Runnin' on Empty II

"Burnout is the process of spending too much time doing things that don't properly utilize your unique Tool Kit" - Runnin' on Empty

If you are new to this field or perhaps if not new, recently became a BCBA, you may not have a very strong understanding yet of who you are as a clinician.

It's ok, it took me time too... Lots and lots of time.

It's hard to solve a problem you don't realize you have, so this is something I didn't even think about for many years in this field. I accepted work opportunities based on what was available, and when those opportunities didn't work out or left me feeling quite underwhelmed I just moved on to a new opportunity.

But, doesn't it make more sense to intentionally and strategically map out your career based on who you are and how you want to practice? Then why aren't are more of us doing that?

Burnout, which is a known fact of life in this field, can very much be connected to a lack of goodness-of-fit. Think about a vegan who works full-time at a BBQ restaurant. Or a pacifist working for a guns manufacturer. Or a daycare teacher who can't stand kids.

How much personal satisfaction and enjoyment do you think those employees would report after a work shift? I'm guessing low to none.

It's easy to just tell someone working in this field that Clinical Identity is important, but how many of us really understand how to ~discover~ our clinical identity?

Expect this process to take some time (I know, waiting is the worst), as knowing who you are not doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. It will also take perspective, which means you need to do more than one thing. If you've always worked with adult populations, or always worked in school settings, then how do you know what else might be a good fit for you? You kind of can't know that, if you only do one thing over and over.

Let's start at the beginning by first defining what is meant by a clinical identity: Defined as one’s professional self-concept based on attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences (Ibarra, 1999; Schein, 1978).

Basically, your clinical identity is a combination of why you entered this field in the first place, combined with what keeps you in it. There you go, nice and simple definition :-)

Still struggling to put your finger on the unique clinical identity that fits YOU? Here are some tips:

  •    Take money off the table (no, I’m serious). If you had to work for free, what would you choose to do?
  •    Think about the last time you were truly passionate about work. What were you doing?
  •   What part of the work you do makes you full (energizes you, excites you, lifts you up)? What part empties you (depletes you)?
  •    Seek feedback: ask people who have worked with you, alongside you, or for you, to honestly list your best and worst clinical attributes
  •   Does your current work allow a place for your unique personality, or does it require minimizing or turning off parts of your personality? *If you’ve never taken a personality inventory before, I super recommend doing that.
  •   Write down your value system. Use this list during interviews to determine if your personal values and the values of the organization are complementary, or if they clash.
  •   Anger can be highly educational. Identify the things that make you the most angry/frustrated/annoyed about your work. Honestly examine why these things bother you so much (they likely conflict with your value system).
  •  What is your ‘niche’? What is it that you bring to the table that no one else can?


Slay, H.S., & Smith, D.A. (2011). Professional identity construction: Using narrative to understand the negotiation of professional and stigmatized cultural identities. Human Relations, 64(1), 85-107.   

Michael Tomlinson & Denise Jackson (2019) Professional identity formation in contemporary higher education students, Studies in Higher Education

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