November 5, 2023

The Growth Burnout Series

Leslie Yang
Product Design Lead at Lyft

Dear Readers,

I’m the editor of this newsletter. I’m thrilled to introduce Leslie Yang, the author of our special series on managing growth burnout.

Leslie currently heads Lyft Business, and before that she led restaurant experience at OpenTable. The rideshare and restaurant industries have been blasted by winds of change. Leslie is here to coach us on responding to mega doses of uncertainty sustainably and graciously.

Burnout is such a critical topic for growth practitioners. Because growth never ends. Once targets are met, new ones are set. So we need to be generous with ourselves, our colleagues, and even (gasp!) our leadership while operating in the demanding new field of growth design.

The burnout series has three parts:

Yours in calm and chaos,

Molly Norris Walker

Head of Design at All Turtles,

Author of Design-Driven Growth

I’m Leslie Yang, Senior Design Manager at Lyft. I want to share my tools for navigating burnout starting with ourselves and then moving outwards to our teams and businesses.

Taking Care of Myself

We’ve all gone through hard moments and we’re still going through them. In the past few years, have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know how to keep leading or working like this?” I’ve been there. The first year of the pandemic, like many of us, I was languishing. And deep down, I knew I could no longer ignore the fact I was veering towards burnout.

One day, I was listening to Brené Brown’s podcast Unlocking Us and she interviewed the authors of the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. It blew my mind!

Let me recap. First, what is burnout?

Burnout is:

  • Emotional exhaustion—the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long
  • Depersonalization—the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and
  • Decreased sense of accomplishment—an unconquerable sense of futility: feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.

Burnout is highly prevalent, especially during COVID. Emotional exhaustion is most strongly linked to negative impacts on our health, relationships, and work—especially for women.

Let’s focus on emotional exhaustion. What’s an emotion and how do you exhaust it? Emotions are tunnels. If you go all the way through them, you get to the light at the end. Exhaustion happens when we get stuck in an emotion.

Burnout has a great modern example. Suppose you’re visiting the Serengeti and a lion charges at you. Your body’s systems light up to activate the stress cycle to help you survive the situation. And so, thinking quickly, you grab your rifle and shoot the lion. Bang, the lion drops dead. Now what? The threat is gone, but your body is still in full action mode, because you haven’t done anything your body recognizes as a cue that you are safe. Your body is stuck in the middle of the stress response.

And telling yourself, “You’re safe now; calm down,” doesn’t help. You have to do something that signals to your body that you are safe, or else you’ll stay in that state. Your body’s systems never get the signal that they’re safe, which can lead to serious medical conditions.

What shifted my thinking was the fact that addressing the cause of the stress doesn’t mean you’ve addressed the stress sitting inside of you. “Your body is soaked in stress juice, just waiting for some cue that you are now safe from the potential threat and can relax...” And your body continues to accumulate incomplete stress cycles, day after day, month after month, year after year, leading to burnout.

How do you complete the stress cycle? It’s a lot of things you already know but the most important thing is to do them as often as you feel stress, which is most likely every day:

  • Physical activity
  • Positive social interaction
  • Laughter
  • Affection
  • A big ol’ cry
  • Creative expression
  • Body-based therapies if you can’t/won’t exercise

When we give ourselves time and practices to complete our stress cycles, we can more easily be brave and present for our teams and loved ones.

At work, as in life, we must first take care of ourselves before we can take care of our teams or businesses.

Up Next: Part 2 - Taking Care of Teams 👉

About the Author

Leslie Yang is a senior design manager at Lyft and head of design for Lyft Business. She loves working at the intersection of user value and business impact. Her team focuses on design for riders, drivers and businesses. Prior to Lyft, she led product design for enterprise at OpenTable and taught product discovery and designed products from 0 to 1 with clients at Pivotal Labs.

She writes about product design leadership at

The newsletter is edited by Molly Norris Walker. Vector art based on the work of Spencer Camp. Pitch us: