
- Working harder
- Neglecting needs
- Displacement of conflicts
- Revision of values
- Denial of emerging problems
- Odd behavioural changes
- Inner emptiness
- Burnout syndrome
“I had to fix something at a structural level because my tendency when it comes to work is to overwork, overachieve, burn the midnight oil fire on all cylinders. Left to my own devices, I will fill up every waking hour of my week with work… I would say things like I’m burning out without really knowing what that meant. But then I missed this trip around the world because I had burned out.
I had nothing but time at home to pour through all the available literature. Watching as many videos as I could, reading as many books as I could, to try to understand what had happened to me. That’s when I discovered that this is not unique, and something that was inevitable for me, but also something that seems to be inevitable for most of the workforce... I felt the fire to start speaking and writing about this to spread awareness as far as I can.”
“There was my life before [therapy], and there's my life after. Therapy is one of the top five things that I've done. Absolute game-changer. Please, therapy, therapy, therapy. I can't stress that enough. You are not weak if you seek out therapy. You are not a failure if you seek out therapy.”
Hamza Khan is a multi-award-winning marketer, best-selling author, and global keynote speaker whose TEDx talk “Stop Managing, Start Leading” has been viewed over a million times. He is a top-ranked university educator, serial entrepreneur, and respected thought leader whose insights have been featured by notable media outlets such as VICE, Business Insider, and The Globe and Mail. He empowers youth and early talent through his work as Managing Director of Student Life Network, Canada’s largest and most comprehensive education resource platform, which reaches over 2.7 million students. From TEDx stages and international conferences to MBA classrooms and Fortune 500 boardrooms, Hamza is invited regularly to deliver keynotes and workshops around the world. His clients have included some of the world’s most dynamic companies and organizations, including AT&T, PepsiCo, LinkedIn, Deloitte, P&G, TikTok, and over 100 colleges and universities. Learn more at hamzakhan.ca
Hamza's book - The Burnout Gamble